A few weeks ago Ump-Attire.com introduced its XL Ultimate Umpire Ball Bag. Ump-Attire.com owner, Jim Kirk, wrote about the development of this new product on his blog, Officially Un-Official.
I must say that I was somewhat (*yawn*) underwhelmed by the announcement. I use two Ultimate Umpire Ball Bags on the field for every game. They are solid, reliable, and in 2009 received an UMPY Award for Accessory of the Year. I mean, if it's not broke, why mess with it?
Ump-Attire sent me a navy blue XL Ultimate Umpire Ball Bag in the mail (Jim, don't you know that black goes with everything?). It sat in its wrapper for a couple weeks until I broke it out today to take a look. Here is what I discovered:
Just the Facts
|Ultimate on top, XL on bottom|
What you know is the bag is bigger. The XL is 1-1/4 inch wider than the Ultimate. The belt loops have been redesigned. The loops are 3/8 of an inch wider. The belt loop opening is 1/2 inch wider and tapered to prevent bunching. The lengths of the XL and the Ultimate are the same: 13-1/4 inches.
What you don't know is what has changed inside the bag. A continuous layer of nylon is used throughout the interior. This is a big improvement as now the entire interior is waterproof. The added nylon also gives the XL a stiffer feel, and helps the bag lay flat.
The interior pockets have been redesigned. The large pocket on the XL is 1/8 inch slimmer than the Ultimate. The smaller pocket has been reduced 3/8 inch. The pen pocket is 1/4 inch slimmer and 1/4 inch shallower than the Ultimate.
|XL Ultimate Umpire Ball Bag|
The adjustments to the interior pockets was a surprise. I do like that the pen pocket is now 1/4 shallower, so the pocket no longer completely swallows my ink pen. The other adjustments are not welcomed. I keep my brush, lineup card holder, pen, and indicator inside my two ball bags. While everything still fits inside the XL, the narrower pockets makes it harder to access items. It is confusing why these pockets were narrowed when the bag was widened.
|Ultimate Umpire Ball bag|
The XL can easily hold six baseballs. I placed three baseball inside the XL and three baseballs inside the Ultimate for comparison. At first the difference between the two bags was negligible (see pictures). I was expecting the taper at the belt loop to prevent bunching on the XL, but what I found after testing was that the extra width of the belt loop actually increased bunching more than the Ultimate. Additionally, the opening on the XL sagged more than the Ultimate. The fit around the Ultimate's belt loop is tighter and the overall appearance of the Ultimate was simply better than the XL.
Fair or Foul?
While I do not prefer the XL over the Ultimate Umpire Ball Bag, my call on the Ump-Attire.com XL Ultimate Umpire Ball Bag is FAIR. The fully lined nylon interior and stiffer/flatter design are terrific improvements, and I personally prefer the shallower pen pocket. I hope these features are soon offered in both the Ultimate and the XL Ultimate. The XL also tends to sag and bunch more than the Ultimate. However, when compared to other ball bags on the market, the XL is an outstanding choice.
As a final note, the increased sagging at the opening of the XL may be inevitable. The cloth/nylon fabric will sag against the weight of the baseballs, so the umpire trades a larger bag for greater sag. The bunching around the belt loop may be avoided by decreasing the size of the loop opening.