Sunday, March 24, 2013

A ball player’s most important piece of equipment

A real plus of baseball is that it doesn’t take a lot of equipment to play nor does playing cost much. Neither of my sons played hockey, and in many way I’m glad they didn’t. The cost for equipment and ice time is really horrendous, not to mention sitting around in cold arenas as they practice and play. Golf is another very expensive game to play, and even though we do indulge in that, it’s not as if we can play every day of the week, even if we had the time.

With baseball, all you is a ball and something to hit it with. In New York growing up, we’d play stick ball (usually with a cut-down broom handle and an inexpensive rubber ball (called a “spaldeen” for some reason), or whiffle ball using one of those big plastic bats and a whiffle ball. Gloves were not needed, although with stickball, it made the game a bit easier.

The thing most of us dreamed about, however, was having a “real major league” baseball glove. That was the coolest of the cool. The gold standard glove was made by Rawlings, no questions asked. Spalding made gloves. Wilson was another name that we knew. Then other companies jumped in, but through it all, at least as far as most of us were concerned, a Rawlings glove was the ne plus ultra.

Once you got that new glove, everything was focused on breaking it in. That was, and still remains an arcane art. Everyone has an opinion on the way this should be done, and there are so many methods espoused that there’s no way of knowing what works best. But once you’d gotten everything just right and when you slipped your hand in you knew the glove had molded to your hand and only your hand, it was a golden moment. Going into a sporting goods store and seeing all those gorgeous gloves can still get my heart going as if I was still ten years old. I reckon I’m not alone in this.

When I took up softball in my thirties, I figure I would have grown out of it. Boy, was I wrong. If anything, the need to have a glove that fit my hand perfectly, that had a pocket in which the ball would nestle perfectly with a satisfying “thwack” every time was just as visceral a thing as it had been in my youth.

My method? I did as my dad had suggested when I got my first glove at seven or eight: always use copious amounts of neatsfoot oil to soften the leather. So now in my thirties, like any kid, I would spend hours slamming the ball home as I sat outside listening to a ball game on the radio, unless I could find someone with whom to play catch. My sons were too young and my wife, though game, and blessed with a pretty good arm, couldn’t really throw hard enough. I needed that ball to slam into the leather, stretch things out, and a bit of palm sweat to get that glove really working well. The day it would finally happen still held the thrill it had over twenty years earlier.

As shown by THIS article that appeared in the Toronto Star this past week, it seems that professional ball players feel exactly the same way all us kids (big and small) do.

With spring just on the horizon, I am yearning to get out there and toss the old pill around. Both my boys are now more than big enough to provide a satisfying game of catch, especially Jan, who can throw really hard, being blessed with a real cannon of an arm (a bit envious here). Time to go down into the basement and dig out my two gloves, apply a good coating of neatsfoot oil and spend a bit of time with my inner kid, slamming a ball into the pocket to make sure it’s still as good as ever.

So, what do you use to season a glove?


JohnZ said...

Neadsfoot oil...only neadsfoot oil Rick! Used to place an old baseball in the pocket and close the mitt around it holding it closed with several thick rubber bands after applying the "copious" amounts of the oil to the leather.
Then after few days spend an hour whacking the ball in the mitt and then putting a bit more oil on and put the bands around it again...this continued thru college ball and softball into my fifties..thanks for the memory!! Maybe my 60 plus arm could get worked back into shape - but not as quickly as my trusty glove! John Z

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks, John. I was amazed at what was in that article about the Jays and their gloves. First, it was nice to find out that ball players of any age and level are the same about their gloves. Second, microwaving your glove? Beating it with a metal rod?? Baby oil??? Nary a mention of our tried and true ingredient: neatsfoot oil!

Maybe we should give a seminar to these so-called ball players. Only Anthony Gose showed any sense.