Of all the sports, baseball lends itself best towards the collector. There’s a wealth of memorabilia for lovers of the game to hoard and display proudly in their homes. The most prevalent and popular choice for fans has always been baseball cards, perfectly sized to keep great quantities of. Cards have been a huge part of the sport’s history and appeal for over a century. Some of us collect ticket stubs, baseball books, jerseys, hats, bats, balls, and anything else you can pick up at the ballpark.
Naturally, I have my fair share of the above, but in recent years I’ve begun a small and modest collection of baseball gloves. Of all the on-field equipment players use, it is the glove that is most personal. Twins legend Kirby Puckett famously referred to his gloves as his “babies,” and Troy Tulowitzki refused to part from his beloved Rawlings’ mitt despite the damage it had sustained after years of punishing groundballs and screaming line drives.
I have long been fascinated by mitts and their innumerable variations, for most of my life it turns out. It began at a young age, when my older brother returned from a trip to New York City with a glove and ball, just for me. Instantly, that personal connection was established. This was my glove.
As mentioned in a piece about Ken Griffey Jr. for this very website, the glove was emblazoned with The Kid’s signature. When I managed to get this pristine mitt onto my child-sized hand, I was immediately transported to the American TV shows and movies I was obsessed with. From Hey Arnold to The Sandlot, I desperately wanted a connection with this foreign yet familiar sport and now I had one, snugly at home on my left hand.
Obviously I was the only kid in my village with a baseball glove, the only boy who had any interest in the game. So for years it sat in a drawer or on a shelf, essentially untouched. I would put it on from time to time and throw a ball off the wall like a young Steve McQueen, but I didn’t return to the glove until I was an adult.
Sadly, by then I had outgrown this piece of childhood nostalgia. But the appeal remained, and as my interest in baseball continued to grow I kept thinking about the glove. Scouring eBay proved fruitful. Here I found people selling a variety of different models, old and new, for relatively low prices. I instinctively made a purchase. I was back in the game.
Except I wasn’t, not really. I don’t play baseball, I’m just a fan. But owning a glove brings me one step closer to it all. Even if it does just sit pretty on my bookshelf, the connection is there.
The glove arrived in the post, a Wilson A2275 10½ inch mitt designed for all-around use, a utility infielder’s dream. It had the Wilson patch sewn onto the wrist strap, the MLB logo on the pinky finger, and Barry Bonds’ signature printed inside the pocket. Barry Bonds? The cheater? Undeterred, I was still overjoyed to own an adult baseball glove that I could actually use. The Bonds text printed on the leather was nothing some clever Sharpie couldn’t fix.
I hadn’t really completed my research before this impulse buy, so I wasn’t aware that the glove is too small to be effective for a playing adult. And the leather, although a lovely shade of tan, is not of the thick and sturdy quality needed to provide proper support. After ten minutes of catching, my hand was not appreciative.
I didn’t care. It was easy to put on and took no time at all to break in and feel comfortable with. And boy did it look good on my bookshelf.
And yet, something still gnawed at me, an itch I couldn’t scratch. Another purchase was necessary, another glove for the collection. A proper glove.
In the past few years I’ve developed an appreciation and fondness for the sport in Japan, in particular their beautiful Mizuno gloves. I had seen a handful of MLB players sporting them and liked how distinctive the logo was, and the fact they weren’t a common choice like Wilson or Rawlings.
Thankfully, eBay rewarded me once again. A chap had returned from working in Tokyo and was selling his Mizuno 12 inch outfielder’s glove, brand new and untarnished. I obligingly accepted his offer and was the recipient of this gorgeous piece of Japanese craftsmanship. It arrived very stiff, unbroken with the thickest padding in the fingers and heel, and the strongest laces. I spent hours watching Youtube videos on how best to break it in, how to massage the leather just right to loosen it up. Turns out playing catch is the best method. Who knew?
Of all the baseball junk I own, it is right up there with my most cherished items. I have worked it over to get the leather soft and supple, to get it just right. I barely feel a thing when I’m catching my wife’s 99-mph fastball on a spring afternoon.
I hope over time it can become worn and dusty, exactly like the sun-bleached gloves you see in the movies, loved and antiquated over decades. The kind of glove fathers pass down to their sons. They are always the best, those flat pancake-like mitts the kids carry under their arm like a book on their way to school.
Until then, it’ll look great on my bookshelf at least, along with the others, and the gloves yet to come.
Ash Day is covering the Cleveland Indians throughout 2020 as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @AshDay29