Monday, May 6, 2013

Glove Story

from Boston Baseball, May 2013
In Vermont we have mudrooms because in the spring, which is just now arriving, you need a place to take your boots off, and to put them back on, before tracking the remnants of winter inside the house. So the mudroom also becomes a place where other outdoor things get left behind – hockey sticks and bike helmets, dog leashes and birdseed, carburetor cleaner and ski poles.

High on a shelf, in a basket filled with assorted camping gear and swim shoes, sits my baseball glove. It has taunted me every day of this long winter, and even much of last fall.  It’s now been ten years since I last played regularly , and another five since I coached, and the kids across the road have quit playing, and my daughter is seventeen and doesn’t care.  The dog still likes to play, at least the retrieving part, most of the time, but doesn’t have an arm worth a damn. So the only games of catch I have anymore go one direction, out and not very far, either, not since I hurt my elbow putting on the snowplow, and never back.

It’s a nice glove, too, the best I ever had, black, a Rawlings I bought thru the mail probably 15 or 16 years ago, when she was still a baby and I still had the arm and energy to play in two leagues, one in Boston and the other in Worcester County. I paid about $150 dollars, money I probably did not have. Now the model number is worn away and the inside palm, cracked and hard, shows islands of leather pulled apart by sweat. It’s a “fastback,” with the finger slot in back to protect the hand, and the place my finger sat is worn smooth and brown.

It still has that smell, though. Worn grass and Gloveoleum, baseball diamond dirt and tobacco, muscle rub and grass, and it still fits. That’s the things about a glove – you may change but it never does. Once you reach high school, that’s it. Your hair gets thinner and shorter, your shoes wider, and your waist expands, but your glove still fits, the last remembrances of summers past.

When I put my hand inside it’s tight and cold at first – there was frost last night – but the longer I  wear it my hand starts to warm and leather loosens and turns supple again. If I look real close at the rectangular red label on the back I can still see the letters of my last name, carefully inked, and now faded from the sun. I was always cautious, even as a kid, to make the letters careful and square.

Old habits die hard and there’s still a ball inside.  When I last put it up on the shelf – last June? July?  - I still stuck a ball in there to protect the pocket. It has its own smell, too, and a feel, the seams raised and the leather too tight, a ball that once got left out in the rain. Yet they both still fit the hand like nothing else ever has, or ever will, one shape that says “throw it,” the other that  asks to catch.

Inside my glove there might have been a player’s signature inside once, embossed in gold ink, but it’s gone now, worn off by grinding the ball in the pocket with too many men on base, and I can’t remember who it was. Funny. But I remember the names that have been there before, in other gloves, starting when I was a kid, names that track me from the backyard through t-ball, Little League, Pony League, high school and beyond; Don Mossi (a Nokona, all stubby fingered and short), Ed Kranepool (a gift on my sixth birthday that I wore during my great-grandmother’s funeral later that day), Norm Cash (an “E-Z Catch” Spalding first baseman’s glove), a Johnny Bench catcher’s mitt, a Bobby Murcer (another Spalding), a Reggie Jackson (the one I tied back together with my girlfriends’ green hair ribbon when the leather between the fingers broke), a Don Sutton (one I bought for my sister then stole back for my daughter, then stole back from her), a Ken Griffey leatherette piece of crap I threw away and this one, no name now at all but mine.

Now the sun is coming through the window and the frost has melted into dew, and if the forecast is right it might hit 70 degrees today. I should put the glove away – the mudroom isn’t the best place for leather – rub it with some oil, work the ball back into the pocket and tie it with a shoelace, but I won’t.

Deeper in the basket on that shelf is another glove, that Don Sutton model, and I place my glove back on top. I might need them one day.  Who knows, later this summer, perhaps some Saturday afternoon after the grass has been cut and before the game comes on, maybe someone will ask to play game of catch.


Glenn Stout is the author of Fenway 1912, series editor for The Best American Sports Writing and a Contributing Editor for  Follow Glenn on Twitter @GlennStout



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