Do you ever ask yourself this question:
“If my house were on fire and I could only take a few items to safety, what would they be?”
We’ll assume for a minute that spouses, children and pets have made it out of the house safely. After my computer’s external hard drive the possession I’d go after would be my Wilson A-2000 glove.
I grew up playing baseball. It was my favorite sport and probably the one where I possessed better than average ability. Compared to basketball and football where having a larger body can give a person a competitive edge, baseball seemed tailor made for my 5’10 frame and inherent quickness.
My father was the baseball coach at the time and would always make sure I had the best equipment. He also made sure I didn’t wear my hat like a doofus. (It’s supposed to sit low, not up high like a chef’s hat) The year before he’d fitted me with a Wilson glove called the A2000 XL. I played third base up until my sophomore year when I switched to the outfield. That meant instead of a small fielders glove, I needed a larger outfielders model. A teammate at the time was making the transition from the outfield to the infield. One day at practice we decided to swap gloves. It was a perfect fit for both of us.
If you’ve ever purchased a new baseball glove, you know that they are very firm, uncomfortable and clasp the ball like a clam. My father showed me how to rub Vasoline and and later, mink oil into the glove to soften it up so it could be properly molded to my hand. The idea is to make the glove soft enough so that it grabs the ball like your hand would with the fingers and web enveloping the ball instead of merely clamping down on the ball. Hand motion is good. Clam snapping is bad.
So I’d take my glove home from practice every night and rub mink oil into the fingers, web, and palm. It’s amazing how much mink oil good leather can soak up. I’m sure I went through several tins of it. At night, I’d place a ball in the palm, secure it with twine and place it under my mattress where I’d sleep on it. After several weeks my glove was getting closer to perfection. After working on it for an hours I’d toss it to my dad at the dinner table for his inspection. He’d put it on his big hands, punch it a few times in the palm and say, “You’re getting close“.
I’ve had the glove repaired numerous times. The leather stitching comes loose at times as you can see here. I wrote my initials (BDN) on the glove in 1983.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that a glove is never finished being worked in. The best one can do it get it to the state of “close”. There’s only so far elbow grease and mink oil can take it. The finishing touch came by playing catch, fielding fly balls and retrieving grounders. My father taught me to catch the ball in the palm instead of in the web because that made it easier to grab and possibly gun down a runner going for home. This is a lot easier said than done and one must have a lot of faith in the glove before attempting the palm catch. Ozzie “the wizard” Smith used to do this better than anyone. He’d catch the ball right up near his wrist where he’d flick the ball into his right hand and rocket a throw to first base just in time to nail the runner.
A few weeks ago I realized that my glove accidentally got placed in a toy bin that had been left out in the rain. I was crushed to find my old glove at the bottom of the bin, swimming in dirty water, mud and leaves. I pulled it out only to find it had moss and rocks and dirt all over it. I was so upset I didn’t do anything for a few days except place it on a rack to dry. I realized it was going to take a lot of care to nurse it back to shape.
Once it fully dried, I used an old toothbrush to brush aware any debris on the outer side. It was clean, but very rough and discolored. It felt as stiff as a new glove so I pulled out some leather cleaner I normally use on my shoes and swirled it around for a while. It removed the last few bits of moss, but the glove was still very stiff so I bought a tin of milk oil and began the process I’ve done a hundred times or more. I sat at my computer and rubbed the mink oil into the fingers, the palm and the webbing. The most difficult part was cleaning the inside of the fingers. But over time it began to soften up. The rich colors returned and it began to feel like my old glove again. It’s still not back to where it was during my playing days, but it’s a lot better than where it was a few weeks ago.
And if I were to hand it over to my dad and ask for his opinion, I’m sure he’d say, “You’re getting close“.