By Jay McEvoy
Eric Walbridge was not developing gloves when he walked through the doors at Easton Baseball in Thousand Oaks, California for the first time in 2016. The former UC Berkeley pitcher was in a great job working for Easton, one of his favorite companies as an Associate Category Manager for Helmets and Accessories, which meant he was helping bring market data and trends together to generate new ideas for the graphic design and engineering teams. The 25-year-old Walbridge would work with the teams to develop a final product for baseball players like you and I, such as safer batting helmets or Hyperskin bat grips.
But if you are a leatherhead working for a major baseball equipment company, the desire to work with gloves can be great. Eric’s internal mission was clear: To showcase Easton on the big stage and compete with other glove manufacturers at the highest level in terms of quality design and superior materials. Eric was known as a glove guy around the office, but was not yet involved in day-to-day operations or production. “I started giving unsolicited opinions on patterns, colorways, leathers, designs, you name it. Eventually, I was officially invited to glove and development meetings.” Ryan Polanco, the former Category Manager for Ball Gloves and Catcher’s Protective Gear, began to take notice. “Ryan was very inclusive and wanted the ball glove category to be as successful as possible,” Eric said. “He knew that including me was adding a resource to help the category. He just genuinely wanted to make Easton’s gloves better.”
(Walbridge is all smiles working on the Easton Legacy Elite glove line and other glove prototypes)
Like most of us, Eric’s glove obsession started when he was younger, and progressed throughout his college years. “For me it all started my first year of Pony League. All I wanted was a modified-trap camel [Rawlings] Pro Preferred. I didn’t know about patterns, models, or sizes back then. I just liked it, and I had to have it.” Shoulder surgery as a freshman and Tommy John as a sophomore kept Eric off the mound early in his college career for the California Golden Bears, but that didn’t stop him from following his passion for gloves. “I had a lot of time on my hands since I wasn’t playing, so I started re-lacing and breaking in gloves for guys on my team. After I tore my UCL, I had more down time, which meant more time experimenting. The only good thing that came out of my injuries was furthering my passion for gloves.”
Fast-forward to 2017. Eric Walbridge is now the Category Manager for Helmets, Accessories, and Ball Gloves. But with great power comes great responsibility, and it was time for Eric to put his expertise of a lifetime of glove love to practical use. And so began the journey to develop the Easton Legacy Elite.
(The 2017 Easton Legacy Elite is the brainchild of Eric Walbridge, Ryan Polanco, and Abraham Peters)
Easton has always prided itself as an industry leader in technology advancements to push the limits of what its equipment can do. From the MAKO Beast to their Z7 helmets, Easton has lived on the cutting-edge for baseball innovation. But being so tech-driven can be great for one category, and a detractor for another. Eric knew that baseball gloves didn’t need fancy technology or any whiz-bang look, but instead should be comfortable, versatile, and made from the best components around. Walbridge, Polanco, and senior industrial designer Abraham Peters sat down to develop the Legacy Elite and create a glove that brought “a very classic and traditional aesthetic to our gloves…We wanted the quality of materials to differentiate us, not the brightness of colors.”
Starting with a base colorway of camel with tan lace, the next part would be determining what they would be made of. Walbridge chose Premium US Steerhide from the Midwest for its durable, rugged hide, which were then shipped to Seto Tannery in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, known for being one of the best leather tanning regions in the world. Walbridge noted that although Easton has used Seto Tannery’s leather for years, the highest quality leather was previously reserved for college and pro issue custom gloves, and it was time to unleash the power of Easton’s glove prowess to the masses.
(Andre Ethier and his Legacy Elite. Materials for this glove line were previously unavailable to the public…until now)
The Legacy Elites also sport an upgraded palm liner, called a PrimaSoft Sheepskin liner. In Eric’s glove experience, other liners had a tendency to be glossy, causing slippage and a possible loss of control. With confidence of paramount importance as a fielder, the team chose the PrimaSoft liner because not only was it soft as the name implies, but has a bit of a tacky surface to reduce any hand-slide within the stall. While focusing on the details, Walbridge and Co. went with Tennessee Tanning Company lace, which glove experts regard as the best lace in the land (and used on Rawlings gloves).
(Top-notch materials dominate the 2017 Easton release, including Premium US Steerhide and a PrimaSoft liner)
So Easton, through the brilliant minds of a few of its glove guys, created an extremely comfortable glove using their highest grade of materials that they, and the company, can be very proud of. That was the easy part. The real challenge is to penetrate a glove market that has recently become saturated with custom gloves, not to mention consistent roll-outs from larger manufacturers like Wilson, Rawlings, and Mizuno. So how can Easton be the brightest star in the Milky Way of glove options for consumers? The answer was risky: Get close, become the Sun. Eric developed a one-man social media strategy in the fall of 2016 that put Easton in our daily feeds and had us salivating at the idea of the Legacy Elite release, whenever it would finally be.
(Five INF models, two pitcher’s models, one OF model, one for 1B, and one catcher’s mitt. Insert fire emoji)
Eric’s strategy was simple. Get the gloves into the hands of key people who would provide constructive feedback, no holds barred. In an age where social media can be exceptionally ruthless, Walbridge took the risk knowing that he would ultimately create a glove that is loved by most, if not all, and had survived the gauntlet of social media scrutiny. “This community has years and years of knowledge and experience with all types of gloves so there was no BS’ing my way past their opinions. Eric (@gluvluv, different Eric) actually gave me some feedback early on when he re-laced a Legacy Elite that directly affected our specs with the sheepskin liner. We immediately made a change…I knew the problem was the glove, not the user.”
The highly anticipated Easton Legacy Elite glove line is scheduled to release in September, and will include five infield models, two pitcher’s models, one outfield model, one for first base, and one catcher’s mitt. The pitcher, catcher, and first base models will also include the LHT option, and all will retail at $249. With a revamped, classic look, premium quality components, and a feedback-oriented strategy, the sky is the limit for Easton Baseball’s glove department. Walbridge stated the mission: “We want Easton to be known as a glove company, not just a bat company. We wanted to create our own Legacy.”