BY JOSH WILKIE
I always had bigger hands than most kids my age, so I’ve been using a big mitt to cover my paws since an early age. No matter how big the glove, I vividly remember always feeling that horrible sting on cold mornings. I would always think, “there’s no way all these guys playing catch next to me feel this terrible pain too.” It helped at first to rock the ‘index finger out’ John Smoltz look when I would play catch, but once I reached the pro level with guys throwing harder, the sting was too much. I finally found my peace when I moved the whole hand down to fit the pinky and ring finger in the bottom finger slot together. This freed up my index finger from the direct impact of the ball.
One thing that strikes me now as I look back into my day-to-day activities as a pitcher was how much time I spent squatting like a catcher. The art of making the mitt pop and framing low strikes for the ghost umpire on my back was a fun hobby for me and I took pride in it. As fun as it was, it unfortunately started to take a toll on the glove. Add up all the throws, and in this case, catches, over the course of a season and you realize that glove choice needs to be taken seriously. Ask any teammate of mine in the past ten years and they’ll agree – I was serious about it.
Maybe I was a little more serious than others, but I made no apologies, especially for something so essential to my success. No, I don’t appreciate when other people put their hand inside my glove. And yes, as a pro I always traveled with it in hand and never checked it or threw it under the bus. I conditioned it every two months to keep the leather from cracking and I made sure to have a backup glove handy in case of rainy days. I treat my glove like a carpenter treats his tools; “you take care of it, and it’ll take care of you.”
I teach lessons in the Bay Area, and I often see coaches and dads searching for the next best way to break in their kid’s new glove — as fast as humanly possible. Oils, creams, ovens, microwaves, steam… you name it and there is conventional wisdom out there to back it up. There are also plenty of profitable companies that specifically “fix” what these parents and coaches perceive as a problem. Anything to get that thing loose as a goose so the kid can squeeze it with ease and have it flopping around like a pancake.
I can only imagine the amount of irreparable damage this causes to that poor cowhide.
The truth is that a baseball glove is a direct extension of the player who wears it. The personal flex, feel and fit of the leather will never happen immediately, nor should it. Because with every throw and every catch, the body is making miniature physical and mental adjustments that ONLY come with repetition. The same goes for the glove/hand. The interaction between player and equipment is relatively small with each toss, but massive if you add up the hours and days a player spends on the field during a baseball season. RESPECT THE PROCESS.
Someone buying expensive cowboy boots or leather jacket would NEVER EVER buy them new and then proceed to rub them up with a bunch of oily goop and throw them into an oven at 350 degrees. They also wouldn’t tape a baseball to a wooden stick and take turns whacking on it. No – to properly break in leather you simply need to use it. Yes, it may take a little time – a little more patience – but what I have found to be true in regards to caring for myself and my things, is that the “this might take a little more effort, self-control and discipline” option ALWAYS pays off in the end.
Rawlings was always my favorite but Wilson, Nike and even Reebok made gloves my teammates would always rave on about. My particular model is the tan or black (depending on the year) 12 ¼’ Rawlings Pro Preferred. My current model number is the PRO1000-9KMO. I made it on the Rawlings custom builder and you can check that out here.
Do any of you reading this have any opinions on glove break-in? Please comment below. Mike and I would love to hear your feedback.