From Little League to Wrigley Field with Rawlings
July 30, 2009
My dad gave me quite the gift a few years back: His childhood baseball mitt.
The name of his elementary school, scrawled down the left side in black marker, is still visible. The tips of the leather are well-worn, likely the result of scooping up grounders on the dirt and gravel of Philadelphia playgrounds. The pocket is as thin as toilet paper – catch a ball wrong, and you will feel the pain in your toes.
I remember thinking this was quite the heirloom. I remember thinking it might not be so easy for me to hand over my own glove.
How do you describe a man’s relationship with his first mitt? I guess it’s like a women and her first pair of expensive shoes. Or children and a cherished pet. Or Stewart Oksenhorn and food.
Mine has been a love affair more than 15 years in the making. I remember when I was 9, a scrawny pitcher and outfielder for Botchi’s Pizza in southeastern Connecticut, gawking at that Rawlings PRO-2MTC Gold Glove Series mitt in a catalog. I hadn’t been that mesmerized since Victoria’s Secret mailers started showing up at the house.
I spent more than two months allowance on that glove – $150 is a lot of mowing and mulching. There was no other option. I had to have it.
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I remember pulling out the laces on my dress shoes, wrapping a ball in the pocket and sticking it under my pillow that first night. I remember smothering it in oil and shaving cream I borrowed from my dad in an attempt to soften the tanned cowhide. I remember tossing a tennis ball against the garage door, then chasing it down for hours on end.
The glove and I have been inseparable ever since. From the bad hops and dropped fly balls, the job changes and moves and even that weird bowl cut and braces phase. From the Pixy Stix and suicides (a drink with every flavor of soda the concession stand offered) after Little League games to the beers and wings at Zane’s after spirited rec softball bouts. The Rawlings has been the one constant.
The fondest memories of my formative years took place with my left hand stuffed snugly into that mitt. The catches with my grandfather. The games behind my friend’s house that lasted late into summer evenings. The visits to some of Major League Baseball’s most hallowed diamonds – Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, to name a few. I even brought it to Game 4 of the 2007 World Series at Coors Field; I’m not sure why, considering I was sitting in Row 28 of the Rockpile (I had a better chance of catching a cold up there than a home run ball), but old habits die hard.
I threw 157 pitches in seven innings in that glove. I pitched a no-hitter in high school, even struck out a future Red Sox draft pick (he hit a ball off me in his next at-bat that cleared a temporary snow fence some 400 feet away and likely landed in the next county).
To this days, I relish the opportunities to play catch in the alley behind the Times. I even feel compelled, on occasion, to slip the glove on and open a bag of seeds while watching a game on television.
The Rawlings looks as good now as it did the day I first took it out of the box. The laces have never ripped and the modified Trap-Eze Web is as functional as ever (the Rawlings website still sells similarly-modeled gloves to this day). It has stood the test of time, and even outlasted those dented garage doors, which were replaced last month.
There are nicks and scrapes, spots where the leather is worn. But every one of those marks tell a story.
What a story it has been.