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Glove love

Jon MaletzAspen, CO Colorado

The incessant sounds of leather rapping against leather fills my apartment these days. I can only imagine what my neighbors think I’m up to.Home redecorating? Amateur boxing? Sadomasochism? Only on the weekends.It’s not what you think. I’ve merely been sitting in my underwear these past few nights, meticulously breaking in my new baseball glove – an 11 1/2-inch Nokona with an open web, pro style conventional back and a ingenious finger pad. The patent is pending. I know what you’re thinking: A grown man (I only look 13) with a baseball glove sounds a bit pathetic. I can understand that. I hope this isn’t the first step toward turning into that guy. You know the sort. The grown man, wearing a replica team jersey with his name adorned on the back, carrying his vintage Rawlings through the turnstiles. The same 30-something who, while balancing a full beer and a sausage in one hand, elbows his way through a pack of Boy Scouts to snag a fly ball. As the Jumbotron zooms in, he raises his hands in triumph. We all know that guy. Heck, some of us probably are that guy – or are related to him. I just couldn’t resist this time. Besides, this meticulously handcrafted glove is capable of eliciting such nostalgia and joy; I can now comprehend the intrinsic connection between women and purses. I suppose the money would have been best spent investing in stocks, fixing my rusted bumper or cutting the mop on top of my head. And my checking account looks a lot like Troy Tulowitzki’s batting average. But you’ve got to have priorities.I occupy my nights massaging oil into the leather and shaping the pocket with both a ball and the end of a bat, a method I’ve been perfecting since I was 10. For the first time in months, I’m using my oven again. No, not to bake a ham, but rather to soften the cowhide. Twenty minutes at 250 degrees usually does the trick. A word of caution for all you kids, young and old, out there: Don’t bake the glove in the plastic bag it comes in. I speak from experience – it took me awhile to grasp the intricacies of common sense. This time of year awakens my sentimental side. I envy the ball players I’ve been fortunate enough to follow in the valley this spring. They, along with the new glove, remind me of a much simpler time. I still remember the days when I could amuse myself for hours by tossing a ball against a rotted piece of plywood propped up against a neglected basketball hoop; miss your spot and it could be hours before you find the ball in the bushes outside the Williams’ house. I still remember what it feels like to break off the perfect curve ball.I still think about putting on the uniform. I looked like a fence post wrapped in polyester, but that smile never left my face. I can still smell the grass, the sunflower seeds, the Flexall.The memories are among the most indelible in my life. I toed the rubber for a one-hitter and no-hitter in the same season; I should acknowledge that a monkey could have equaled those feats against teams like Griswold and Tourtelotte.I squared off with two Red Sox draft choices. I struck out 30th-round pick Jeremy Terni on a changeup down and away; I made sure to mark that one on the underside of my brim. The jubilation didn’t last long. During the ensuing at-bat, he deposited my inside fastball into the next county. If I lived across the street from the field where Terni played, I would’ve boarded up my windows. Scouts poked their radar guns through the backstop fence when draft pick Tommy Major took the mound. And when I came out in the top half of each inning? Those same Scouts were standing in line at the concession stand. I got the hint.I still wonder what would’ve happened had I not hung that changeup in the state tournament. I wonder how things would be different if I toiled for a few years at a community college or Division III instead of pursuing journalism at Syracuse. (I now know that would’ve been a poor life choice, right up there with spending my life collecting tickets outside the town fair tilt-a-whirl or, worse, living in my parent’s basement until I’m 30.) But I have no regrets – excluding the day I ate the school cafeteria’s Salisbury steak hours before taking the longest road trip of the season. I have no delusions of a comeback. I’m fortunate to have found a job in which I can be surrounded by a game that has captivated me for more than 20 years. Still, when Rick Ryan recently joked to me about being short of pitching, and asked if I could log a few innings, he got me thinking and reminiscing. Days later, I was blowing part of my check on sporting goods. At the very least I showed some restraint, stopping short of buying the personalized jersey and the stirrup socks. Why? That would’ve just been foolish. Jon Maletz, aka “The Hammer,” secretly hopes minor-leaguer Jeremy Terni still remembers him. He can be reached at jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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