Somewhere in my attic, garage or storage unit rests my old baseball glove.
I hope. I’ve not needed it in 30-plus years. A game of catch, Pickle or Indian Ball is not in my weekend plans. But I still have my old ball glove, somewhere, if needed. You never know, right?
I’ve hung on to my childhood baseball equipment. Old bats and balls. Youth catcher’s equipment which doubled as hockey goalie gear for carport hockey games. A couple of old ball gloves.
Over the years, I’ve thought about throwing the old stuff away. But sentimentality always wins. My old ball stuff is like my old crates of scratched, warped record albums. Useless. Except it represents a special time in my life.
This time of year, I think about my old ball gloves and wonder where they are stored while remembering when oiling my glove was a necessary but messy ritual.
All our gloves were bought at the old Grandpa’s store on Collinsville Road near Fairmont City. There was a full aisle of racks with stiff, leather Rawlings ball gloves. All gloves were the same brown color. You grabbed gloves one-by-one from the rack until you found one that felt right and your mom or dad said the price was right.
Gloves differed only by size. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that Rawlings came out with the cool “Fastback” model glove which had a special hole in the back for you to stick out your index finger, which everyone did anyway.
Breaking in a ball glove took a few summers. Your ball glove had to be tattered, torn, lost or stolen before you gave it up. Or your hand grew bigger than the glove itself.
Oiling a new glove involved every household or garage lubricant, along with rubber bands, rope, and a stack of old newspapers.
First, we used traditional glove or leather oil, which we bought at Grandpa’s, too. It came in a thin can that looked like lighter fluid. We’d lie down yesterday’s newspapers on the carport’s concrete floor. Then we’d empty that small can of glove oil onto our glove, and rubbed it in for at least an hour, watching the light brown leather turn darker while the glove became softer.
That night, we’d stick an old baseball in the glove’s pocket and rest the new glove in between our mattress and box spring. The oily fumes were a pleasant break from the naturally unpleasant odors that came with sharing a bedroom with two older brothers.
It wasn’t until all the glove oil was evaporated that you had walked throughout the house to ensure your new mitt was lubricated enough for a ballgame.
First stop, was the kitchen. A dab of Wesson cooking oil. Once I tried rubbing a half stick of Oleo Margarine. A bad idea. Fake butter did not absorb well into the leather.
The bathroom closet wasn’t off limits. Brylcream worked better than Vitalis, Vaseline or Vick’s Vap–O-Rub. Shaving cream didn’t hurt. Baby oil was fine, too.
Then, the garage. Car oil. Antifreeze. WD 40. It was all used, one spring or another.
One Saturday afternoon, I was watching the NBC Game of the Week on TV. Announcer Tony Kubek, a former Yankees infielder, explained that a lot of players spat chewing tobacco into the pocket of their gloves as a lubricant for the leather.
Guess what? I snuck some of my Grandpa’s Red Man from his station wagon so that I’d be able to spit some lubricant into my ball glove.
One mouthful of Red Man and my eyes crossed and my head spun. None of it made it into my glove’s pocket.
Decades later, when it came time to oil my kids’ new ball gloves, I did what every other dad who grew up in the 1960s did and oiled the new gloves myself.
Today, ball gloves come pre-oiled. They’re unused but soft, flexible and ready to go. Gloves come in blue, red, pink, white and black. They’re stylish.
We didn’t buy our gloves to look good.
We bought them to catch the ball.
Figures, I thought.
Everything today is softer, more flexible and stylish. Not necessarily better.
But look cooler.
Whenever I find my old glove, I’ll probably oil it up, for old time’s sake. Maybe add a dab of Brylcream or Vick’s Vap-O-Rub. Definitely no Red Man, though.