Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mitts I've Worn And Wished I'd Worn

Do you remember your first baseball mitt?

I started my illustrious, six-year Little League career at age eight with something that had a Detroit Tigers logo on the strap. It was the typical children's-style glove. And I remember having done a horrible job of breaking it in, not being accustomed to such things. The glove had a skewed, uneven fold that makes me shudder just thinking about it.

Ahh, but then my second glove was more like the real deal. It was endorsed, first off. The steady but unspectacular second baseman Ted Sizemore had his signature burned into the thumb side. Years later, I found out that Sizemore grew up in the Detroit area, like me, so I guess that was fitting. Plus, I was mostly an infielder, so at least I had the right style of mitt. The glove was a Wilson make. I remember my mother springing for some special oil that was to go into the palm of the glove. It came in a small, tin container with a tapered nozzle. I think the stuff was called "Glovolium", or something like that.

Anyhow, I took good care of the Sizemore model. It was oiled, properly broken in, complete with a baseball and rubber band. The rubber band kept the mitt closed over the ball. I'm sure you know that trick, if you were ever once a 13-year-old boy.

That glove took me through my teen years, and it wasn't until I came out of retirement to play in an adult softball league when I was 24 that I bought my next glove -- a black Wilson that I still own, 20+ years later. Now THAT'S a mitt. It's perfectly broken in, with that lovely "snap" action that all trusty mitts have. It was broken in for softball, but I'd trust it with a hardball, too. The difference from my Sizemore model is that its webbing is made for outfield play, since that was what I played in softball.

I REALLY wanted to own a first baseman's glove, though. For whatever reason, I longed to be a first baseman. I think it's because all the cool superstar outfielders moonlighted as first basemen. So did a lot of the catchers. Guys like Bill Freehan, Johnny Bench, and countless other backstops would take a "day off" and don the first baseman's mitt. Freehan even spent one season (1974) at 1B more than he did catching, in terms of games played. Al Kaline, when he returned from a wrist injury in 1968, found the outfield crowded. With the DH still someone's bad dream, Kaline volunteered to play some first base, giving Norm Cash a rest against lefties.

This is what I REALLY wanted to wear

First base is just that position that almost every player finds himself at, at least once in his career. Remember Pudge Rodriguez's short stint there in 2006? I also recall Lance Parrish being forced into first base in 1980, as Tigers manager Sparky Anderson tried to make his All-Star catcher a serviceable backup at first. Didn't work.

I admit to getting a little excited when I see that there may be the need for a "bizarre" first baseman in a game, due to multiple moves, injuries, etc. Sometimes I wonder, "Who's gonna play first now?," and wait in anticipation to see who emerges from the dugout with someone else's first baseman's glove on his hand.

The funny thing is, for a position that supposedly anyone can play competently, there is actually quite a bit to playing first base. There's footwork, scooping balls out of the dirt, knowing when to cut-off an outfield throw and when not to, and that difficult 3-6-3 double play. Yet in a pinch, in small doses, first base really can be almost like a day off.

Of course, when we were kids, that position was right field. You always put the worst players out there.

Yes, I played right field too, on occasion.


Blogger Brian said...

Ok, you're really freaking me out (details in a moment) with how much we seem to have in common.

As I've detailed to you before, I was very sick until I was 9 (and in my mind, the only reason I had the corrective surgery was so I could play baseball). So my first glove was some kind of cheapo thing that was bought at Cunningham Drugs and was just used to play catch since I couldn't really play a real game.

But when I was 10 years old, the summer after my surgery, my folks went all out and bought me a real glove so I could play in the Adray league for the first time. The name on the glove? Ted Sizemore.

I was still pretty small for my age, so the glove was actually kind of big for me and because of that, it lasted me about 6 years.

The best part about that glove (and just about any other one), though, was the smell! Don't you remember just burying your nose in the glove and taking a looooong whiff? God - that was the best smell ever (ok, a baseball's smell is pretty close). When I had the pleasure of helping each of my kids pick out their first gloves, my wife thought I was nuts because all I was doing was smelling the mitts in the store.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Greg Eno said...

Wow...amazing, Brian! Yes, I know that smell -- very nice! I still turn into a little kid whenever I slide a glove onto my hand!

2:33 PM  

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