April 19, 2009

Gamesmanship, Manly Skills

How to Break in a Baseball Glove

glove

Image by rmccurdyb

Baseball season is starting up, and it’s time to get your gear ready for the beer league softball team. One of my fondest memories growing up was getting a new baseball glove and breaking it in. I remember my dad letting me in on all his tips and tricks on how to get a nice, broken in glove that would make Willie Mayes jealous. There are nearly as many ways to break in a glove as there are men who have played the game. Every player has their own ritual, one they’ll staunchly defend as the best and only way to break in a mitt.

With that in mind, I’ve included several tips and suggestions on how to break in a baseball glove that I’ve seen and heard throughout my baseball playing years. Try them out and find the one that makes your glove feel just right on your hand, with a pocket that seems to magnetically attract the ball.

Soften the leather

Brand new baseball gloves are pretty stiff, so the first thing you need to do is soften up the leather. . Here are a few of the ways to do it:

Just use it. Probably the best way to soften up a baseball glove is to get out there and let it see some action. Find a buddy, go out to a park, and play catch. After weeks of fielding grounders, shagging flys, and just plain old playing catch, your baseball glove should be nice and soft.

Of course, the problem with this method is that it a can take a long time, and the whole reason you’re breaking it in is to make it more comfortable for playing ball. If your team has a game next Monday and you need to break a glove in fast, keep reading.

Oil it up. There’s a lot of controversy among baseball players as to whether you should use oils and other lubricants to soften up a baseball glove. There’s a contingency that says you shouldn’t, because it deteriorates your mitt faster and can make your baseball glove heavier since the leather soaks up all the liquid.

I’ve always used some sort of agent to soften up my glove. It’s worked for me, and I haven’t noticed any detriment to the condition of my glove.  If you decide you want to soften your baseball glove by rubbing it down like a Swedish masseuse, you have to choose what lubricant you’re going to use. Here’s a non-exclusive list of things you could try:

  • Baby oil
  • Vaseline
  • Shaving cream
  • Saddle soap
  • Special glove oils

What you decide to use is a matter of personal preference. Growing up, I always used a can of my dad’s Barbasol shaving cream. It’s cheap, and it works. Experiment with different substances, and see what works for you.

Whatever you decide to use, don’t go overboard. You don’t need to douse your glove in baby oil for it to get nice and soft. Just use a drizzle and work it into the leather. Repeat as necessary.

Beat it up. Another time saving (and cathartic) way to soften a baseball glove is to just beat the hell out of it. Get a hammer, preferably a ball-peen hammer, and start pounding on the outside and inside of the baseball glove. You can also lay your glove in the dirt and take a baseball bat to it like a bookie to some knee caps. I’m personally biased to this method. The combination of manly aggression, a baseball bat, and real dirt seems to please the baseball gods and they bless your sacrifice with a nice soft mitt.

Heat it up. I never did this, but I’ve heard from several players that the best way to soften up a glove is to heat it up. Again, using heat to soften up a baseball glove is a touchy subject. Like using oils to soften a glove, heat can cause the leather on a glove to deteriorate faster than normal. Some players would rather cut off their pinkie than let that happen.

If you decide to use heat to soften up your glove, here are a few ways to do it:

The microwave. Yes. The microwave. I knew one player who put his new baseball gloves in the microwave to get them toasty and soft. Be careful with this method or you could end up making your kitchen smell like a cow that just got struck by lightning.

The oven.
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it gets to the pre-set temp, turn the oven off. We’re not baking cookies here, so we don’t need it to be at a constant temperature. Next, place your glove on a cookie sheet, and put it in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Check on it every now and then to make sure it’s not catching fire.

Leave the glove in the car.
The inside of your car can reach up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. So while it’s a crime to leave a baby in there, it’s a good idea to abandon your glove to the heat. On a hot day, park your car outside, and leave your glove in it. The next morning, your glove should be nice and soft.

black-kid

Image by foundphotoslj

Form the pocket

The pocket of the glove is the space between your thumb and forefinger. A well formed pocket makes catching baseballs much easier. Again, just playing catch for a few weeks can help form the pocket. But if you don’t have time, you need to bust out some tricks.

Store a ball in the pocket. The old standby method involves putting a baseball in the pocket of the glove, wrapping it up with twine, and leaving it overnight. Rawlings makes rubber bands just for this, but why spend $3 when you can do it for free? If you decide to tie down your glove with twine, make sure to not do it too tight or you’ll leave some wicked creases in your glove.

For a different take on this method, place a ball in the pocket and put it under the mattress for the night. This was my favorite way of doing it as a kid. It’s probably because the idea of sleeping on top of my baseball seemed like the coolest thing in the world to my 10 year old brain.

Repetitious beating. Another way to form the pocket is to throw a ball into it as hard and as frequently as you can. This is a nice activity to do when you need a break from work.

Form the glove

During this whole process, I would always bend and shape my glove to my liking. The goal is to make the glove as comfortable as possible on your hand. There’s really no exact way you should do it. Just keep bending it until it fits like, well, a glove.

Alright, now it’s your turn. Got a killer tip on how to break in a baseball glove? Share your secrets in the comments.


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