First Glove

I tried to tout my son's first baseball glove as a Big Deal. Frankly by the time we got to the store he was more excited about lunch at McDonald’s later, and somehow the day ended in tears.

My first baseball glove sits on a bookshelf in my home office. I left it at my parents’ house when I went to college (I had been through a couple more gloves by then), but I reclaimed it when I moved out for good and left for Chicago. It’s dry and brittle, and the fingers are curved around the old ball I keep stuffed in pocket with the name of my Little League team—Poseyville I—written on it in Sharpie. The glove is a MacGregor G19T, branded all around with slogans like “Flex Action,” “Adjusta-wrist,” “Lattice Weave,” and “The Athlete’s Choice.” The lining inside is shredded from years of sweat and dirt and wear, and it’s a little small for my hand now, but it’s still serviceable. Baseball gloves are like that. The basic design and build is no different from one you could buy today, and with a little glove oil and a tug on the strings, even a 30-year-old model could be ready for a game.

I remember buying this glove with my dad, or at least I think I do. I must have been five years old because that’s when I started playing T-ball, the first games when I used it. We went to Gus Doerner’s Sports in Evansville, to the downtown location where they sold the serious equipment, not the shop in the mall where they just sold running shoes and apparel. The baseball equipment was in a basement that smelled like rawhide and fresh tennis balls. I remember looking out over rows of gloves laid out on a table and having no idea which one to pick. I didn’t even know which hand I needed. I’m sure my dad picked out my glove for me, finding one that fit my hand and his wallet. It had a Vida Blue signature stamped in the pocket. I didn’t even know who Vida Blue was, but I was fascinated that some player was famous enough to have his name inside a baseball glove.

I’ve owned four baseball gloves in my life: the Vida Blue; a Worth with no signature that replaced it when I was in Little League; a Rawlings Mark McGwire first base glove that I got when I was 13 and started to play the position exclusively; and another Rawlings McGwire model that replaced it. Of the four, I still have all of them except that first first base glove. It was also the one I used for the most significant moments of my baseball career, namely winning the sectional tournament as a high school senior, and I don’t know what possessed me to throw it out when I bought my latest one. I wish I had it back, if not for sentimental reasons then out of a sense of completeness.

I have no real attachment to the new one, a stiff burgundy mitt I bought when I started playing in a weekend league after I moved to Chicago. I used it for a season and a half of sweltering games on ill-tended fields at far-flung suburban community colleges before I decided to hang up my hardball spikes for good, and now I mainly use it in games of catch with Carter. I’ve never broken it in properly, and when I put it on my hand now I long for the fit of a well-worn glove that feels like an extension of my hand.

When Carter first started to show an interest in baseball, I gave him a red toy glove I’d gotten as a souvenir from a minor league baseball game. It was good for him getting the hang of using a glove while we tossed around tennis balls in the driveway, but this season I decided he needed a real one. He’s starting in a T-ball league playing with real hardballs this year, and I couldn’t send him out on the field with a bright red glove in good conscience.

We made our trip to the Sports Authority on LaSalle downtown, in the middle of the nest of River North tourist traps like the Hard Rock Cafe, the Rainforest Cafe, and the newly rebuilt, space age “Rock and Roll” McDonald’s next to which tour buses disgorge camera-laden families and packs of Midwestern teenagers on class trips to the big city. This particular Sports Authority store is known for the giant sign with fiberglass balls wrapped around its northeast corner, and the handprints of famous Chicago athletes like Michael Jordan and Frank Thomas pressed into cement molds along its walls. Buying Carter his first glove in the midst of all this somehow seemed less authentic. I ought to be able to take him to a musty basement full of promise like where I got my first glove, but it was the best option available.

I tried to tout this as a Big Deal for Carter and he was duly excited at first, but frankly by the time we got to the store he was more excited about lunch at McDonald’s later. When we got to the baseball department he goofed around with the catcher’s equipment and bats while I tried to interest him in the gloves. He couldn’t decide if he wanted a black or a brown one, so we settled on a Rawlings that had a little of both (but sadly, no player signature in the pocket). It cost only $15. I picked out some athletic socks for myself, paid up at the register, and the moment was over.

We had our first catch with the new glove at the park later that day. Carter insisted we play with a hardball, but I was afraid of hurting him so I couldn’t quite figure out how to throw it. The trick is putting just enough mustard on it to snap his glove without throwing a total BB that would give him a shiner if he missed and it hit him. I couldn’t figure that out that technique, and I couldn’t get the right distance holding back on a lob either. Half the throws went way over his head, and the other half short-hopped him. He spent most of the time running after the ball. I’ve had more productive games of catch with my dog.

The game ended in tears when he did miss one and the ball plunked him right between the eyes. Fortunately there was no lasting damage, but he didn’t want to play any more either. Carter’s supposedly magical day with his new baseball glove ended with me thinking I’d broken his nose.

I don’t remember anything about the rest of the day after my dad bought me my first glove either. Maybe we played catch and he gave me a black eye too, which would seem about right. Parenting has a way of throwing beanballs at your best intentions and ruining the Norman Rockwell moments.

I must have done something right with Carter though. The next day he and Sadie pounced on our bed at 6:15 a.m. like they do every day, but instead of asking me to turn on a cartoon or help him get dressed, he cut straight to the chase.

“When can we go to the park and play catch?”