Lost and Found

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I’m a sentimental person until I’m not. My system for assigning emotional significance to things is arbitrary – one minute I’m filing away one of Sadie’s crayon drawings as a permanent keepsake of her life as a kindergartener, and the next I’m throwing away a two-inch stack of others just like it. My touchy-feely side is in a constant battle with my minimalist streak, and as I’ve grown older the urge to declutter and purge usually wins out. That’s how I thought I lost my most important baseball glove.

I played first base as a kid, which means I used the special paddle-shaped glove that’s the one perk for playing the position otherwise reserved the kids who were too weak-armed and slow to play anywhere else. In the major leagues, every player has a glove customized for the unique demands of his position, but when you’re a kid you either had a regular glove or a catcher’s mitt. The first baseman’s glove was next level equipment, and when I got mine at the age of 13 that meant I was serious about the position, and serious about playing baseball.

It was a tan-colored Rawlings, with a Mark McGwire signature embossed in the pocket and the slogan “Edge-U-Cated Heel” stamped across the thumb. It served me well. I used it for hundreds of games and thousands of practices, through junior high, high school and American Legion ball. I used it to record the final out of the sectional championship game my senior year in high school, what I now know was the high point of my playing career. I trusted the contours of its pocket, the well-worn flex and give of the webbing that could tell me if I’d managed to dig out a low throw from the shortstop, or more often that I want to admit, let one scoot past my reach.

I wasn’t good enough to play competitively beyond high school, but the glove stayed with me through intramural softball in college. When I moved to Chicago after graduation, I joined a hardball league for die-hards who weren’t quite ready to relegate themselves to beer league softball. I decided the old glove was a little too cracked and thin in the palm to last another season, so I bought a new one: another Rawlings McGwire model, but this time in a deep reddish-brown. I must have packed the old glove in a box and put it away. This is where I think things went wrong.

Debbie and I got an apartment together a few months before we were married, a dumpy little third-floor walkup in Lincoln Park with very little storage. When we moved, her parents must have offered to store some boxes we didn’t need in their attic, including the one holding my old glove. We got married, moved again, Carter was born, moved a second time, then Sadie was born. I didn’t think about my old glove again for years, until I started mooning over buying Carter his first glove and realized I no longer had my favorite one.

For years now I’ve been operating under the assumption that I threw it out after I bought the new one. I never once considered it an accident, that I simply lost track of the glove through all those moves and major life events. I just assumed – no, I knew – that I made a conscious decision to get rid of it for reasons that my resurgent sentimental side no longer understood, and I hated myself for it.

Except now Debbie’s parents are selling their house and moving to a new apartment, and in the process of packing last month they unearthed a box from the attic labeled “Matt’s,” the contents of which you can probably guess by now. I was flabbergasted, not so much because we found my long lost glove, but because it proved that I wasn’t as rash and thoughtless as I feared.

That glove’s weird, dusty journey matches the ebb and flow of how I have engaged with sports throughout my life. As a teenager with visions of still being able to catch on with a college team, it was one of my most important possessions, second only to my car. Then through college and early adulthood, the glove and the game it represented took a backseat to a career and family life, to the point that I thought I’d lost my attachment to it altogether. Now it’s back after I’ve gained a new appreciation of sports as a diversion from those grown-up problems, while my kids discover the joy of playing the games themselves.

This summer we took them to a White Sox game. Carter insisted on taking his glove to catch a foul ball, and in the chaos of nachos, sodas, post-game fireworks and getting the two of them out of the stadium in one piece, we left it behind. The kind people at the US Cellular Field lost-and-found department told me the next day that no one had turned in a glove fitting that description, but I already knew it was gone, picked up by someone else as a bonus souvenir or scooped into a charity bin, never to be rediscovered in a box in the attic.

At first I was upset with Carter; I felt like he was old enough to take responsibility for his belongings. But later I was more upset with myself that I didn’t think to double-check before we left the stadium. This was before we rediscovered my old glove, after all. I assumed I’d managed to lose one of his irreplaceable keepsakes too.

But it wasn’t his first glove anyway – we still have the little black and tan Rawlings he used when he started playing t-ball. When I buy him a new one this spring I’ll put that first glove in its proper place next to my old first baseman’s glove, where it’s now on display like a museum piece, safe and sound in our family room.