August 15, 2013
It never fails to amaze me when I see a fellow ballhawk at a game, or on television, getting ready to make a nice catch of a home run or a foul ball and he or she doesn't glove it due to an old, crappy baseball glove! First of all, let me state for the record that I know how that ballhawk feels and I've been in that situation... it sucks! I'm sure it's happened to you or you have seen it for yourself, but why? Why would you put all that effort into bringing a glove to the game, only to drop your prized souvenir?
I've written about equipment on this website before, and I'll continue to write about it until every ballhawk gets my message loud and clear. The gear you use to snag baseballs is one of the key elements of our sport/hobby! Smarts and knowhow are great but you have to marry them up with quality gear! Do you think a big game hunter that spends the time, money, and effort to travel from the United States to Africa to bag a water buffalo or rhino, let's say, brings a "Pop-Gun" to the hunt? No, he brings the biggest and baddest rifle that he or she knows can take down the monster beast. The hunter is going to spend thousands of dollars to go on that hunt, and they want to come back with the prize, and they don't want their main piece of gear... the rifle... to fail them!
Big wave/professional surfers, skiers, or snowboarders all use the top of the line gear. You have to if you want to catch the wave, or make it to the bottom of the mountain. Plus, there is a safety factor involved in this also: if you don't have the right sized surfboard for big waves, you could die! Yes, die! A forty-foot wave could kill you if you don't take off the right way and pull out of your bottom turn (I know... I used to surf and ski and almost died surfing a big wave). In all extreme sports, in my opinion, you have to use pro-level, top of the line gear! What does this have to do with baseball gloves?
Well, snagging a baseball at a Major League baseball stadium is a pretty big event, too. You're not just tossing balls around in the backyard with your little brother or sister or playing in little league or soft pitch softball. You're trying to catch a big league home run ball. A big league home run ball is no joke to catch either... I can't tell you how many people I've seen in the past few years get hit and injured at batting practice or during the game from batted balls that are hit into the stands. Those balls come screaming in at 120mph, people! And could kill you or seriously injure you if they hit you in the right spot! First of all, Major League players are bigger and stronger than ever and they are elite athletes in the best shape of their lives, twenty-five to thirty-five years old, and they are all in competition mode when they step on that field. That means they are hitting the ball very hard!!! During BP, they are either A.) trying to impress their coach by hitting the baseball as hard as they can, or B.) trying to show off for the other team that is nearby stretching, and trying to put on a power demonstration for them and the fans. And here you come into the stands at "whatever ballpark USA" with your fifty-dollar Walmart baseball glove and think you are going to snag a Major League home run ball... yeah, right! Again, I'm talking a little trash here, painting a picture of the situation to illustrate my point, and to show you how absurd it sounds and looks for the average guy or gal to bring this type of baseball glove to the ballpark in hopes of being successful in trying to snag a big league baseball.
I know I am going to get a bunch of comments now saying, "Hey, man, I can snag a baseball using my old, junky glove!" I know that for some of you out there, snagging a ball with an "old faithful glove" is still fun and can be done. Hample had been using his old faithful glove until this year when he opted to buy himself a very nice pro-level glove. Jabs and the boys in the 'Burgh still use their old faithfuls (these were all pro-level gloves at one time though), but these are all elite ballhawks and they have thousands of catches and hours logged at BP at a bunch of different ballparks all around the country, and they know what they are doing... I'm talking about the guy or gal that wants to bump their game up to the next level? and to the kids out there that bring those cheapo gloves to the park: SOMEONE IS GOING TO GET SERIOUSLY HURT! Mom and Dad, buy your kid a nice glove, please!
I think it is unsafe to bring the cheapo gloves to the ballpark. These gloves are not built to catch a Major League home run ball--they are not sturdy enough to absorb and withstand the energy generated by a batted ball moving at approximately 110 to 120mph. They don't have the pockets deep enough to catch and keep the ball from ricocheting out of the glove. These gloves were made for little league, and for Moms and Dads to teach their kids how to play catch, in my opinion.
What about old gloves? Why would you bring an old glove to the park? An old glove has a few problems associated with it. First of all, it will have old, worn-out leather that will not grip the ball once you make the catch. The leather will have that smooth, soft feel to it. Most new gloves have that leather that feels almost sticky and will grip the laces of the ball a lot better once the ball smacks the pocket of your glove. Second, the leather will become brittle and crack if not oiled over time and the laces will be weak and a home run ball could zip right through and break the laces in the pocket of your glove... ouch... not good! Third, an old glove loses its shape and most of the guys and gals I see bringing old gloves to the game fold them up under their arm as they are walking around the ball park with them. NO! This will screw the pocket all up, and will not benefit you when the "moment of truth" comes! This leads me to this observation: look and watch how the players handle their gloves--they never old them under their arms, they always just hold them by the back strap, or the thumb of the glove!!! Yes, this will be a lot of work for you to carry your glove around the stadium like this, but it will be worth it.
I talk to the players all the time about how they go about handling their gloves, and they tell me that the infielders will personally hand carry their gloves on the airplane so that they won't hurt the shape of their gloves or mess up the pockets. Most players have contracts with glove makers and can get their gloves free. Laynce Nix, Sean Marshall, Travis Wood, Brandon Phillips, and various other players told me that the team provides them with a brochure at the start of spring training with all the glove companies in it and that they can pick whatever gloves they want and have their names embroidered on them at the team's expense. All the players told me that they have a few game gloves that they use and rotate, in case one breaks down, and a few that they are breaking in for next season. Bronson Arroyo was the only player that told me that Nike, the company that sponsors him, actually gets mad at him because he will not change out his glove or cleats! He told me that he has been using the same glove and fve pairs of cleats since 2003 and that Nike wants to put him in their catalog with their new gear... but he won't change!
Don't you deserve to treat yourself to a new glove? Aren't the stakes high enough to have good leather? You won't think anything about dropping two to three hundred dollars on a new cell phone, tablet, or laptop. You wouldn't think anything about dropping a couple hundred bucks on a baseball road trip, just to get there and try to snag baseballs with a crappy glove! My point is this, if the players get and use new equipment every year to snag big league baseballs shouldn't we, as serious ballhawks, buy ourselves quality gloves to snag baseballs at least every few years? Zack Hample told me that he packs his new glove away in his backpack after he is done using it. Shouldn't we be handling our gloves a little better, too? Shouldn't we ditch the cheapo gloves, and treat ourselves to a nice baseball glove with which to snag balls every few years like the pros do? Shouldn't we have a glove that is going to give us the best chance at success? Isn't it a safety risk (and bad for our health) to use a junky old glove when we ballhawk? Just think of how great that new glove smells and feels way down in our ballhawking soul! Shouldn't Christmas come for all of us ballhawks on April 1st? If it's just toss ups that you are snagging, fine, okay. But if you are serious about experiencing the thrill of catching a Major League home run ball or a foul ball on the fly... then c'mon... let's get some good leather on those baseballs! As always, go have a ball... I will! Comments welcomed... I'd like to hear what the ballhawking community has to say about this.
Rocco Sinisi is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com.