#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The start of a beautiful relationship

"I was one of those kids who oiled up his glove, put a ball in it, tied it up and stuck it under the bed. Then I would dream sweet dreams of making the greatest play in the history of the game." - former Major Leaguer Randy Ready, from Steve Wulf's Sports Illustrated story entitled "Glove Story."

I was one of those kids, too. In fact, I'm still one of those kids.

The Original Six, from Leather Head Sports and Paul Cunningham
Yeah, one of those kids, in my mind, anyway...even though I'm in my 50th year on earth. I know I still have kid-like tendencies, especially when it comes to baseball, because of what's gone on in my life the last couple of days. Let me amend that a bit, because I can't tell this story without including fellow "kid," Paul Cunningham. Here's what happened to us on Tuesday.

I'm on my way into the city for a meeting and my phone rings. It's Paul. He says, "Did you get my email with the photo?" I tell him I did not, but from the sound of his voice, I know exactly what's up.

"They're here?" I ask.

"They're here," Paul says. "And they're beautiful."

Paul's baby - our baby, if you will - was born. The first six Leather Head baseball gloves - designed by Paul - had arrived from our overseas manufacturing partners. Paul's email had the subject line, "Tease." It was a photo of a box on a chair in his studio.

No other piece of sports equipment, perhaps no other inanimate object, exerts quite the hold on us that the baseball glove does. Most anyone who has played the game remembers a favorite glove from his or her youth, the one he or she hung from the handlebars of a bicycle. - Wulf

Suddenly, my meeting in the city was the furthest thing from my mind. Like a kid on the night before his first Little League game, or a teenager about to play his first high school game, I was antsy.

In the city, I looked at my watch a lot. When I had to make my way to Penn Station to come home, I was 17 blocks away, but had no patience to ride the B, D or F trains. I hoofed it. Fast.

On my ride to MetroPark station, I was wondering how the gloves would feel on my hand. Would the leather take me back to 1979, when I got my first Rawlings Heart of the Hide glove, an XPG3 model, before my freshman baseball season. How would they look? The ride seemed to take forever.

"A good glove is like a wife. I really feel that way. Uh-oh. My wife just heard me say that and gave me this look. You know what I mean, honey. A glove should always be there for you." - former Red Sox Gold Glove rightfielder Dwight Evans, from Wulf's story.

"The gloves are here!" Paul's email to me
I hit my GPS when I got into my car and started the ride from Metuchen to Glen Rock. Of course, I had one of those GPS nightmare trips, where I heard the lady's voice say "Re-calculating" about 10 times. I don't know what was going on, but I was all over Bergen County. Finally, I reached a familiar cross-street and knew I was minutes away from the Leather Head Sports studio.

When I walked through the door and up the stairs, Paul had a look on his face. The gloves were spread out, fittingly, like unwrapped Christmas presents thrown all over the place. One by one, I tried them on. I smelled them. Pounded them with my fist. Of course, Paul had a ball ready for me.

The gloves were smooth, the leather supple. Not ready to take onto the field. No, of course not. A great glove does not go from the shelf to the diamond. It needs work.

I was blown away.

It's only leather, or in some cases leather with vinyl or nylon, but the glove is somehow a living thing, like the bud at the end of a stem. It's pleasing to all five senses: looks good, smells good, feels good, sounds good (when the ball smacks the pocket) and tastes good (to your dog). Aesthetically, the glove is quite beautiful: fingers reminiscent of ladyfinger pastries, a web as intricate as a spider's, laces that work in unison, disappearing into the glove and then magically reappearing. - Wulf

After a couple of hours of talking with Paul. A couple of hours of going from glove to glove to glove. A couple of hours of talking about "definites" and "maybes" and things we wanted to change, I sheepishly looked at the creator of these pieces of art and asked, "How many can I take?"

You see, I'm supposed to be the baseball guy in this partnership. The guy with the contacts and the relationships. The guy who is supposed to get these into the hands of folks who can tell us what design tweaks need to be made. But at the same time, I felt guilty, on the day of their arrival, asking if I could walk out the door with them.

"Take 'em all," Paul said.

I couldn't do that, could I? No, I left with four of five.

I gave the catcher's glove to my brother Scott, who caught for almost nine years in the big leagues and is the coach at Princeton. I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but less than 24 hours later, after catching a few of his pitchers, Scott was placing an order for his Princeton catchers.

"Tell Paul it's phenomenal," was Scott's message.

It's a magical thing, the mitt. Hundreds of thousands are made every year, yet each one is special to the hand it winds up marrying. Try not to choke on this line: You can't spell glove without l-o-v-e. The next time you're in a sporting goods store, stand by the baseball glove rack for a while, and sure enough, you'll see some guy sidle over, try on a glove or three, smile and walk away. He's not shopping. He's remembering. - Wulf

The other gloves are scattered about, getting beat up, broken in. Like a forensic scientist, Paul has asked that these prototypes be returned to him for examination. He's the brains of the outfit.

I mean, he's still a kid. But he's a smart kid.

Me? I'm just giddy.


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