#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Revealing Q & A with Leather Head designer Jon Contino

Jon is New York through and through.
This past week, Leather Head Baseball proudly unveiled its new logos and brand markings as created by renowned Brooklyn artist Jon Contino. Our instructions to Jon were, basically, that we had no instructions. We knew his work and loved it, so we wanted to let his creative juices flow.

Without saying a word, we knew Jon "got" our product line. Leather Head Baseball Gloves are going to be the choice of the no-BS ballplayer. Our glove designs are classic and will remind men of a certain age of the gloves used in the 70s and 80s, made of the best leather, but not overly-decorated, or overly colorful. We'll have two colors. Tan and black. You want a red or blue glove, go somewhere else. Anyway, we wanted Jon to have some fun...and from what he's told us, he had a ball.

Before the reveal on Facebook, I had a little Q & A with Jon, just to get a look inside his baseball-loving heart. It's pretty clear he shares our vision and passion.

LEATHER HEAD: What is your favorite Major League team and why?

Needle pulling lace to infinity.
JC: I'm a die-hard Yankees fan, most likely because my father is a Yankees fan as well. I started watching games with him early on in my childhood and became a huge baseball fan at that point. Unfortunately, the Yankees were terrible in the mid-80s, so I never knew the Yankees the way people did before me or even now. I can remember them playing double-headers against the Indians and losing both games all the time. Cut to 94 and there was finally hope for the playoffs...then the strike. I never thought it would happen again, but thankfully I only had to wait two more years for a World Series and we all know where they've been since then, so even though it's not true, I feel like I've been with the team on their rise to the top. In reality, they just had a brief cooling off period that I was born into, haha. The other part, and more of the reason I love them now, is the history behind the team. I always wore #7 when I was a kid and my grandfather and uncles used to tell me about Mickey Mantle and how he was one of the greatest hitters of all time. I naturally felt like I had to keep #7 with me as long as possible if I wanted to be any good. Then as I got deeper and deeper into the game and developed more of a love, I learned how my favorite announcer Phil Rizzuto was a little guy who played shortstop and succeeded despite everyone telling him otherwise. This of course resonated with me as well being that I was always a smaller guy and played shortstop as well. Then you have your Gehrigs, Ruths, Munsons, and of course Donnie Baseball. The players all had such a mythical air about them, and it always felt like it was because of the pinstripes and interlocking NY. The Yankees always embody everything good about baseball in my mind. Always have and always will!
When you look into your glove.

LEATHER HEAD: I think I see where this is going, but what's your favorite uniform and why? 
JC: All my answers will be Yankees first, mostly because I feel like they're the most pure team to still be playing the game. No names on the back of the uniform, no crazy amount of home and away jerseys. Simple white with pintstripes and grey away with the words "New York" across the chest. 

JC: Again, my favorite is the classic navy Yankees cap, but there are definitely other favorites of mine. The latest Red Sox hat is pretty great in all navy with just the socks icon on the front. I also love the classic Orioles bird face, but who doesn't? The newest Indians revival "C" hat is awesome too. I love the simplicity of these and none of them feel like "new sports design" that plagues football and basketball branding.

LEATHER HEAD: And...what is it about the game that you love the most? 
JC: The fact that you can enjoy baseball from so many different perspectives is what really grabs my heart. You can go to a ball game on a beautiful summer day or a crisp fall night, get some great food, and alternate between relaxing and yelling all in the same sitting. You can play it with a huge group of people on a nice field or a few on the street or schoolyard in the form of stickball or Wiffleball. It's not overly exhausting so you can play it every day, but it's also one of the most heart-pounding games when you get to that 8th inning and you're still down by 3 runs. Aside from all the great aspects of the game itself, it's also spawned some of the best characters in history and the general design factor that has grown with it is something I'm completely enamored with. Every single aspect of baseball is great.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

We got a lot cooler this week

The Original Six Leather Head baseball gloves are now scattered from Glen Rock, N.J., to Deland, Fla., leaving me and Paul with a little bit of glove withdrawal. We realize it's a necessary step in the development of our product to put the gloves in the field and see how they perform and wear.

Jon brings big-time talent and energy to Leather Head.
Still, we miss them.

So, in the meantime, we've started to discuss design elements. Things like patch that will go on the wrist strap. Will we adorn the glove with other markings? Something between the thumb and index finger. Maybe something on the web. Will their be other brandings inside the glove. What color scheme will we use?

Now, Paul and I have ideas and Paul has already developed a pretty cool trademark for Leather Head Sports. It's simple yet iconic. It takes you back. But there's a point of separation that needs to occur between Paul's original product line and what we're doing now because while these gloves are throwbacks to gloves of an era gone by (the 70s and 80s), we also know they are gloves that are meant to be used by elite level players.

Visually, while we love the old school look, we also want the gloves to appeal to the eyes of teenagers. Let me just cut to the chase. We want them to look cool. Because they are cool.

Jon loves the game like a kid, hence his trademark.
So, late in the week, we added cool to our lineup.

Meet Jon Contino, the man who will be our designer.

Jon is a self-described Alphastructaesthetitologist (don't ask me to pronounce it), which he means...well, Jon explained it in an interview with Four Questions, this way:

"The essence of the word “alphastructaesthetitologist” can be broken down into “one who creates and studies stylized letterforms.” But in reality, it’s just a wise-ass word I made up in response to “so what do you do?” My source of inspiration has really shifted over the years. I really take a lot out of the day-to-day lives of my family and friends. I love watching them work in their own environments and talking to them about what makes them tick. Understanding other people’s creative process and connecting the dots to real life is one of the most inspiring things I can actually grasp in some way. Everyone has their own interests as well, so talking to my dad about carpentry or discussing what’s new in fashion with my wife is always pretty invigorating, creatively speaking."

Paul knows Jon from the trade show circuit. It's easy to see they are members of the mutual admiration society. Here's why. They're both artists. They're both great at what they do.

And they both love baseball.

When our email exchanges began with Jon, it was a recipe for work-productivity disaster. Once I'd seen some of Jon's work, I was a kid in a candy store. Could we do this? Could we do that? I must have apologized 50 times for making too many suggestions, but Jon was like, "keep it coming."

At one point, we got diverted into a discussion on which sports logos we doodled as kids. I bragged how I could draw the Chicago Blackhawks logo (and the shoulder tomahawks), in full-color, from memory. Paul bragged about how he'd perfected the old Milwaukee Brewers ball-in-glove "MB." I countered with how I'd mastered the Montreal Expos famous tri-color logo from days gone by.

The first scibbles. This is where our new logo starts.
As for the direction of our Leather Head logos and symbols, first, we've asked Jon to come up with a new "LH." To that, Jon offered up the following: "The LH should always be able to work as a mark. Also something that would be easy to scribble on a notebook or drawn in the sand and still be recognizable."

Within hours, he was sharing some of his sketches. We are bouncing ideas around, but Paul and I know there will come a time when we back off and let the man work his magic.

I could detail a few of the things that Jon has done in his 29 years (his clothing line, the skateboards and snowboards he's branded, etc.) but I couldn't do it justice...

You'd be better off visiting his website.

One thing we know to be true, Paul and I, is that Leather Head baseball gloves, already beautiful in terms of the quality of the leather and the classic designs, got a lot cooler this week.

The problem I have now is that I can't sleep. Because I can't wait to see what Jon comes up with.

Friday, March 8, 2013

What is skill? What is style?

As we go into the second weekend of Major League Soccer action, I find myself asking the same two soccer questions I've been asking myself for the last 10-15 years.

Tricks are not skills, if you ask me.
They're right there in the headline to this blog post. What is skill? What is style?

I do know this much. Skill and style are the two most popular words in the soccer fan's vocabulary. Whether it's calling for more "skill" players, or for a team to play a better "style," you hear those two S-words over and over again.

It's been going on forever.

I think I have my own definitions, but I think they are different than most people's definitions. For me, "skills" are things players can do well that work in games. My list of skills is long. It includes everything from tackling and heading to passing and shooting. It also includes things that  are harder to define, like positioning and anticipating. I even consider fitness to be a skill if it is something that sets one player apart from another. A player who can run for 90 minutes can be a difference maker.

Why do I think my definition is different from the norm? Because I think most people mistake "tricks" for "skills." Let me back up just a second. I think tricks can be skills if they are tricks that work in games. But tricks that don't translate into game action are just...tricks.

I had a friend email me a YouTube video a few weeks ago. Granted, the guy wasn't a soccer guy, but he sent me a clip of a guy who could juggle a ball endlessly. Maybe you've seen the video, which shows the guy taking his shirt off, climbing up poles, all while keeping the ball aloft.

"Touched by God," was how my friend described the guy in the video.

I responded by sending him a video of Lionel Messi goals. "This," I replied, "impresses me more."

In the video, Messi displayed speed (skill), power (skill), unpredictable moves (skill), will (skill) and about 100 other qualities that I could describe as skills. Sure, on a few of the goals, he did things that could be described as "tricks," especially when it came to his finishing. Where the typical player would try to blast the ball by the keeper, Messi would chip it softly, or maybe even just dribble the ball all the way into the net. Tricks that worked in games. Yeah, skills.
Messi's skill set includes speed and power.

I've heard many players through the years described as "skillful." Or, better yet, someone will say of a player who's failed to make it at the professional level, "He's skillful, but..."

My typical reply is, "Don't call those things skills if they don't work." I'm talking about things like step-overs and scissors and no-look flick passes. If a player cannot make plays consistently under pressure, against top competition, it bugs me to hear that player described as skillful. I'd rather hear him described as "pleasing to the eye" or  even "cute." But not "skillful."

I'm reminded of the old Bruce Arena quote about Clint Dempsey, which everyone latched on to. Remember, the one where Bruce was asked what he liked about  Clint and he responded, "He tries shit." Well, trust me, Bruce wouldn't have wanted Clint trying shit if it only worked two percent of the time. However, I still hear fans and media clamoring for more guys who try shit... If it were only that simple.  I only clamor for guys to try shit if they've shown they can pull it off.

That leads into the old saw about "style."

I'll be more brief when it comes to style. If it doesn't produce wins, it ain't stylish. Whether it's short passing, long-passing (or Route 1 as the kids like to say), or bunker-and-counter (where have I heard that one before), I'm really not interested in even using the word "style" if it doesn't produce Ws.

Part of the reason I'm so against the word "style" is because it's all relative to the opposition. Most teams, I believe, go out with the intention of playing the way they want to play in a game. But all bets are off once the game begins. I'm certain that a lot of "let's keep the ball, fellas" pre-game talks turned into "let's get the f-ing ball!" once the game was five minutes old.

Dempsey tries shit, because a lot of times it works.
It's easier to play well, to look good, to pass well and create chances when the opposition is not good. It gets exponentially harder to be stylish when the opposition is either better than you, or really good at making you look bad.

To me, this is true in all sports. Nothing really matters to me if it doesn't work in a game. A pitcher who paints the corners in the bullpen, or against lousy competition, may not look the same when he's facing better hitters. A sweet-shooting guard usually isn't as good with a hand in his face. A quarterback who can throw the ball 85 yards in the air, well, it doesn't really matter if his receiver is 50 yards away, does it?

The difference I see is that the pitcher who's an ace on the side,  the pre-game three-point marksman, the QB with the rocket-arm on the practice field, they would never be described as "skillful" by American onlookers. Yet I still see their soccer equivalents lauded as "skillful" and "creative."

I'll never do it. Not my style

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.

Monday, March 4, 2013

It Started out Good and Only Got Better

Magee was good because, well, he is good.
Yesterday was a great day for soccer...for me.

Oh, I'm sure it was a great day for soccer for a lot of folks. But this is all about me. Let me explain that comment as I take you through my day, which began with the Roma vs. Genoa game.

I was happy to learn in the morning that the game would be on RAI-Italia, channel 1194 on my Optimum TV package. Since Optimum does not carry the BeIN Sports network, I rely on RAI for my Roma television. If RAI doesn't have the game, I am at the mercy of pirate internet streams.

It got better. My nephew was not in the starting lineup found his way into the game at the 40 minute mark when one of his teammates, Miralem Pjanic, went out with an injury. At that point, I called my mom, who was home alone, to tell her that her grandson was entering the game.

Roma was leading 1-0 as I placed the call, but seconds after Mom picked up the phone, I uttered, "Oh no." Michael had given the ball away on his first touch, in the attacking half, and Genoa was rushing the ball down down the field. "Oh no," I said again as a Genoa player went down in the box. "Oh no," I said a third time as I saw the referee point to the spot, awarding Genoa a penalty kick. As I started to explain to my mother, she said, "Why are you telling me all of this? I'm watching the game."

So, I got in my car and drove to my mom's house to watch the second half. Turns out, she gets BeIN Sports on her cable. We watched the second half together. Her grandson played quite well and Roma scored two goals to win 3-1 and grab a critical three points. So, that was the beginning.


I then came home and watched the Galaxy and Fire play. And I had one of those "smart dad" moments. I told my 14-year old son Beau, who is an aspiring player, to keep an eye on Mike Magee.

Grandma was fired up for the Giallorossi
Why Mike Magee? Because I told my son to watch the way Magee moves around the field. The way he always seems to be open. The way he somehow makes it difficult for defenders to keep track of him, even though he's far from the biggest, strongest or fastest player on the field.

So, what does Magee do for me? He scores a hat trick.

Now, for a second, let me go serious soccer guy on you. During the Roma-Genoa telecast, my friend Ray Hudson offered up some brilliant commentary on Francesco Totti. I'll paraphrase Ray said something like, "There are analysts now who provide charts and graphs of every player's every move during the course of of a game, with red circles and arrows, but there's no red circle or arrow that can do justice to the ball that Totti just delivered." Again, that's a paraphrase.

But, I think, a little bit of what Ol' Ray was saying ties into what I was saying to my son. There's something inexplicable about what Magee does on the field. It's the part of soccer (and all sports) that still intrigues me. Anybody can see a guy strike a ball 100 miles per hour. Anybody can see a guy run past a defender, or out jump a defender for a head ball. Not everybody can see the other stuff.

At MLS Media Day a few weeks ago, Magee's teammate Robbie Keane was telling Brian Straus of the Sporting News (and a few other reporters) he thought Magee was a player who should be considered for the U.S. national team. His reasoning was, basically, "the guy's a good player."

Ray Hudson and I think alike when it comes to charts.
A few days later, Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated ran an anonymous player's poll, and a good number of the 18 MLS players who were asked "Who is the most underrated player in MLS?" responded, "Mike Magee." Keep in mind, this was before the opening day hat trick.

I have distinct memories of Youri Djorkaeff commenting on a then-19-year old Mike Magee, playing for the then-MetroStars. I remember Djorkaeff saying, basically, "Magee is a very good player."

So, my final brilliant analysis goes something like this: "I think Mike Magee is a good player because it seems like a lot of really good players think he's a good player. I'm even considering turning it into a stat. Quote me: "Mike Magee ranks highly in the GPBALORGPTHAGP category."


The U.S.-Mexico Under-20 game and the Red Bulls-Portland game were played almost simultaneously. This meant picking one to watch on the television and one to watch on the ipad.

Let the boys be boys. Soon enough they'll be men.
I began with the U.S.-Mexico game on the TV. I'll keep my thoughts brief. Fun game. The stakes weren't all that high because both teams had already qualified for the U-20 World Cup, but a fun game because you could see it meant a lot to the players on both sides.

While I think the U.S. potentially has some really good players, I'm reluctant to go overboard. I'm old enough to have been down this road before. Let these kids enjoy the moment, hope they continue to immprove, and hold back on anointing them as guys who will play in World Cups, etc., until they've held down spots on professional teams. That's my take and I'm sticking with it.

As for the Timbers-Red Bulls game, you should just watch the highlights. It was a game full of rumbling and stumbling and a crowd that wouldn't sit down or shut up. Great, great fun.

In fact, I'd rank it No. 1 so far this year in the GGF category. And put a red circle around it.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Me and the Leather Man

Paul Cunningham put the ball in my court
It started with my blog post about losing my job.

Different people reacted in different ways. A lot of folks suggested I write a book (then I explained the book business a little bit). A few told me I "had" to become a teacher and coach (then I explained how long it would take to get certified and how the American economy had pushed a lot of folks like me - pushing 50 - into the "alternate route" teaching market, and that it would be very risky). And there were others, many others, who simply told me to "hang in there."

Well, I appreciated everyone's words.

But only one person came to me with something unique and different. That was Paul Cunningham, who is the founder of Leather Head Sports, the husband of an old friend of mine, and a guy who I have watched turn a passion - leather sporting goods - into an extraordinary business.

Paul sent me a story called 10 Reasons Why 2013 Will Be The Year You Quit Your Job. He sent it with the following message: "Read this and embrace it."

If you don't have time to read the whole article, let me quickly tell you about item No. 5.

Here it is:

5) Count right now how many people can make a major decision that can ruin your life. I don’t like it when one person can make or break me. A boss. A publisher. A TV producer. A buyer of my company. At any one point I’ve had to kiss ass to all of the above. I hate it. I will never do it again.
The 11.25-inch prototype
The way to avoid this is to diversify the things you are working on so no one person or customer or boss or client can make a decision that could make you rich or destroy you or fulfill your life’s dreams or crush them. I understand it can’t happen in a day. Start planning now how to create your own destiny instead of allowing people who don’t like you to control your destiny. When you do this count, make sure the number comes to over 20. Then when you spin the wheel the odds are on your side that a winning number comes up.

Having basically had my professional life ruined by one person in 2010, this one hit me hard. As a former colleague once said to me about being a magazine writer, "If the right guy likes you, that can be all it takes to be successful. If the wrong guy doesn't like you, it can go away in a split-second."
The 11.5-inch prototype

I am not delusional. I know for a long time, I had a couple of people who believed in me, and gave me 13 years that exceeded anything I ever dreamed I would do as a sportswriter. But, the reality is that as soon as there was a change at the top, and those people were replaced by people who did not hold me in the same regard, I was one hundred percent done. No questions asked.

So, there was the article. And it was inspirational. But - pause - I'm not really a guy who buys into the whole Tony Robbins "Power of Positive Thinking" thing. It's just not my thing. So, I'd read stories like this before, about taking control of your life, about doing something entrepreneurial. I appreciated the sentiment, but I was not truly ready to grab the message and run with it.
The 12-inch prototype (pitcher-friendly web)

A day later, Paul reached out again...this time with more.

A little background on Paul. He was a photo editor for Major League Baseball for a long time. But his passion has always been baseball gloves. He left his job at MLB to make gloves (a senior glove craftsman) for the Hawthorne, N.J.-based company Akadema. Around that time, my friend Steve Wulf was trying to put together a story on "where a baseball glove comes from," basically a glove's story from cow pasture to baseball diamond. I hooked Steve up with Paul for a conversation. The story - to my knowledge - was never written, or maybe it just ended up in the holding zone.

The 12.75-inch prototype (outfielder's glove)
Things didn't work out at Akadema for Paul, and he found himself in a place similar to where I was back in mid-January. That's when he started Leather Head Sports, making handmade leather footballs and "lemon peel baseballs" and Naismith-era basketballs. Not "for game use" balls, but balls that are part collectible, part toy, and 100 percent cool. But, at the same time, I knew what Paul really wanted to do was design and perfect baseball gloves. This was our connection.

I could throw Rawlings and Wilson model numbers at him and he'd know those gloves without even having to look them up. I told him stories about gloves I had and gloves I gave away. Stories about good leather and bad. For each story I told, Paul added background, provided knowledge.

And so a day after Paul sent me the "10 Reasons" article, he sent me something better. It was a note telling me he was ready to launch Leather Head baseball gloves, and he wanted me to help him.

First Baseman's Mitt prototype
My response was three words. "I'm all in."

From there, we sat down together and talked about gloves. We also talked about our dreams for our wives and our kids. We talked about a lot of stuff. And we started designing gloves. Well, Paul did the designing. I told stories. Because, well, that's kind of what I do. It's really all I do.

But you know that already.

And them came yesterday, and our first look at our Original Six prototypes. Two infielders gloves. A glove designed for pitchers. An outfielder's glove. A first baseman's mitt. And a catcher's mitt.

32.5-inch Catcher's Mitt prototype
This week, these gloves will be put in the field. I will hand a few out to a few guys I know who have played the game at high levels. A minor league infielder. A major league infielder. A former big league catcher. And, yeah, I'm going to let my son (a high school player) try one out.

We will ask for feedback. We will tweak. We will perfect. We'll need help from people who are involved, invested even, in the game of baseball. But this is the dream of two grown men.

A dream that's becoming reality.

Time to have a catch. And like us on Facebook!

Friday, March 1, 2013

It's Christmas Morning in Jersey

Watching Ty catch, I wish time could stand still
My son came home from school with a stiff, new catcher's glove yesterday. Seriously, it's a brick. He said, "Coach said this is going to be hard to break in. But I told him you had a system."

Indeed, I do. It's a "system" my dad passed on to his sons. It's a "system" my brother has passed on to his catchers at Princeton. It's a "system" I believe in. You start by soaking the glove in hot water. I mean, you soak it in hot water. You don't just sprinkle it. You saturate it.

Once it's soaked, you beat it up. I use a rubber mallet. You could use the butt-end of a baseball bat if you want. But you pound the pocket like there's no tomorrow.

When you can't pound any more. You put two baseballs in the sweet spot, tie it up and put it in a warm place.

Breaking this sucker in with "the system"
Then you keep repeating the process until the glove is dry.

Then you play a lot of catch.

There's no guarantee every glove will be perfect. A lot depends on the glove's "bones." If it doesn't have the right shape, if it's not cut from a good template, there's nothing a human being can do.

This, my friends, is baseball.

While it would be nice to be earning a paycheck again (that will happen eventually, I have faith), I cannot do justice to the joy that comes from watching my sons play on teams. So, it's the silver lining in this "hiatus." Last year, I sat in the press box at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, some days fighting back tears, as my dad (and the local reporter from the Coast Star on Twitter) kept me updated on my son's games.

So, for now, 'll try to cherish simple things like breaking in new gloves, throwing batting practice, hitting fungos, clapping the mud out of my kid's spikes before he gets in the car. For now, anyway, I can be a little more like my dad, who never missed any of my games.

My 16-year old son Tyler begins baseball practice today, like all New Jersey kids have done for years and years, on March 1. I remember March 1 as a day I circled on the calendar. Didn't matter if there was snow on the ground, freezing rain falling from the sky, or winds blowing at 50 miles per hour.

March 1 was Christmas morning, and then some.

And so I watched him spring out of bed this morning, pack his bag, including things like a cup, some "sleeves" and, of course, his blue and gray Manasquan cap. When I drove him to school, I saw some of his teammates, who likewise, were sporting caps and school colors, and toting big bags.

I don't care how sappy it sounds, but I'm going to be 50 years old in nine months and I'm here to tell you that nothing - nothing - has ever filled the void that was left when I could no longer be on teams. Looking back it had very little to do with winning or losing. It had to do with working together with your friends toward a common goal.

It also had to do with inside jokes we share to this day.

If you never played on teams, I have a tough time relating to you. Doesn't mean I don't like you, or respect you, but I have a tough time relating to you. Because almost every valuable lesson I learned in my life came from being on teams.

I learned how to take criticism like a man.

I learned how it feels to let people down. I learned how it feels to pick someone up when they're down, and how to appreciate when someone cares enough to pick you up when you're down.

I learned how to tell a joke, but more importantly how to take a joke.

Team sports gave me the ability see who's real and who's fake. When you're in the weight room, sweating, trying to make yourself better, you lose tolerance for slackers. When you're staying late to take extra batting practice and you're watching others leave as soon as possible, you stow that away.

Beau's high school track career begins next week
This is a love letter to my son Tyler. And next Tuesday, my son Beau begins his freshman track season, so it can be a love letter to him, as well.

Cherish these days. Work hard, if not for yourself, for the guy standing next to you. Be one of the guys who brings people together. Always focus on the next play. Forget about the last one, and that means forgetting not only about errors and strikeouts, but also line drives and web gems.

The next play is all that matters.

Come up with a few memorable sayings and write them down.  Pick a few songs to play in the locker room and play the hell out of them. Play them until guys are saying, "Enough!" And then play them some more. When you hear those songs when you're an old man, they'll remind you of these days, spent with your team. "We could be Heroes," still rings in my ears, to this day. Makes me smile.

Never the most talented, but never outworked.
A lot of my peers in the sportswriting community have decided that "leadership" is a myth, that "playing hard" is not quantifiable, and smirk and giggle when anyone uses the word "intangibles."

They never played high school ball, or maybe they've forgotten. Those things are real even if there's not a stat to back 'em up.

Be a leader with the way you practice and prepare. Be a leader with the way you walk back to the dugout after a strike out or a pop up, and simply place your bat in the rack. No throwing stuff. No bad facial expressions. Make everyone in the park believe that you "just missed it."

Play hard. In practice, run every sprint like it's your last. Shout out directions on cut-off plays until your throat stings. Chatter may not work in the bigs, but a few "attaboys" work wonders in high school. Go ahead and lead the team in "attaboys."

Eat right. Get enough sleep. School is your number one priority, but your teammates also rank high on the list. Do not let them down because you're tired or hungry or distracted.

They're counting on you.