“I Had a Feeling That the Baseball Glove Might Light Up His Day a Bit”

From a Wall Street Journal story by Bob Greene headlined “The New Mitt Was a Big Hit”:

If you’ve ever wondered how much it would cost for a ticket to take you back in time, I’ve got your answer: $79.99. That’s how much I paid for an item I sent to an old friend who I sensed was a little down in the dumps. What would bring a smile to his face?

A Rawlings baseball glove.

Not some collectible model hand-autographed by a major-league star being paid tens of thousands of dollars to sit at a table and repeatedly scrawl his name. This was just a regular, brand-new infielder’s mitt—the kind you lusted after as a kid, when the summer sun was high in the sky.

I knew my friend hadn’t played on any kind of baseball team in 40 or 50 years… but I had a feeling that the glove might light up his day a bit. I sent it without any explanatory note.

A few days later he emailed me a photo. There was the glove, with a baseball in the palm. He had, from instinct and warm memory, tied a piece of twine tightly around it, to start forming a pocket.

A mitt, before you’d ever seen a professional game, was your ticket to summer. Stiff and a little unwieldy the first time you wore it, it gradually got to know your hand. You didn’t need anything else to give you hope for an eventful afternoon—it was a portable promise, the automatic answer to “What do you want to do today?” You lose that, as the years go by. Instead, you gaze at talented men on TV playing a game that once brought you joy, when it was your own feet on the infield dust.

The last time I played on an organized team was early in the Lyndon Johnson administration. I loved being a second baseman, but our league games were on Sundays, and I snagged a job as a summer copy boy on a newspaper where the junior copy boy always worked Sundays.

When my friend called to thank me for the glove, I figured I should get one for myself, too. It’s sitting here as I type: the white “R” on the red background of the logo, the black webbing between the thumb and first finger, the “Est. 1887” to denote when Rawlings went into business. I don’t know that I ever owned a glove this nice. When as a kid I told my father that the first mitt I played with was kind of flimsy, he said: “A poor workman blames his tools.”

Maybe so. And I have no idea what I’m going to do with this one. But the other afternoon I carried it by its strap as I walked down the sidewalk, in search of a store that might sell neatsfoot oil to soften the leather. I passed other men who on a summer day had something else in their hands: phones, whose screens they were staring at. One of them glanced over and saw the Rawlings. I can’t be sure, but in his eyes I thought I saw a flash of longing.

Bob Greene’s books include “Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queen Nights.”

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