A Man and His Mitt: A Love Story In a new anthology of baseball essays, sportswriter Stefan Fatsis celebrates his beloved, 31-year-old baseball glove. He talks to Robert Siegel about how he set out to find out about his mitt's history and what he learned along the way.
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A Man and His Mitt: A Love Story

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A Man and His Mitt: A Love Story

A Man and His Mitt: A Love Story

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We are there. The Major League Baseball season has begun, and I don't think any sports season brings with it a more ample, annual bookshelf full of new writing about a game.

And it's not the kind of writing that we associate with a lot of other sports. It's not the how-to writing of, say, golfing great Tom Watson on the short game. Instead, it's the how-we-used-to writing on the game that is intertwined with memories of youth and even with the inherited memories of our fathers' youth.

One addition to this year's baseball library is an anthology of essays called "Anatomy of Baseball," and one of the contributors is our own Stefan Fatsis who talks with us Fridays about sports and the business of sports, and who brings with us today the subject of his essay.

Stefan, it is a thing of beauty. I want you to describe it.

Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Contributor, Wall Street Journal): Thank you. It is my baseball glove.

SIEGEL: It's beautiful.

Mr. FATSIS: It is 31 years old. It is a Rawlings XPG6, dates back to the early 1960s. The first signature on the glove was Mickey Mantel's. Mine has Willie Stargell in it. Oddly enough, Stargell was a left-handed hitting first baseman when I bought the glove in 1977…

SIEGEL: This is not a first baseman's...

Mr. FATSIS: And this is an in-fielder's glove, though it was used in the outfield by many players as well.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

You write in the essay - I'm going to quote it. "It even smells beautiful. It's the smell of leather, dirt, grass, saliva, sun, spring, childhood, summer, hope, skill, anticipation, achievement, fulfillment, memory, love, joy."

Mr. FATSIS: I have it on my hand right now. I mean, it does evoke all those things. I'm smelling it. I'm pounding it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Talk about the relationship between a boy or a child and his or her glove.

Mr. FATSIS: Or a man and his glove. And I say this without exaggeration. It is probably the most intensely felt relationship that I've had in my life.

SIEGEL: With an inanimate object.

Mr. FATSIS: With an inanimate object.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: You actually took it for an expert consult?

Mr. FATSIS: I did. I wanted to find out more about the history of my glove.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Now, the business of manufacturing baseball gloves, like so much else, has moved to Asia over the years. But you did find the sort of master craftsman who remains in this country to be a glove expert.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, his name is Bob Clevenhagen, and he is the glove designer at Rawlings. He's only the third person in the history of Rawlings, which dates back to 1887, to hold this title. He knows everything about what makes a terrific glove. And you're right, he told me that not only has manufacturing shifted, but another thing that shifted is quality.

Gloves like the one I bought when I was 14 years old were made of a very stiff leather, Horween leather, from a company in Chicago. Today's gloves are - you get them out of the box or office shelf and they're very floppy, they're ready to use. I had to break my glove in. This glove was one of the first modern baseball gloves. Gloves up until the late '50s were sort of shaped like your hand.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FATSIS: They were puffy, they were awkward. This glove had a deep pocket. It was easy to manipulate. It really - helped revolutionized the glove industry and baseball.

SIEGEL: So, you're saying the activity of breaking in a glove is now - it's obsolete?

Mr. FATSIS: Pretty much. I mean, I did…

SIEGEL: But what do they sleep on at night? What do they put under the mattress at night?

Mr. FATSIS: I did it the old fashioned way. I stuck it under my mattress for a few weeks and just played constantly.

SIEGEL: You learned an important tip what not to do with a baseball glove from an old man.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah. Two things I learned. One was something that I did because I was emulating the pros, I spit in my glove.

SIEGEL: Oh, my.

Mr. FATSIS: And Mr. Clevenhagen told me that spitting in your glove is absolutely verboten because it dries out the leather.

The second thing was when I brought my glove to Cal Ripken Jr. and asked him for an appraisal. He started to slide his hand into it. And then, he stopped and he said you should never let anyone stick their hand in your glove.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Want to read one of the peons to your glove that you've included in your essay?

Mr. FATSIS: I spent a better time in the essay describing what my glove looks like and…

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FATSIS: …part of it is just sort of a natural beauty of the thing.

Each finger curves gently, like a suburban cul-de-sac. The adjustable loops surrounding the pinkie and thumb aren't tied too tightly, but their existence is palpable.

The web isn't soft and deep, so that a ball might get lost, but rather follows the natural curvature from the top of the index finger to the top of the thumb. The heel of my glove aligns with the heel of my palm. The shearling beneath the wrist strap is matted but still recognizable.

There are no garish personal endorsements, just my first initial and last name written meticulously in black ink letters three-eighths of an inch tall just above the seam along the thumb. It looks as if I used a ruler to line the letters up.

SIEGEL: And just to set the record straight, the glove we're looking at right now is not its pristine condition. You had it restored?

Mr. FATSIS: Pristine, meaning, dilapidated condition. I did send it to Bob Clevenhagen. He gave it the once-over, he - and then he offered to restore it for me and I very, very reluctantly allowed him to do so.

And when the glove came back with this beautiful new deep, rich leather on the interior, and new laces, and new patches, I was devastated. It wasn't my glove anymore, and it took me a while to get used to the fact that my glove had been transformed into something else. And now, I really do feel it is, once again, a thing of beauty.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Okay. Stefan Fatsis, talking about his glove, "My Glove: A Biography," is his contribution, an essay to the new anthology, "Anatomy of Baseball."

Thanks a lot, Stefan.

Mr. FATSIS: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: And you can see Stefan's glove, before and after, and read part of his essay at npr.org.

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