Breaking in a new glove is one of baseball’s most cherished rituals. Even today, when composite materials make pro gloves lighter and more flexible than ever, the core of a good ball glove is thick, stiff leather — leather that requires both abuse and care to mold into the perfect fit for your player’s hand. Everybody has their own way of doing it — some people use balls and rubber bands, others just back over it with a truck — but the pros have breaking in a mitt down to a science.
To find out exactly what they do, Fatherly called up Freddie Peña at Peligro Sports, a Manhattan-based baseball specialty shop that’s been serving the community for decades. Peña learned glove care from the true master of the art, Shigeaki Aso, the glove designer for Wilson Baseball. Here are his tips.
Don’t Go Pro Too Soon
One of the most common mistakes dads make, says Peńa, is trying to put a pro glove on their son’s hand too soon. Professional grade gloves are made for adults — they’re large and usually very heavy, which can wreak havoc on a kid’s game. “The one thing I would ask dads to do is to chill out with the semi-pro or pro gloves,” Peńa says. “It’s not about the leather, it’s about the mechanics. The glove is an extension of your arm.”
Start With a Ball And a Mattress
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to break in a tee-ball or training glove, but you don’t really need to. The first glove a kid learns to catch with will likely be made of plastic or some kind of synthetic material because leather is much too heavy for a small child. Those gloves almost always come broken in. Still, Peńa says there’s a bit you can do to help. With a synthetic glove, try to give the pocket of the glove some shape by putting a ball inside, holding it shut with rubber bands, and putting it under the kid’s (or your) mattress for a day or two. While synthetic materials don’t mold as well as leather, it’ll at least help give the glove some wear — and that will help them catch.
Follow This Four-Step Process
By age of 9 or so, a player is usually ready for a leather or mostly-leather glove. And that’s where the Peña/Aso process comes in. Here’s what you’ll need:
- A bucket of warm (but not boiling) water. Think the temperature you do dishes with — hot, but not too hot, to touch. A measuring cup to pour the water.
- A glove mallet, baseball bat, or wooden kitchen mallet (like you’d use to pound garlic).
- A dry towel.
The process is pretty simple. First, pour warm water over the palm of the glove, letting it run off the leather and back into the bucket. You don’t want the water to soak in too much, just let the heat and moisture break up the stiffness of the leather. Pour it over the palm foremost, but get the fingers and most of the surface of the glove as well. Peńa says this can sometimes stain the leather a bit, but that’s fine — it’s a glove, it’s going to get dirty.
Next, turn the glove inside out, bending the fingers back so the palm is facing up. That should give you a feel for the shape of the glove and help to break the stiffness a little. As you do this, run a bit more warm water over it.
Third, pound the glove with a baseball bat or mallet. Check out this video of Aso breaking in a glove to get the technique down. Peńa says you should concentrate on making a pocket where you’ll catch the ball, pounding the glove in that area specifically. If this isn’t your first glove, look at an old glove and see where the most worn spot is — that’s where you catch the ball. “That’s when the new glove starts to feel like your old glove,” Peńa says. If it’s brand new, put it on and toss a ball in there a few times, see where it feels most natural. Then pound that spot. You can close the glove and beat the outsides to break in the crease as well. All the while, you want to be slipping the glove on and off your kid’s hand, so they can feel how it’s breaking in and get it perfectly fit for their fingers.
Finally, for good measure, you can put a ball in that pocket, wrap it up with rubber bands, and throw it back under the mattress for a night or two. But you don’t have to Peńa says. For the most part, the next step is to just play catch.