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Proper Baseball Glove Break In And Maintenance
There are more methods to condition a baseball glove than there are stars in the sky - or it would seem that way at least. Ask any ball player and they will give you their personal secret to success when it comes to breaking in a new glove. You can bake them in the oven, put them in the dryer, soak them in water, tie them up with string; anything you can think of, there's someone who has tried it. A favorite in super-hot Texas summers is to put a ball in the pocket and place the glove on the dashboard of a car for a few days. But what is the right way? Is there a right way, or just lots of wrong ways?
Local glove manufacturer Nokona recommends using their conditioning cream to clean and condition the glove. Nearby competitor Kelley Athletics will tell you the best way to break in a glove is simply to use it. They will also tell you, and many "experts" agree, that when you store a glove it should always be with a ball in the pocket, resting on its outside edges with the pocket facing down (web up). Setting the glove down this way keeps the pocket from getting crushed or creased. They also agree that you shouldn't stuff gloves in to a gear back. If you have no choice, put the glove in the bag with a ball in the pocket, and take the glove out as soon as possible. Never leave the glove in the bag for long periods of time.
What's Your Favorite Glove Break In Method?
Break-In or Broken?
The idea behind breaking in a new glove is that by conditioning the leather, the glove will be more pliable and easier to squeeze when catching a ball. Ideally you want to do this while still maintaining the glove's shape. Any method of conditioning that involves creasing the glove (except catcher's mitts) or flattening the glove can actually ruin the glove and forever remove the shape from the glove's pocket. Throw away any ideas that involve sleeping on the glove, sitting on the glove, running the glove over with a car (true) or stacking books on top of the glove. These methods will seriously destroy the pocket of a well-formed glove.
There are gloves that do not have stiff pockets or well formed, stiff webbing. Certain sand-lot style gloves, some lesser quality baseball and softball gloves, and gloves made with soft leather tend to have much more "give" from the start. Also, there are styles of catcher's mitts that are shaped in such a way that when properly conditioned, they will form a clam-shell and flatten naturally. Basically, some gloves will flatten on their own either because they were designed to flatten or because they are poorly made.
I use a 3-step conditioning method, combined with proper storage, to ensure a well functioning glove with a good pocket that will see inning after inning of play. I use this method on all our gloves, regardless of manufacturer, leather type, quality of construction, or webbing type. It works very well and using this method is extending the life of the gloves. To complete this process, you will need a couple of soft, white hand towels, saddle soap, Nokona's Classic Conditioning Cream, and a regulation sized softball.
Start by giving the new glove a thorough cleaning with the saddle soap, following the instructions on the container for use on leather. Saddle soap is used for conditioning and cleaning all sorts of leather, and it of course, works exceptionally well on saddles. Not much difference in the leather between a saddle and a baseball glove, and the saddle soap will leave you with a clean and conditioned glove. After the cleaning, place the softball in the pocket and loosely wrap a towel around the glove. The softball is for proper storage (keeping pocket shape) and the towel to wick away any moisture that remains after the cleaning. Let the glove set aside for at least 24 hours to make sure it has time to dry. Don't bake it, dry with a hair dryer or clothes dryer, or stick it on a hot dash board. Also, don't tie it up with the towel around it.
The second step is to apply the conditioner. Use your fingers to apply the conditioner to the glove. It has the consistency of Vaseline, but is not a petroleum based product. Never use a petroleum based product on the glove because it will eat away at the leather. (No baby oil either!) Be sure to work it in to all the laces, between the fingers, into all the parts of the web and the pocket and some on the inside where the palm sits. It is very important with the conditioner to get the laces. This will keep the laces from drying out and protect them from getting overly wet. When the laces go, the glove starts to fall apart, and although you can re-lace a glove, it is not an easy task. After completely conditioning, wipe off excess conditioner with the towel, place a softball in the pocket, and set it aside to dry. I usually set it on the towel so as not to get conditioner on anything but the glove. Give the conditioner another 24 hours to set up, wipe the glove down with the towel and move to the third step: Play.
I agree with Kelley Athletics in that perhaps the best way to truly break in a glove is to use it. The more you use it the better it will feel, and it will not take long at all. It does help to keep the leather in good shape, so I recommend cleaning with saddle soap and applying the conditioner once a month, in and out of baseball season. Always store that glove with a ball in the pocket, resting web up. We just "finished" break-in on a new Nokona that went from factory new stiff to veteran player soft in only 2 weeks. The glove was conditioned with step one and two, and has seen a ton of action on the field since then. (And of course, it is stored properly every day.)
Long Live The Glove
Going through the right cleaning, conditioning and break in will help a glove last for a very long time. Some of the higher end gloves can go for over $500. You do not want to soak a $500 glove in a bucket of hot water then stick it in the over to dry. (And if you do feel compelled to do so, send me the glove before you do anything, clearly you have money to burn.) Quality gloves can last for years, even with heavy use if they are properly maintained. The method I use to maintain our gloves is not the be-all and end-all of glove maintenance, but it has worked well for me for years. You may want to experiment with different methods, just remember, it is easier to ruin a glove than it is to keep it in good shape.