Basements, Fathers, and Gloves

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As my fiance Hannah is keen to tell anyone who is available to listen, I have a tendency to collect things. To her, these things are bought during scratching moments of passing obsession or acquired through poorly managed impulse. “Why do you want to buy another baseball glove?” Hannah asks as she fills yet another cardboard box with old photos, books, and baseball cards. “I just don’t understand,” she says. Hannah disappears down the basement stairs, boxes of ephemera balanced precariously in her arms. Her last muffled questions echo up from the basement, barely audible over thudding sounds of collapse: “Don’t we have enough? When does it end?”

Truthfully, she asks solid questions. As I extract her from beneath a collapsed pile of poorly stacked and packed personal history, I do my best to explain.

There’s this interesting moment in the book The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick where one character presents another with two identical lighters. One is just a lighter, the other was in FDR’s pocket when he was (fictionally) assassinated. The locational provenance of FDR’s death lighter is what gives the object its worth and gravity and separates one worthless piece of junk from historical significance. In other words, the story of a thing is what gives it some kind of value, be that monetary or sentimental. Not being a financially rich fella, I’m a tremendous sucker for the sentimental stuff.

So, given that I’ve established that the sentimental significance of an item can only be determined via story, Hannah settles into the mound of old scorecards, semi complete baseball card sets, and bits of soggy cardboard that has become her chair and prepares to give me a decent listen. She’s cool like that.

Baseball is something that runs deep in my family. My uncles played it, my grandfather played it, my great uncles played it, and my father played it. It was one of the constant elements of my childhood; the seasons changed, baseball was watched, and the Red Sox lost. Another unfortunate constant was my total lack of interest in the game. I was impatient (big swing at the first pitch, strike one), committed to my own bad way of doing things (still mostly wrist when I throw a ball, so strike two), and pointlessly rebellious (strike three, don’t charge the mound and sit down).

I have this memory of having a catch with my dad when I was probably about six or seven. He was a busy guy when I was a kid, so between the demands of his job and me being in school, it was nice when our lives intersected. Looking back on it now, I remember being thrilled to spend time with him, even if that meant doing something I didn’t have a huge interest in. He would toss me the ball and I’d do my best to catch it and wing it back to him. He would offer me encouragement, try to correct my throw, and improve my ability to actually catch the damn thing. But as the catch went on, I began to get upset. I wasn’t concerned with improving, I just wanted to play catch with my dad. We stopped when it became too frustrating to continue.

With memory, the truth of a situation can become clouded by our own history, biases, and the emotional weight of time passed. I’m sure that what I remember isn’t totally accurate, but that is ultimately irrelevant. Nothing is ever perfect, no one is ever really correct. Pop flys turn into line drives and a six inning shutout comes just shy of a no hitter.

I didn’t play baseball in highschool and it really wasn’t until college that I began to fully appreciate the game and its long connection to my family. And with that appreciation came a whole heaping load of regret. I’ve spent the intervening years trying to reach down through history to grab that thread, to spool it up, collect it, and become a part of it in my own small way.

At this point in my story, Hannah’s patience is beginning to wear thin. It’s clear that she thinks I’m beginning to ramble. Maybe she thinks I’m stalling for time, trying to bore my way out of trouble. And besides, there’s a piece of cardboard digging into the small of her back and that objectively sucks.

Time to get to the point: my father still has my grandfather’s baseball glove. It’s an old model, the sort of dark brown thing that looks less like a baseball glove and more like an oven mit. Any identifying information has worn off and it’s stashed in a closet, but he keeps it oiled and taken care of. He’ll take it out and put it on from time to time and maybe punch the inside a bit. He’s never explicitly said why he does this, but I think I understand because I’ve searched for the same connection with him.

I’ve asked about my dad’s career in baseball, but he’s never gone too in depth about it. A penchant for long winded ramblings doesn’t seem to be hereditary, it would seem, so here are the facts: he played first base and pitched. He was good enough to play college ball in the eighties. He used a Nokona mitt for the final stretch of his college career. He left baseball to spend more time with his future wife. He probably could have gone pro. That last fact is less “fact” and actually just my own personal opinion, so there.

I have his Nokona mitt. Much like his father’s glove, time and use has worked its way into the leather and darkened it to an antiqued patina. The Nokona logo is still visible on the palm, but only just so. It’s molded to his hand and is way too big for mine, so it requires constant adjustment during use. I’ve dragged that mitt around the country with me, bringing it to Cooperstown and PNC Park, and wearing it out to the point where I’ve retired it to a shelf. I’ll take it down from time to time, slip it on my hand and maybe punch the inside a bit.

I reached out to Nokona to get some small clarifying insight into their company. Here’s some quick info: for those who don’t know, Nokona is a ball glove company that has been based out of Texas for the past 80 some odd years. They pride themselves on making quality gloves and . for most of its history, Nokona hadn’t focused on breaking into the professional market which is inundated with brands like Rawlings, Wilson, and Nike. However, in recent years they have begun to focus on professional players that share their brand philosophies.That isn’t to say that they haven’t had some historical professional connections, however. In fact, Nolan Ryan’s first glove was a Nokona and, as I mentioned before, that sort historical connection can make an object that much more interesting or valuable. So while my father’s Nokona didn’t belong to Nolan Ryan, the handcrafted American aspect of the glove gives me a deeper feeling of connection to the history of the game and the history of my father.

I like to think that many years from now when my father is older than dirt, living above my garage, and more wrinkles than man, I’ll be able to take his Nokona down and slip my hand inside. I’ll feel my father’s hand in mine and be brought back to time where we are having a catch. He’ll offer advice and try to correct my wrist filled throw. And this time I’ll listen.

Hannah nods and tells me that she understands. “Maybe don’t continue to buy as much stuff,” she says as we head up the stairs. “Enjoy what you have.” But she understands. I agree and quietly decide to hold off getting my own Nokona first base mitt. At least for now.

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