A few week ago, I spied an ad in a flyer for Ollie’s, that good-stuff-for-cheap-prices place on the north side of town. I was continuing my eternal search for the perfect pair of underwear.
Like Ahab hunting that great white whale, guys, especially aging guys, spend a great deal of time searching for the perfect pair of under-trousers as they age and gravity imposes its will on the old bod. I’d recently been underwhelmed by a really expensive pair (almost $30) recommended by one of my bros I ordered from Duluth Trading Company and this time was going bargain hunting.
Once securing a two-pack of Russell Athletic boxers for $4.99 (which, by the way, turned out to be superior), as I always do on my occasional visits to the store that has always intrigued me for its ever-changing and interesting inventory, I began wandering and perusing the aisles.
As I turned down one aisle, I stopped and gazed at a display that both put a lump in my throat and transported me back to my childhood when I would stand in Repp Sporting Goods on North Elizabeth, just down from the Kewpee and not quite up to Eddie Altenbach’s barbershop.
It was a display of baseball gloves. Despite the fact that I’m well past the age that I would ever have any need for one of those wonderfully designed laced hunks of leather that exuded that intoxicating leathery smell, I couldn’t get over there fast enough. I stood and studied them in detail for at least a full 20 minutes, slipping several on my hand, balling my fist and driving it into the pocket of each to both hear the sound and get the feel.
While standing there, I had several thoughts about this array of 2021 ball gloves. So many of the gloves were in colors — light blue, orange and red. In my late 1950s and early ‘60s when my glove and I were inseparable pretty much every summer day, baseball gloves came in one color, brown.
My Spaulding embossed-autographed Roger Maris right-handed fielder’s mitt only changed its original color after several applications of glove oil I liberally applied before placing a baseball in the pocket and wrapping a large rubber band around it each night before I went to bed. To my pals or I in 1960 who gathered at Faurot Park several times a week for sandlot games, a glove that wasn’t brown would have been preposterous. After all, there were no baby blue, orange or red cows.
The prices I saw, in true Ollie’s tradition, were reasonable, most in the $30 to $40 range, and the glove manufacturers were pretty much the same, names such as Rawlings and Wilson. However, I was bothered by the fact that most had no player autograph anywhere on the mitt. Some had a cardboard photo of a player, such as Cubs catcher Willson Contreres (although the glove he was endorsing was not a catcher’s mitt) and retired Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, but of course, in order to use the glove, the tag would need to be removed, rendering it another glove with no autograph.
No, the gloves of my childhood that my mates and I used had autographs either along the little finger of the glove or in the pocket. Most of my friends went to great lengths to cajole their dads into buying them a glove with an autograph of a player on their favorite team.
While I’d have loved to have had a Mickey Mantle, those models were hard to keep on the shelf. After all, pretty much every boy in 1960 loved The Mick. So, I took the next best thing, a glove bearing the signature of Roger Maris, who set up in right field 30 or so feet from Mickey in center.
As I stood studying those gloves, I gathered my early 1960s wool. I remembered my summer morning ritual of slipping that glove through the handlebars, as scores of little guys did back then, before heading out of the drive in the 1500 block of Latham Avenue. Many times, when lunch wasn’t nearly as important as it is to me now, I wouldn’t return until suppertime back in that wonderful era when parents and their kids lived separate lives until nightfall as long as the weather was good.
My reverie was momentarily interrupted by a little girl and her young mom. Mom asked, “Won’t you need a glove for T-ball this summer?” The girl nodded, picked up a baby-blue colored one and looked at Mom, who nodded her approval and told her the glove was cute, and off they went headed for the Campbell’s Soup display without the girl ever putting her hand inside the glove. The whole process took about 20 seconds.
Heck, even my sister Joanie back in her tomboy days before she really bought into what has been her true passion, golf, took longer than 20 seconds to select her MacGregor glove with Red Sox Jack Jensen’s signature in the pocket!
I had to laugh thinking back to the 9-year-old me in front of that display of gloves at Repp, trying one after another on. Would it be the Gil McDougald model or the Bobby Richardson? Finally, since there were no Mantle models, I settled on the Maris.
My final thought as I finally broke away from that display of gloves was the older I get, the more the same thought filters through my brain: That is how very much has changed in the world from my little-squirt days. And, if you don’t believe me, drop me a line the next time you see a kid riding a bike down the street with a baseball glove hooked through the handlebars.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.