MLB players have a unique relationship with their gloves

LOS ANGELES — When Seattle Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suarez misses a ball, he slams his face into his glove and leaves a few choice words for his leather companion.

“I’ll say, ‘Come on, come on,'” he recalled recently in Spanish. “If I don’t eat, you don’t eat.”

Yes, Suarez talks to his glove. He doesn’t have a name, but he admits that he is like a person to him. “He is with me and helps me give my best on the pitch,” he said. And as a result, he goes out of his way to make sure his friend is comfortable.

31-year-old Suarez does not put it on the ground, he prefers to place it on a bench or a shelf. He said in his closet always has its own shelf. In his travel bag, he has a box and his own space. But what if a teammate wants to touch?

“Can you but use it? No,” he said. “The hand inside? I don’t like it.”

Baseball players are weird and superstitious. A major league baseball season is quite long: 162 regular season games over six months, including six weeks of spring training and a month of playoffs if the team reaches the World Series. So players naturally develop routines to add some order. And when they’re successful on the field, the habits stick — even if the difference is only in their heads.

So Suarez, in his ninth major league season, is unlike many other baseball players who have, shall we say, a special relationship with the glove.

“I take care of her like she’s my wife,” Willson Contreras, the All-Star catcher for the Chicago Cubs, said with a smile. “This is my baby. It’s the most precious thing I have in my closet.”

Santiago Espinal, an All-Star second baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays, also sees his glove as family: “It’s like my son. There are even times when I sleep with my gloves on. “When I buy a new glove, I sleep with it.” (Technically, he explained, the glove sleeps on his nightstand.)

As a catcher, it makes sense that the 30-year-old Contreras has deep feelings for the glove. But the elements (heat, dryness, humidity) and pitchers throwing harder than ever (the average four-seam fastball was 93.9 miles per hour this season) quickly wear and tear on Contreras’ most essential tool. He does everything he can to pamper him so he can get through the season, then hangs up the glove at the end of the year.

“If I could use a glove for more than a year, I would,” he said. “But I have to change them.”

The same goes for Yadier Molina, the St. Louis Cardinals catcher who won nine Gold Gloves during his 19-season career and plans to retire after the 2022 campaign. Molina said he cleaned the glove often but had to get a new one every year. His teammate, Paul DeJong, said he learned how to fit the 5-year-old’s glove with leather spray almost every day, in part by watching Molina.

“I have to take care of them because they take care of me,” Molina, 40, said.

Some players are so attached to their gloves that they will do anything to keep them in action. Tre Turner, an All-Star shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers, admitted grudgingly that this is the first season his leather friend, which he’s used for at least four seasons, has looked “old.” Then he corrected himself, “It’s actually not that bad.”

(Note: This is pretty bad.)

“I think it’s the West Coast because it’s a little drier,” said Turner, 29, who spent seven seasons with the Washington Nationals before being traded to the Dodgers in the 2021 season.

“Because on the East Coast,” he continued, “that moisture keeps the moisture in the glove. So this year I’ve had to take extra care of the glove and it’s starting to get little holes in there. I’m trying to find a bandit for it. I try to live as long as I can.”

Turner plans to retire him, however, before he reaches his former teammate’s level. Jordy Mercer, an infielder also on the 2021 national team, used a glove that was more than 10 years old, held together by stitches and looked like it belonged in a museum, not on the field.

“It was pretty rough,” Turner said. I have to get a new glove before then. I really don’t like the way it feels, so I’m trying to keep mine alive.”

Jeff McNeil, the All-Star second baseman, disagrees with the glove’s expiration date. He has been using the same glove since 2013, when he was drafted by the Mets in the 12th round. He originally had two, but retired one after the first season and trained. The second continues.

“It is weak and not the best. But it works for me,” said McNeil, 30, who reached the major leagues in 2018. “It’s perfectly broken. Once an inspector gets this glove, they use it for a long time. “

McNeil said the ball once found its way into the loose webbing of his torn glove, so he returned it. It also had a “full touch up” by a professional once, but the holes remain. “That’s my baby,” she added.

Despite this love, McNeil isn’t perfect. When he makes a mistake, he admitted — with a laugh — he finds an occasion to drop the glove. And he secretly forms a new relationship behind the glove.

“I’m working on cracking the other one right now,” he said, “and it’ll probably be ready in two years.”

Several players said they don’t have much to say about the gloves, despite how often they use them. But even among those who insisted they paid no particular attention to gloves, there was a common third gauge.

“Just don’t put your hand in it and take ground balls,” said Boston Red Sox All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Dansby Swanson, the Atlanta All-Star athlete, added, “I just don’t want people to keep doing it.”

Nolan Arenado, the Cardinals third baseman who has won the Platinum Glove Award five times as the National League’s top fielder, has the same red line.

“Big no-no,” said Arenado, 31, who is in his second season with his current glove. “If anyone wants to feel my glove, yes, go ahead. If you try to touch it, I’m like, “No, man, don’t do that.” I stop them before they do. It’s not that their hand is bigger or smaller than mine. I just don’t want anyone to put their hand in the glove.”

There are those who find the rules about other players and gloves extreme.

“Some guys are crazy about it, like they won’t let you touch it or barely touch it,” said Mariners shortstop JP Crawford, who won the Gold Glove in 2020 and usually uses a new glove every season. “It’s a bit too much.”

Some players — outfielders and pitchers — weren’t bothered by their skins at all. “I’m a pitcher, so I don’t care, and I’m not a very good fielding pitcher,” Mariners reliever Paul Sewald said. When asked about his habits, Yankees superstar Aaron Judge didn’t even know where his glove was in his locker at the time.

“If I played the infield, I’d probably be a little superstitious,” he said. “You’re using a rationale, and you have to have some feel for it. This is a different relationship. In the outfield, it’s the same as, ‘Press. Come on, friend.’

Even though he’s an infielder, Minnesota Twins All-Star Luis Arees said he doesn’t care much about his gloves, throwing them on the floor and allowing some moisture. He said he would clean them up and talk to them every once in a while and say, ‘Behave, we’re going to play well today.’

Arraez reserves his extra attention, however, to his bats. “My children,” he said. He sometimes sleeps with a small bat he uses for pregame practice next to his bed.

“I put him next to me,” he said, “and I said, ‘Son, we’re going to do my routine tomorrow, so be good.’

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