We have a good-sized patch of grass in our backyard. It’s just right for playing catch with a baseball. It was there that I taught my boys how to “feed the apple” and how to move side to side to get in front of a grounder. We spent countless hours there, well into summer nights, reenacting dramatic plays from World Series games.
Though the days of Little League have long passed, there is still something magical about going out back and throwing the ball around, which my adult sons and sons-in-law do from time to time. Playing catch returns us to the heady days of youth—at once we are 12 and ready to strive for the majors.
When we play today, I reach into our sports cabinet and grab my Wilson glove, the Ted Sizemore edition, something that’s been with me a long while.
On a beautiful spring Saturday in Amarillo in the ’60s, with The Beatles playing on the AM radio, my Mother drove me in her Chrysler station wagon to Vance’s Sporting Goods store. I was buzzing with excitement—the kind you feel when you are getting something special. In this case, my lust was for my own mitt, a glove like those used by my heroes of the day. Players like Carl Yastrzemski, Pete Rose and Willie Mays.
Vance’s was downtown, and when we arrived, I rushed into the store knowing just exactly where the gloves were kept. Vance’s had a large selection, and the smell of the leather permeated that area of the store. Near the gloves were rows of wooden bats, shelves of cleats and racks of balls.
While I had a good idea of what I wanted, having done some scouting a month earlier with my Dad, I was now confronted with the reality of having to make a choice. It reminded me of my first major league baseball game—coincidently at Candlestick Park—when I was allowed to get one souvenir. I stood there paralyzed by my inability to choose. Finally, the pressure on, I selected a round reflecting Giants’ logo button, still with me today.
I tried on the gloves, each stiff and large. I took a nearby ball and smashed it into the mitts’ pockets. Gloves take “breaking in,” so you accepted that new ones were unpliable, but you still needed the confidence to know that it could happen. I narrowed it down to three gloves. Like my time at Candlestick, I was overwhelmed with indecision.
A salesman came over and gave his opinion on which I should choose. He was a young guy, maybe 16, and he seemed to know what he was talking about. I asked him if he played ball and he said he did, for Amarillo High where my sister was in school. After he wandered away, I kept at it until my Mom said we were leaving with or without a glove. I finally went with my gut and selected a Wilson, the Ted Sizemore edition with Snap Action and Dual Hinge, model number A2611. It was $15.95.
As soon as we got home, I took a baseball and put it in my glove and placed two rubber bands around it to help shape the pocket. The next day, I took off the rubber bands and hit the pocket with a hammer a bunch of times and played some catch with my brother Danny. I did this for a week or so and slowly my glove became comfortable enough for me to have the confidence to use it on the field.
Though it was psychological, having that new glove—my own glove and not my brother’s hand-me-down—gave me a lift and I had a great season. In fact, I made the play of a lifetime. I was the second baseman, and it was the bottom of the seventh inning (we only played seven), with a man on third and the game tied with one out. The batter hit a towering pop fly about ten feet behind second base and I raced to it. Reaching back, my Wilson glove doing its magic, I caught the ball. The runner at third broke for home and I threw a perfect strike to our catcher a moment before the runner reached the plate, and in a bang-bang instant, the umpire screamed, “Out!” It was a thrilling moment, and on our next turn at bat, we won the game.
That glove has lasted—through Little League, through college, through having my own children, to today. I’ve had the laces replaced a dozen times and they need replacing yet again. They broke not long ago, and in order to keep the game going, I took some wire and pushed it through the finger holes and tied it off. There is still plenty of action ahead for my Wilson with my ever-growing number of grandchildren soon to be playing catch with me out in the backyard.