As a ball player, you made the occasional splash with a big hit...maybe drove in the winning run late in the game, but you made your reputation with your glove. A good defensive player was greatly valued by coaches and never sat on the bench. As an outfielder I was solid defensively. I had a strong arm, got a good jump on fly balls off the bat, and I was fast enough to run them down. Unfortunately the glove I used was a badly worn hand-me-down. The pocket was too small for an outfielder, not like the newer model gloves that were in the windows of the Davega sporting goods store on Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn.
Davega's sold uniforms and equipment for most sports, and its windows were a powerful lure for kids. We would walk down Rockaway Avenue to Pitkin and stare at the magnificent array of satin team jackets, colorful uniforms, footballs, basketballs, hockey sticks, and especially the baseball gloves. Gloves for infielders, first baseman's mitts with those two big fingers, catcher's mitts with perfectly padded pockets for handling blazing fastballs, and there, on a plastic display stand, was the glove I craved with all my being, the Rawlings Don Larsen model glove. It was a thing of beauty, all soft, buttery leather and rawhide stitching, with the red Rawlings label on the outside. It was huge, made for leaping, acrobatic catches that turned sure home runs into routine outs. I could almost feel my teammates pounding me on the back as I trotted back to our bench...great catch Jim, and coach Bryan muttering: Good 'D' kid!
Who was I kidding, the glove cost around sixty bucks, serious money in the Fifties. I wanted to go into the store to ask the man if I could try it on, you know, just to see how it felt. I changed my mind when I realized how much worse I would feel if I actually touched the glove, smelled its pungent leather, and pounded the pocket with my fist. I decided against it, and made up my mind not to look in that store window so much because the sheer longing for that glove was making me crazy. I'd do the best I could with my old glove and the hell with it.
That Christmas I was excited since even poor kids get stuff under the tree. As my sister and I opened gifts, I spotted a box shaped like it contained a pair of shoes. (Hey, it may have been Christmas, but it wasn't uncommon for parents to slip in a few practical things you needed anyhow in the guise of a present.) As I took off the paper, my eyes widened and my jaw dropped. There it was, nestled in red tissue paper, my Rawlings Joe Dimaggio model outfielder's glove! I couldn't speak. If the box had contained a million dollars in cash I couldn't have been more surprised. I saw the smile on my father's face...I can only imagine how hard he must have worked to persuade my mother to make such an extravagant purchase.
It was months until baseball season but that glove never left my sight. I rubbed it with linseed oil and, after placing a baseball in the pocket to help shape it, wrapped it with rubber bands until it was moulded to the perfect fit. I used that glove until the leather was nearly worn away, and I'll say with some modesty that over the years I took my share of extra base hits away from disappointed hitters. We tried not to spoil our kids as they grew up, but sometimes, when you knew how badly they wanted something that cost a lot of money, you caved in and bought it. Seeing the looks on their faces was worth it. I just hope my Dad got his sixty bucks worth from the look on my face that Christmas morning so long ago.
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