So, you just bought a new baseball or softball glove and it’s a little stiff, what do you do? Well, there are a million different schools of thought on this issue and we truly believe that there isn’t just ONE right way to do it. Today we’ll talk about a few of the more common ideas about glove conditioning and provide you with some links to other resources.
Softening the Leather:
No matter how you choose to break in your glove at some point you’re going to have to soften the leather so that the pocket is able to form and you get a good “hinge” effect when you open and close the glove. There are several ideas about leather softening, including mink oil, linseed oil, neatsfoot oil, shaving cream, saddle soap, and petroleum-based substances like Vasoline.
We like lanolin for leather softening because it lubricates the leather without clogging the natural breathability of the glove. Since lanolin is derived from sheep skin and not petroleum it won’t lead to the eventual drying and cracking that can occur with other products. Another good option is mink oil, which is similar to lanolin.
In addition to these oils just about every glove manufacturer has there own blend of glove oil or conditioner. Just remember, whatever you choose DO NOT overdo it, a little goes a long way and you don’t want to end up with a sticky, oily mess.
Forming the Pocket:
Now that you’ve got the leather nice and soft you’re going to need to mold the pocket. Depending on which position you play you may want to consider different shapes or sizes of pocket formation. Overall though you want to acheive a deep pocket in order to hold onto the ball but not one that is so deep that it becomes hard to get a handle on the ball when you need to make a throw. There is nothing worse than having to dig around for an extra second before you fire to first.
With pocket formation there are again several ideas about how best to achieve the desired effect. Obviously, the best way to form a custom-fit pocket that is molded to your hand is to go out and toss the ball around; there is simply no substitute to actually working with the glove.
However, there are things you can do when you aren’t using it to help the pocket form faster. We like to take a softball or grapefruit and place it deep in the pocket near the bottom of the webbing and then tie a heavy rubber band around the whole thing, making sure to center the pressure around the object that is forming the pocket. Using an object that is slightly larger than the ball you are catching will allow a bigger, deeper pocket to form.
You can apply even more pressure by placing the glove under your mattress and sleeping on it, though this can sometimes be uncomfortable. We don’t recommend this unless you are truly committed to the idea.
Once you have softened the leather and formed the pocket you should be good to go. You can repeat this process if you need to. However, we reccommend that you actually play with the glove a few times before repeating since you won’t know how the process worked until you use it.
Heat – Some people swear by the heat-treatment method. This technique requires you to put your glove in a 300 degree oven for 3-4 minutes. When doing this you must turn the oven off once it has reached temperature, you don’t need constant heat. You can also use a microwave as some Major League players do.
We DO NOT recommend this method as it can very easily damage your glove beyond repair. A better idea for heating your glove is to leave it out on a rock in the sun for a while. This should give you enough heat to allow the oil or conditioner to penetrate deeper into the leather.
Shaving Cream – Some people swear by this method of leather softening. We’ve never really seen it work any better than the natural oils you could use and since there are a lot of chemicals in shaving cream it might not be the best for your glove over the long term. Those who do use this method say that it is quick and effective. You are on your own with this one.
Steaming – There is a realitively new process offered by some sporting goods stores where by you steam your glove in their steam chamber machine. This works on the concept of heat, pressure, and moisture and will soften a glove very quickly. However, some people claim that the glove becomes heavier because of the water that is forced into the grain of the leather. Eventually this moisture will evaporate but the long term effects of steaming are still somewhat unknown. If you have a place near you that offers this service it might be worth having a conversation with them, it might be the route you decide to go. Whatever you decide, though, make sure to let the professionals handle this one, not something you want to attempt on your own.
– Mike from Mattingly
- Breaking in a Baseball Glove (mybaseballusa.wordpress.com)