The situation never came up in a game, but when I was 11 we ran the drill every time we took infield practice on my Little League team.
The coach said, “Let’s turn two,” and he would hit a grounder to the first baseman. I had to leave my position at second base to hurry over to cover first base for the second out of a 3-6-4 double play, and I knew it was going to hurt.
Shortstop Kevin Sletten had a cannon for an arm, and I knew his sizzling throw was going to hit my undersized baseball mitt really hard. I’d head back to my position with my mitt in my right hand as I tried to shake the sting out of my left.
So, you can imagine how happy I was to get a new mitt that season. The mitt was bigger, and the throws from the shortstop didn’t sting as much, if at all.
Even though I still made more than my share of errors and my WAR might rank as the all-time worst in Butte’s Northwest Little League, somehow that mitt made me feel like a much better baseball player.
I was so proud to own that mitt, and I worked hard to break it in just right. I oiled and tied a baseball tightly into it overnight every night for a month. I also spent hours wearing the mitt and throwing a ball into it as hard as I could.
I wore that mitt as I went undefeated pitching to imaginary batters in my yard, and I posted a record of about .500 with that glove in one-on-one games against my friend Chris Campbell.
I knew it wasn’t cheap, and my parents were far from rich, so I cherished the glove and truly appreciated what it meant for me to have it.
That was the spring of 1985, and I had that mitt until a couple of weeks ago when I trusted my son and his friend to borrow the glove to play catch while watching the Mile High Little League 11-12 boys play in the District 2 tournament at Scown Field in Butte.
Somehow, the boys lost my glove, and, being the overly-sentimental type, I was crushed.
It brought me back to the day in the early 1980s when my brother took the blame for us losing my dad’s old mitt during a pickup baseball game at the C Street Park.
(For those younger than 40, a “pickup game” was when kids would get together on their own and play a game. There were no referees, no parents, no All-Stars, no PlayStations, no headsets. It was just kids playing outside with other kids. Crazy, huh?)
We realized we left our dad’s mitt behind after we walked back to our grandparents’ house. We hurried back, and the mitt was gone. A few kids were still hanging around the park, and they gave us the name and address of the boy suspected of benefiting from our carelessness.
We nervously walked to the house, figuring out a tactful way to ask the boy if he had accidentally taken the mitt. As we opened the gate to his yard, we heard his mother yell, “Get out of my yard,” in a cryptic manor similar of the creepy old guy in Poltergeist II.
We turned around and ran like we were being chased by a grizzly bear, and the mitt was a goner.
And, boy, was my dad mad. I thought he was going to send my brother to military school.
All these years later, I can feel my dad’s pain. A comfortable baseball glove that has been fitted to your hand over the years is about as good as it gets.
My mitt was by far my oldest possession, and it was one that I figured I would always have.
It was with me when my coach, the late Mike Venner, picked me up for practice.
I took it with me when I went to college, and my buddy Kevin Darst, a fellow sportswriter at the school paper, and I killed hours playing catch outside the old Kaimin office at the University of Montana.
That mitt was on my left hand as I played beer-league softball games, and it survived “teammate” Billy Dunmire taking a marker to it to write, among other things, “Yankee Pride” inside of it.
It was with me when I taught my kids to play catch, and it helped me throw about 10 million pitches to my Little League teams over the years.
Somethings just cannot be replaced, and there is no way I could put a price on what that mitt has meant to me. Nobody would be willing to pay the price it would take for me to sell it.
I don’t know if mitts made today are as good or if they will last more than 32 years like mine, but I don’t want to find out.
Luckily, I won’t have to because this story has a happy ending.
A little more than a week after the mitt was lost and after I had given up all hope, my son and I went to play in a game between the 9-10 All-Stars and members of players’ families.
Northwest Little League president Greg McGillan, the man most responsible for getting Scown Field to look better than it ever has for the tournament, went to the shed by the first base dugout to get the bases for the game.
Greg popped his head out of the shed and called my name. Then, he tossed me my mitt as I was standing about 10 feet from where Kevin Sletten used to make my hand sting.
I was so happy. As I looked at the old glove, I must have looked like James P. Sullivan as he opened the re-assembled door at the end of Monsters Inc.
The shed was flooded at some point after the District tournament, so my mitt was soaked and a little harder than it was before.
The water damage faded the “Yankee Pride” so it is nearly gone, but the big “R” for Rawlings is still on the back of the pocket.
The mitt needs to dry out, and it might need a little bit of oil and a few thousand balls thrown in it from close range to get it back into perfect shape, but that’s OK.
In no time at all, that old glove will be ready to catch a fireball from the shortstop to complete a 3-6-4 twin killing.
More importantly, I no longer have to send my son to military school.
— Bill Foley, who could have used some military school, writes a column that appears Tuesday on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74