MLB players have unique relationships with gloves

LOS ANGELES — When Seattle Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suárez misses a ground ball, he shoves his face into his glove and has a few choice words for his leather companion.

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

Yes, Suárez is speaking with his glove. It doesn’t have a name, but he admitted it’s like a person to him. “He’s with me and helps me do my best on the field,” he said. As a result, he does whatever it takes to make sure his pal is comfortable.

Suárez, 31, doesn’t put it on the floor, preferring to put it on a bench or rack. In his locker he said it always has its own shelf. In its travel bag it has a case and its own place. But what if a teammate wants to touch it?

“You can, but use it? No,” he said. “A hand in? I do not like it.”

Baseball players are a quirky and superstitious bunch. The Major League Baseball season is tediously long: 162 regular-season games over six months, not including six weeks of spring training and a month of playoffs if a team makes the World Series. So players naturally develop routines to create some semblance of order. And when they’re successful on the field, habits tend to stick — even if the difference is only in their minds.

So, in his ninth major league season, Suárez is not unlike many other baseball players who have, shall we say, a special bond with their gloves.

“I’ll take care of it like it’s my wife,” said Willson Contreras, a Chicago Cubs all-star catcher, with a smile. “It’s my baby. It’s the most precious thing I have in my locker.”

Santiago Espinal, all-star second baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays, also sees his glove as family: “He’s like my son. There are even times I sleep with my glove on. If I buy a new glove, I sleep in it.” (Technically, he clarified, the glove sleeps on his bedside table.)

As a catcher, it makes sense for Contreras, 30, to have deep feelings for his glove. But the elements (heat, dryness, humidity) and pitchers throwing harder than ever (the average four-seam fastball was 93.9 mph this season) are wearing down and tearing Contrera’s key tool quickly. He does his best to pamper it to make it through the season and then donates the glove at the end of the year.

“If I could use the 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 has won nine Gold Glove Awards in his 19-year career and plans to retire after the 2022 campaign. Molina said he cleaned his glove regularly, but still had to introduce a new one every year. His teammate, shortstop Paul DeJong, said he learned how to condition his 5-year-old glove with a leather spray almost every day, partly by watching Molina do it.

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

Some players are so attached to their gloves that they will do anything to keep them in action. Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star shortstop Trea Turner grudgingly admitted this is the first season his leather buddy, which he’s been using for at least four seasons, is starting to look “old.” Then he corrected himself, “Actually, it’s not that bad.”

(Note: It’s pretty bad.)

“I think it’s the West Coast as it’s a bit drier,” said the 29-year-old gymnast, who spent part of seven seasons with the Washington Nationals before being traded to the Dodgers for 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 more care of the glove and it’s starting to get small holes. I’m trying to find band-aids for it. I try to keep it alive as long as possible.”

However, Turner plans to retire it before it reaches the level of a former teammate. Jordy Mercer, an infielder who was also at the 2021 Nationals, wore a glove over 10 years old that was held together with stitches and looked like it belonged in a museum rather than a field.

“It was pretty gross,” Turner said. “By then I have to get a new glove. I don’t really like how it felt, so I’m trying to keep mine alive.”

Jeff McNeil, the Mets All-Star second baseman, disagrees that gloves have an expiration date. He’s been using the same glove since 2013, the year he was drafted by the Mets in the 12th round. He originally had two, but he retired and framed after his first season. The second is still running.

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

McNeil said a ball once found its way through the loose webbing of his tattered glove, so he had it relaced. He also once had it “completely repaired” by a professional, but holes remain. “It’s my baby,” he added.

Despite all that affection, McNeil isn’t perfect. If he makes a mistake, he admits – with a chuckle – that he’s found an opportunity to throw his glove on the floor. And he’s secretly formed a new relationship behind the back of his glove.

“I’m working on getting another one right now,” he said, “and it will probably be ready in two years.”

Several players said they didn’t have much to say about their gloves, regardless of how often they use them. But even among those who insisted they weren’t particular about their gloves, there was a common third rail.

“Just don’t put your hand in there and take ground balls,” said Xander Bogaerts, an all-star shortstop for the Boston Red Sox. Dansby Swanson, an All-Star shortstop for Atlanta, added, “I just don’t want people to drag it out.”

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

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

There are some who find the rules a bit extreme for other players and gloves.

“Some guys go crazy over it, like they won’t put your hand in it or barely let them touch it,” said Mariners shortstop JP Crawford, who won a Gold Glove Award in 2020 and usually wears a new glove every season. “That’s a bit too much.”

Some players – fielders and pitchers – weren’t worried about their leather at all. “I’m a pitcher, so I don’t care, and I’m not that good of a fielding pitcher,” said Paul Sewald, the Mariners representative. Asked about his habits, Yankees superstar Aaron Judge didn’t even know where his glove was in his locker at that moment.

“If I played infield, I’d probably be a bit superstitious,” he said. “You take Grounder and you have to have a certain feeling for it. It’s a different relationship. In the outfield, it’s just, “Catch the catch. Come on buddy.’”

Despite being an infielder, Minnesota Twins All-Star Luis Arraez said he didn’t bother much with his gloves, throwing them on the ground and letting them get a little damp. He said he would clean them and speak to them occasionally and say, “Behave yourself, we’re going to play well today.”

However, Arraez reserves his special attention to his bats. “My babies,” he said. He sometimes sleeps with a smaller racquet that he uses next to his bed for his pre-game practice.

“I put it next to me,” he said, “and say, ‘Baby, we’re going to do my routine tomorrow, so behave well.'”