- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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I thought breaking in a glove was simple. You put a baseball in the webbing, tie it shut with shoestring, stuff it under the mattress along with the SI swimsuit issue, a Maxim magazine and the Victoria's Secret catalogue, then sleep on it all winter. But then I asked major leaguers how they break in their gloves and I learned that like so many other things, breaking in a glove has become a whole lot more complicated.
"Well," San Francisco's Aaron Rowand said, "first I'll get it wet. Soak it under a faucet, get the leather wet and let it soak in. Then I'll put it in the microwave for a minute, 10 seconds to soften up the leather and then go out and catch balls off the pitching machine."
Wait a second. You put it in the microwave? Really? Who puts a glove in the microwave and why?
"My glove made an error, not me. It made an error, so to punish it, I put it in the microwave and left it in there 30 seconds," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. "And it actually felt a lot better. I'm like, 'Wow,' let me go ahead keep doing this so every year in spring training I would do it to break my glove in."
I learned that if you leave [a glove in the microwave] for a minute, it starts cooking. You can pretty much eat it.
”-- Angels outfielder Torii Hunter
Hunter and Rowand aren't alone. Turns out the microwave is the fashionable way to break in gloves these days. Felix Hernandez, Pablo Sandoval, Vladimir Guerrero, Ervin Santana and many others go the microwave route as well. Rowand says the microwave softens up the leather and lets you stretch and form it easier. Warning: Just don't leave it in there very long. "I tried the microwave once and it melted all my rawhide," first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz said. "That was the last time I tried that one."
Hunter recommends less than 60 seconds. "I learned that if you leave it in there for a minute, it starts cooking," Hunter said. "You can pretty much eat it."
No microwave oven for Arizona's Stephen Drew, though. He goes with an old-school oven, treating his glove as if it were a Thanksgiving turkey by cooking it at 300 degrees for two to three minutes after basting it with shaving cream. Mmmmmm. "My older brothers J.D. and Tim did it while I was growing up and I just sort of followed in their footsteps," he said.
When it comes to glove recipes, the key ingredients are the same for creating a diamond: heat and pressure. "One of my buddies told me to put it in the trunk of my car. It gets so hot in there, you break it in," said Mariners second baseman Chone Figgins, who grew up in Tampa. "Or sometimes he tells me to hit it with my bat."
Before discovering the microwave method, Hunter says he used to set his glove underneath the leg of a kitchen table. The Angels' Howie Kendrick says he steps on his glove, throws it against a wall and pounds the pocket repeatedly with a bat. Less patient players have even been known to back their car over a glove, which seems rather disrespectful. "If it's a new glove it doesn't deserve any respect," Seattle shortstop Jack Wilson said. "It doesn't get any respect until it's been used in a game."
Milton Bradley says he simply goes with the traditional tie-up-the-glove method. Tim Lincecum says he breaks in his glove just by playing catch with it repeatedly. And San Francisco's Mark DeRosa has a simpler method. He waits until the Rawlings rep comes by to show his gloves to players in spring training and asks him to save him one after everyone else has put their hand in it to try it out. "And by the time he's used it with the 10 or 12 teams that are out here," DeRosa said, "it's pretty much broken in."
Ken Griffey Jr. has an even simpler method for breaking in his gloves. "I send them to my dad and he does it for me."
The simplest method, however, is probably Wilson's. He doesn't break in his glove at all. Well, that's not accurate. It's not that he doesn't break in gloves, it's that he doesn't have to anymore. While other players often go through two gloves a season, he's been using the same glove for six seasons. So much pine tar has built up on it that it is virtually an environmental hazard requiring special storage outside of his home.
"The pine tar puts a crust on it so that the fingers don't get too floppy. She's beautiful," Wilson said, gazing at his glove. "When you find a good one, you try to hang on to it for as long as possible. This one doesn't play catch. It only plays in a game and it doesn't come out at all until the first inning. In the offseason it gets sealed up in a big Tupperware container. It sits in there all winter and I don't touch it until opening day. It's so old I'm afraid it would break. So I keep it in the garage. It's the best place because it stays pretty much the same temperature there. And it's sealed tight. No air gets in there. And then I take it to spring training, pop it open and it's ready for Opening Day."
The best method for breaking in a glove? Undoubtedly it's Hunter's. That's because before sticking his glove in the microwave he soaks it in a hot tub. And, evidently, that is quite an appealing process in itself. "We have a lot of women in the Jacuzzi," Hunter said with a laugh. "My glove is always in the Jacuzzi with somebody. It's a special glove. It's a lucky glove."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Forget the old-school methods. Do it like a big leaguer: Nuke, bake or soak that mitt.