Baseball gloves have undergone a remarkable evolution from the very first time they were used in organized team play. Materials have changed, and the types of leather and lacing used now are dramatically different than they were 120 years ago. Baseball gloves are better now than ever before, which raises the question about how to break in in a new baseball glove properly.
Once considered “less manly” to wear a baseball glove, it’s impossible to imagine playing baseball without one today. No catcher with any sense would catch 100 mile per hour pitches barehanded, nor would a first baseman field a throw from the shortstop or third baseman without his hand being protected.
What are the Differences in Today’s Modern Glove?
Gloves have been made well ever since the 1880s, but not nearly as thick and impact absorbing as modern gloves. Unlike the late-19th century ballplayer, players today can make one handed catches, and field baseballs coming at them at high velocities. Behind the plate, a catcher uses his flexible, fitted mitt with the surgical sureness of a doctor, plucking a ball out of the air. The two-handed catch, a fielding skill required up to only a few years ago and necessary when gloves were just large pads, is now considered useful but hardly necessary to do.
Differences among today’s gloves vary from the thickness of the heel to the design of the web to the deepness of the palm. Outfielders tend to prefer large gloves with deep palms, to make catching fly balls easier. Infielders prefer smaller gloves so they can reach easily in the web to remove the ball and throw quickly to other players.
Improvements in the design of the glove and the efficiency and protection it provides are evolving still. Baseball gloves in design and engineering are much more complicated than they appear, and the way it looks, feels and functions today is the fruit of more than one hundred years of history and more than thirty patents.
What Materials Are Used to Make a Baseball Glove?
Knowing what goes into a baseball glove and the quality of the materials helps explain why and how to break it in. Except for small plastic reinforcements at the base of the small finger and the thumb and some nylon thread, a glove is made totally out of cowhide leather. Each steer has two hides, each of which is processed in a tannery. The finest hides, those without nicks, steer branding markings or blemishes. are sent to glove factories.
Tanning is a chemical treatment of the hides to give them the flexibility and durability needed for use in baseball. If the leather wasn’t tanned, it would dry and flake after only minor use. Glove makers search and find the best tanneries to keep a competitive edge on their product. Rawlings, Akadema, Nokona and Wilson use dedicated tanneries for all their baseball glove products.
Each cowhide provides the leather for three or four gloves. Various synthetic materials have been tested for baseball gloves, but so far none have demonstrated the resilience, stretchiness and feel that leather has. To this day, no alternative has been considered to replace cowhide leather.
How NOT to Break in a Baseball Glove
There’s a lot of information out there that state matter-of-factly that the methods they recommend are safe for your glove. But there are certain methods of breaking gloves in that absolutely should be avoided! Your glove is made out of leather, and it is well known how heat and cold affects cowhide.
These are the ways in which you should never break in a new glove, regardless of what you hear. If you’re in a hurry to break in your glove, you will most likely cause damage to it. Exposing cowhide leather to heat breaks down its cellular structure, and over time a baseball glove exposed to high temperatures will cause it to loosen and eventually lose its shape, and then it’s only a matter of time before it will fall apart.
Don’t: Microwave Oven or Conventional Oven
Putting a baseball glove in a microwave oven has been touted as a great way to break it in. Although it’s become a popular method which claims to be safe as long as the glove is microwaved for a minute or less, avoid ever microwaving a baseball glove.
It’s important to consider that a microwave oven is powerful enough to soften thick cowhide leather in just a minute. Taking that fact, heating of any kind should be avoided because you don’t know what else that intense heat is doing to your glove. It’s really a bad idea.
Microwaving, or putting your glove in a conventional oven will dry out the leather and make the laces brittle, causing them to eventually break. It’s also dangerous to microwave leather, and there have been many reported cases of house fires starting from impatient players leaving their gloves unattended.
There are a lot of different glove manufacturers, and it isn’t always known what materials they used to form their gloves. Some of them contain metal, and metal can cause your microwave to explode. Additionally, the laces that some gloves are made of contain plastic, and when heated in an oven or microwave, it will melt and the glove won’t be usable.
Lastly, microwaving a baseball glove is a terrible idea especially if the glove is being used by young players who are still growing. Not only is irreparable damage being caused to the leather and lacing, but the glove will shrink during the process.
DON’T: Leaving the Glove in a Hot Car
Like the microwave method, leaving your glove in a hot car can dry out the leather and cause the laces to become brittle to where they’ll eventually break. If it hasn’t become clear by now, using heat to make a glove malleable and to contour to the shape of your hand should never be done. In the best case outcome, the glove will be softer, but you won’t be able to see the damage to the glove’s structural integrity. You may as well buy a backup glove to use after the heated glove can’t be used any longer.
DON’T: Soaking Glove in a Bucket of Water
If you have shoes, sneakers or cleats made out of leather, observe what happens to them when they get wet. Leather shoes can withstand a rain shower or a little exposure to water, but when leather gets soaked, as it’s drying out it will being to “prune,” much like your fingers do after swimming. After that, it will shrink.
Imagine dropping a pair of leather shoes in water and leaving it overnight. Put them on after they’re dry and then walk with them in sunlight. They will lose their shape around your foot, and after a time will likely become too small to wear.
There are all kinds of leather, and hide leather used to make baseball gloves is in some ways similar to the leather used on quality shoes. Keep in mind that there is currently no technology that will speed up the process of breaking in a baseball glove.
The Proper Way to Break In a Baseball Glove
The method of breaking in a baseball glove hasn’t changed a great deal over the past 70 years. Gloves have only improved in quality over that time, but the core material used in the glove – cowhide leather – has always been used. Here are some tried and true ways to break in a new baseball glove.
Traditional Break-In Method – Playing Catch
If you have time before the start of the season before using your glove in a game, playing catch breaks in the glove while at the same time forming it to your hand, and making the web deeper with each catch of the ball.
Only use a regulation sized baseball when breaking in the glove, so that the web pocket forms correctly. The more times you squeeze the glove around the ball during practice, the more it gets perfectly broken in and ready to go for the season.
This method is the most time consuming, but it really is the best way, even recommended by most manufacturers. The risk to damaging your glove is practically nil, as long as you don’t let it get soaked by rain water. Bring the glove inside and keep in a cool and dry place after using it.
Oils, Creams and Conditioners
There are plenty of really powerful glove oils on the market. These types of glove oils are great at helping break in a new glove, or even help with preserving an older glove. You only need a little bit too! I use just a small dab of the oil and it completely covers the whole glove. Let it sit for a bit and you can feel the difference within a day or so.
The best oil to use to break in a baseball glove is lanolin, and the best cream is lanolin based, found in some better brand shaving creams. Applying lanolin is only a step in a glove’s break through process.
Lanolin is derived from sheep’s wool that’s been sheared and is a strong moisturizer. It softens the leather of the glove while preventing it from drying out in the heat and sunlight. Lanolin is also water-repellent, and has built in antibacterial properties. Its benefits are widely recognized so it has become a popular ingredient in skin cream and lip balms.
Beware of using shaving cream with lanolin to break in your glove, because it’s often mixed with chemicals and soap that are too harsh for baseball glove leather. Because lanolin is more expensive, it’s often substituted in shaving cream with more abrasive materials. Always look for “Pure anhydrous lanolin” that’s free of chemicals.
Another great product to use to soften the glove leather is beeswax. This wax is secreted by bees to make honeycombs and is used to make wood polishes and candles. It’s far superior to creams like petroleum jelly (which contains chemicals that damages stitching).
Beeswax is an excellent moisturizer to use for softening and moisturizing baseball gloves, as well as the thicker and stiffer leather of a catcher’s mitt. It also acts as a natural water-proofer, with natural SPF properties that protect leather baseball gloves from heat and light exposure.
Made from the beans of the cocoa tree, cocoa butter is a strong moisturizer that aids in prevention the aging of the cowhide leather of baseball gloves. Pure cocoa butter is used less often than beeswax because it costs more, but if available, it helps gloves last for years and prevents the leather from wearing down. It’s especially recommended for catcher’s mitts due to that glove’s thickness.
Applying Oil or Cream to your Baseball Glove
Remember that when using oils of creams, avoid applying too much. A little goes a long way. Despite what you may have heard, it bears repeating that you should avoid petroleum jelly, nor should you heat up the glove after oils or cream are applied.
Lubricate the glove with either lanolin, coconut oil, beeswax or cocoa butter using a soft dish towel. Rub in a small circular motion, not applying more than is needed to lightly coat the leather. Take your time rubbing in the oil, making sure it’s rubbed in well. Make sure to get between the fingers.
Check to see there’s no globs of oil or cream anywhere and rub it out if you see one. Let the glove dry overnight.
Using a clean, dry cloth, wipe your glove thoroughly after letting it dry overnight. Now is the time to use your glove. Get together with other players and friends and use the glove for catch. Every time the ball impacts the pocket of the glove, it begins forming the pocket’s shape, stretching and molding it.
After a period of time the glove and the pocket will begin to conform to your hand and the shape of the baseball.
Aside from playing catch, a popular practice for forming the pocket of a baseball glove is placing a baseball in the pocket and tie the glove shut with shoelaces, a string and even a belt.
Keep the glove tightly closed for a day or two. Place a baseball in the glove pocket. Make sure when it’s tied up that you keep it away from electric heat or any heating or cooling vent. The best place you can leave it to mold is a cool and dry place, at room temperature.
Use the glove every day and tie the pocket up again when you’ve finished. Each time you work out the glove playing catch, it serves to soften the leather and mold it in the shape of a baseball at the pocket. Always store it in the same place after using it.
Repeat this process for about two weeks, after which you will definitely notice a difference. Make certain to tie the pocket every night with a baseball placed in it.
Glove steaming is a method that’s been tested and found to effectively break in baseball gloves, especially a catcher’s mitt. Outside of playing catch, this is considered the next best method.
Steaming the glove helps relax the leather and the seams. Steaming your glove is recommended if you have less than a couple of weeks to use your glove in a game situation. Many sporting goods stores offer to steam your glove after you’ve purchased it.
Here is the best way to steam your baseball glove.
- Apply one of the glove waxes, creams, or lanolin oil mentioned above.
- Steam the glove to about 150 degrees.
- Remove it from the steamer
- Get a mallet and pound it into the glove leather for about 10 minutes.
- Wrap up the pocket in shoelaces or a belt, and keep overnight away from heat or cold vents in a dry place.
Breaking in the glove pocket is not the end of the process of getting your glove game ready. The final step is wrapping up the glove in the middle tightly with string or shoelaces. Here are four simple steps to wrap your glove tightly.
- Fold the glove in half. The crease should be in the center of the pocket.
- Now fold the glove in on itself, starting with the little finger. Move the little finger and other fingers inside the glove.
- Continue to fold the pinky side of the glove on itself until it’s wrapped as tightly as possible.
- Once the glove is folded in on itself, get an old pair of long shoelaces (used for boots or sneakers with a lot of eyelets). Tie the laces around the glove to maintain its folded shape.
- You can keep a baseball in the glove pocket as an option.
Glove Care for the Long Term
Baseball gloves are one of the most costly pieces of equipment you will buy to play baseball, so it’s a great idea to make it last as long as possible. Going through a season and neglecting your glove will undo the care you gave breaking it in, which at best is a lengthy process you’ll want to avoid repeating.
Here are a few simple things you can do to keep your glove in top form for years.
Clean Your Glove
Baseball gloves are made of tough and durable cowhide leather, but like everything made with natural materials, gloves can break down when exposed to heat and cold, dry air and water.
You’ll need a brush, a cloth made from cotton or terry cloth, and a leather cleaner specifically for cowhide leather but not the same cleaner used for leather shoes. Last, use one of the oils or creams mentioned above.
- Remove excess dirt and debris from your glove, wiping it off gently with a brush.
- Use the leather cleaner sparingly. Lightly wipe it over the entire glove, rubbing in a circular motion to work it in. Using too much will cause it to build up on the glove over time, making it heavier.
- Make sure to get between the fingers as well as on the inside of the glove. This will help prevent the leather from deteriorating.