LOS ANGELES — When Seattle Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suárez misses a ground ball, he buries his face in his glove and has some choice words for his leather mate.
“I’ll say, ‘Come on, come on’,” he recently recalled in Spanish. “‘If I don’t eat, you don’t eat.'”
Yes, Suárez talks to his glove. He doesn’t have a name, but he admitted it was like a person to him. “He’s there with me and helps me perform at my best on the pitch,” he said. And as a result, he goes out of his way to make sure his buddy is comfortable.
Suárez, 31, does not put him on the ground, preferring to rest him on a bench or rack. In his locker he said still has its own shelf. In his travel duffel bag, he has a case and his own space. But what if a teammate wants to touch it?
“You can, but use it? No,” he said. “A hand inside?” I do not like it.
Baseball players are an eccentric and superstitious bunch. Major League Baseball’s season is extremely long: 162 regular season games over six months, not including six weeks of spring training and a month of playoffs if a team reaches the World Series. So players naturally develop routines to add some semblance of order. And when they succeed on the pitch, the habits tend to stick, even if the difference is only in their heads.
So Suárez, in his ninth major league season, is reminiscent of many other baseball players who have, shall we say, special relationships with their gloves.
“I care about it like it’s my wife,” Chicago Cubs star receiver Willson Contreras said with a smile. “It’s my baby. It’s the most precious thing I have in my locker.
Toronto Blue Jays All-Star second baseman Santiago Espinal also sees his glove as family: “He’s like my son. There are even times when I sleep with my glove on. When I buy a new glove, I sleep in it. (Technically, he clarified, the glove is sleeping on his nightstand.)
As a receiver, it makes sense that the 30-year-old Contreras has deep feelings about his glove. But the elements (heat, dryness, humidity) and pitchers are throwing harder than ever (the average four-seam fastball was 93.9 miles per hour this season) quickly wear and tear Contreras’ most essential tool. He does his best to pamper him so he can get through the season, then he donates the glove at the end of the year.
“If I could use the glove for over a year, I would,” he said. “But I have to change them.”
The same goes for Yadier Molina, the St. Louis Cardinals wide receiver who won nine Gold Glove Awards during his 19-season career and plans to retire after the 2022 campaign. Molina said he’s cleaning up his glove frequently but that he still had to introduce a new one every year. His teammate, shortstop Paul DeJong, said he learned to groom his 5-year-old glove with leather spray almost every day, in part by watching Molina do it.
“I have to take care of them because they take care of me,” Molina, 40, said.
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 reluctantly admitted that this is the first season that his leather buddy, who he’s been using for at least four seasons, has started having the looks “old”. He then corrected himself: “It’s actually not that bad.”
(Note: this is pretty bad.)
“I think it’s the west coast because it’s a little drier,” said Turner, 29, who spent seven seasons with the Washington Nationals before being traded to the Dodgers in the 2021 season.
“Because on the East Coast,” he continued, “that humidity keeps the moisture in the glove. So I had to take more care of the glove this year, and it’s starting to get little holes I’m trying to find band-aids for this I’m trying to keep him alive as long as I can.
Turner plans to take him down, however, before he reaches the levels of a former teammate. Jordy Mercer, an infielder who was also competing in the 2021 Nationals, used a glove that was over 10 years oldwas held together by stitches and looked like it belonged in a museum rather than a field.
“It was pretty disgusting,” Turner said. “I’m going to have to buy a new glove first. I don’t really like how he feels, so I’m trying to keep mine alive.
Mets All-Star second baseman Jeff McNeil disagrees with the gloves having expiration dates. He’s been using the same glove since 2013, the year he was drafted in the 12th round by the Mets. He originally had two, but he retired one after his first season and framed it. The second is still ongoing.
“It’s fragile, and it’s not the best. But it works for me,” said McNeil, 30, who reached the major leagues in 2018. “It’s perfect. Once an infielder gets this glove, they use it for a long time.
McNeil said a bullet had already made its way through the loose strap of his tattered glove, so he had it put back in place. He also had it “completely repaired” by a professional, but there are still holes. “She’s my baby,” he added.
Despite all that affection, McNeil isn’t perfect. When he makes a mistake, he admits—laughing—that he found the opportunity to throw his glove on the ground. And he secretly forges a new relationship in the back of his glove.
“I’m working on breaking another one right now,” he said, “and it’ll probably be ready in two years.”
Several players said they don’t have much to say about their gloves, no matter how often they use them. But even among those who insisted they weren’t particularly mindful of their gloves, there was a common third rail.
“Just don’t get your hands in there and take balls on the ground,” said Xander Bogaerts, an All-Star shortstop for the Boston Red Sox. Dansby Swanson, an All-Star shortstop from Atlanta, added, “I just don’t want people to stretch.”
Nolan Arenado, the Cardinals third baseman who won the Platinum Glove Award for the National League’s top outfielder five times, has the same red line.
“A big no-no,” said Arenado, 31, who is in his second season with his current glove. “If anyone wants to smell my glove, yes, go ahead. If you try to get your hands on it, I’ll be like, ‘No, man, don’t do that.’ I stop them before they do. It’s not that their hand is bigger or smaller than mine. I just don’t want anyone putting their hand in my glove.
Some find the rules regarding other players and gloves a bit extreme.
“Some guys are crazy about it, like they won’t let you put your hand on it or barely touch it,” said Mariners shortstop JP Crawford, who won a Gold Glove Award in 2020 and uses normally a new glove each season. “It’s a bit too much.”
Some players—outfielders and pitchers—didn’t care about their leather at all. “I’m a pitcher, so I don’t care, and I’m not a very good pitcher on the field,” Mariners reliever Paul Sewald said. Asked about his habits, Aaron Judge, the Yankees’ superstar outfielder, didn’t even know where his glove was in his locker at the time.
“If I was playing on the pitch, that’s where I’d probably be a bit superstitious with it,” he said. “You take grounders, and you have to have some idea of that. It’s a different relationship. In the outfield, it’s just like, ‘Get the take. Come on, buddy.
Even though he’s an infielder, Minnesota Twins All-Star Luis Arraez said he doesn’t care much about his gloves, throwing them on the floor and leaving them a little damp. He said he cleaned them up and talked to them on occasion, saying, “Behave, we’re going to play well today.”
Arraez reserves his extra attention for his bats, though. “My babies,” he said. He sometimes sleeps with a smaller bat that he uses for his pre-game practice next to his bed.
“I put him by my side,” he said, “and I said, ‘Baby, we’re going to do my routine tomorrow, so behave yourself. “”