Stiff not a good thing in this case
April 11, 2009 12:30 PM   Subscribe

Breaking in a stiff, new baseball glove. Recommendations?

I could pay my electricity bill with what I shelled out for this glove for my teenaged son. So it's leather, stiff and without much flex at all. When I was a kid, we rubbed in Neatsfoot oil and played with it forever until it flapped and felt like a second skin. Any way to accelerate this? Yeah, I'll tie it up with string with a baseball inside to form the pocket just right, but I need suggestions on loosening up the leather fast. He won't let me step on it with boots, which was my first instint :-). Thanks
posted by terrier319 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Work menthol shaving cream into it, place a baseball in the pocket, tie it closed with an old sock and let it sit for a day or two.
posted by COD at 12:33 PM on April 11, 2009

terrier319, I used to work at a sporting goods store. This article has a number of methods for breaking in your mitt. In my experience, the hot oil treatment has been the best.
posted by netbros at 12:33 PM on April 11, 2009

Not menthol - lanolin shaving cream. The lanolin softens up the leather nicely.
posted by COD at 12:34 PM on April 11, 2009

My dad used to rub a new glove down with vaseline, put a baseball in the glove, then shove it under my brother's mattress for a week.
posted by chiababe at 12:35 PM on April 11, 2009

Very similar to those mentioned: As kids, we would use Saddle Soap -- rubbed firmly and generously all over. We'd put a ball inside and then tie the glove shut with twine ... and let sit for a two or three days. But, being kids, it'd go for just one day.

And, oh the smell of a new glove is better than that of a new car's interior. Sublime.
posted by ericb at 12:45 PM on April 11, 2009

From netbros linked article:
"There are many different methods for breaking in a baseball glove, and each method has its supporters and detractors. If you asked a dozen different baseball players how they break in their baseball glove, you will likely get a dozen different answers!"
Such is being borne out in this very thread.
posted by ericb at 12:47 PM on April 11, 2009

We'd do the above but use a super small tight belt to tighten it.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:55 PM on April 11, 2009

Yeah, you'll get a different answer from every person. Given that, why not go with tradition? This is baseball, right? It's all about tradition.

Neatsfoot oil, then put a baseball in there and wrap it with some rubber bands.

Are there problems with neatsfoot oil? Sure, after a long time it can make the leather more brittle. But as I said, it's the traditional oil for softening a son's new baseball glove. If it was good enough for our grandparents it's good enough for us.
posted by Justinian at 12:59 PM on April 11, 2009

I worked in a new glove quickly last year with the cheapest shaving cream I could get.
posted by synecdoche at 1:43 PM on April 11, 2009

I always thought the best way was to put a baseball in it, then wrap it tightly in rubber bands and just let it sit.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 2:21 PM on April 11, 2009

Saddle Soap is the pro choice in my book. After a nice soaping with lots of massaging the leather, you can wrap the glove (with a ball) in tinfoil and put it in the oven at -say- 50°C.
This can be repeated as often as necessary. The tinfoil is important, because you do not want the glove to dry out.

The heat accelerates the softening action of the fats/oils in the saddle soap and 50°C are not enough to damage the leather. -> body heat simulation

The lanolin shaving soap should work similarly. Oil is even quicker. But I like the soap better, since it requires more massaging and handling the glove which is more similar to actual game play. (If you go the oil route, I recommend an equestrian shop where they sell really proven oil and fat products for leather that has to last a long time.)

(Caveat: I only broke in one baseball glove so far and the above procedure worked marvelously. I still have that 17year old glove and it is still as supple as ever, even though I only played one season :-) But since its baseball/sports where everybody is supposed to have a firmly held half assed opinion I figured that it is all right to pipe up. (And hey, it worked and is based on actual well thought out principles that do not only apply to leather gloves alone).
posted by mmkhd at 2:40 PM on April 11, 2009

Nthing what netbros article describes as, "it depends". Curing is what you want, though, since we're talking new gloves.

One thing that you may want to consider, is pocket and overall glove shape. Many varieties of baseball gloves and mitts exist (I'm a purist w/ a half-assed opinion and the latter only refers to catchers and first base mitts but, as always, YMMV) and each one should be optimally formed to support its use with a given position player. This starts with buying the glove in a good size for the player using it and for the position he/she is likely to occupy.

For example, middle-infielders' use a glove that is short (10 to 14 inches) and formed so that the pocket is stretched as wide as possible. The wide pocket makes capturing the ball easier and allows the smaller sized glove to fit the fielders hand more like a normal glove/mitten to ensure dexterity and assist handling. Outfielders' (and players at first base) typically want a longer (14-18 inch) glove so they can field ground balls at a run and on the hip (or 'pick' off-mark infield throws in the dirt to 1st base) and not have to worry about the glove being too short to accomplish this. That being said, most outfielders'/first-base gloves have more of the 'taco' look; long and thin, with pockets which are more or less directly in line with the center crease, whereas almost all the other players' gloves should have a more rounded pocket, like a large shell.

Back to glove curing and care. Saddle soap is a very good cleanser, but I would look around and be careful of the brand. The page on Wikipedia advises that some saddle soaps are slightly alkaline and may react negatively with leather. I know that that my leather soccer boots have lasted longer undergoing many separate cleanings, followed by treatings with Chelsea's/Dubbin, than have my baseball gloves, which only ever got the saddle soap cleaner/conditioner. You can also make your own soap, recipes abound.

The best way to condition a glove (or most any recreational leather product) is to rinse with warm water to remove dirt/grime and condition with a combined wax/oil/gerund substance by working the substance into the leather with a cloth (or what will soon be smelly hands). Then you'll want to let it set and cure. After it's cleaned, conditioned, and cured it will be slightly oily, so you may just want to have the leather reabsorb it by rubbing it in with a cloth/rag.

This will soften, condition, and seal the leather. I usually use two baseballs or a softball to widen the glove pocket (I'll only ever use an infielder's glove), tie it up, and use it prop up a wobbly couch (or similar heavy piece of furniture) in a room that keeps relatively warm. The subject of heat makes me somewhat jumpy with concern, so if you decide to oven-roast your glove, watch it. I've ruined (or severely shortened the life of) many shoes, gloves, belts, and other leather-y stuffs trying to perfect the timing/heat. I'd avoid localized heat sources (not directly adjacent to a heater, but in the room with on is fine), especially if the glove is new. If you want to heat it to break it in more quickly, use a warm water bath for a few minutes instead, then dry, condition, cure, and use.

More Chelsea/Dubbin recommendations. On preview, I've realized this product I've been using for years, is actually much more common. It apparently has it's own draw-backs, but is still my product of choice and seems relatively inert.

Incidentally, I just got a thirty year-old, friend's glove that's getting the above procedure exactly, plus new laces. Thanks for asking the question and rekindling my love of leather!
posted by fook at 6:39 PM on April 11, 2009

Put Neats foot oil or Dubbin on it, place a ball in it and a wrap couple of strong rubber band(s) around it. Keep your glove left like this whenever your not using it. But when you have time and your sitting on the couch, porch, dugout or wherever, just keep throwing the ball into your glove over and over and over...This is THE best way.

I've heard of goalies in hockey driving over their pads with their vehicles.

Good things come with time and patience though.
posted by Taurid at 7:56 PM on April 11, 2009

There's two things you want to do with a new glove: form a pocket and soften the leather. The best way to do both is to throw a ball into it repeatedly. Do this as often as humanly possible. When you can't, that's when you wrap it around a ball and secure it with elastics.
I've always used lanolin shaving cream as an accelerator, but I know others swear by various oils and soaps. They probably all do the same thing.
posted by rocket88 at 9:32 PM on April 11, 2009

I purchased some stuff at Modell's that I rubbed on the glove and then put it in the oven. Worked like a charm on a new catcher's mitt as well as my new mitt I use for softball. Its called Hot Glove. I stand by the stuff.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:36 PM on April 11, 2009

We always used the Louisville Slugger brand Glove Softener. Rub the glove generously, put a baseball in the pocket, wrap tightly with rubberbands or string, and bake it in the oven on LOW for some time. Leave it all wrapped up as long as possible and it should be good to go.

If I remember correctly, we would re-oil every year until it didn't really need it any more, and of course, the more he plays with it, the better it'll get.

Go with what you know, it'll be hard to mess it up, just oil and throw some balls, oil some more, throw some more balls, repeat :-D

Good luck!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 10:02 PM on April 11, 2009

The best way to do both is to throw a ball into it repeatedly. Do this as often as humanly possible.

This man knows of what he speaks. The ball shapes the outside, your hand shapes the inside.

Make the pocket so that a ball WANTS to nestle into it, and comes to rest in the same spot every time, so that you can grab it with your throwing hand using the same motion every time without fail.

Make the inside so that it's a natural extension of the owner's own hand, and feels wrong on every other person's hand. Only use can do this.
posted by popechunk at 10:03 AM on April 12, 2009

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