For much of North America — particularly in the colder climates — the baseball season is right around the corner. That means it’s time to pull your baseball glove out of the closet and get it ready for the upcoming season — or buy a new one and start breaking it in.
There are at least a dozen ways to break in your baseball mitt, some of them bordering on insanity. Players have been known to soak their gloves in a bucket of water, bake them in ovens and microwaves, and drive over them with their cars. In addition, there are many opinions regarding what to use to help condition the leather; just a few prescribed substances over the years have included neatsfoot oil, mink oil, shaving cream, and saddle soap.
Today we’re going to learn the correct way to break in a glove. Correct as in the time-honored method that has been most successful in breaking in a baseball mitt for the long haul. Unfortunately, you won’t be dazzled by the process — it’s pretty simple and straightforward.
Are you sitting down? Are you ready? Here it goes:
Play catch with it.
That’s it — put the glove on your hand and play catch with it. Most of the gloves you buy today are “presoftened”; in other words, they’re made with a softer type of leather or the leather has been processed in such a way that they’re ready to use within just a few sessions of playing catch. The more you use it, the more it will form to your hand and become comfortable. Today’s presoftened gloves do not need to have any oils, creams, or other additives applied to it.
On the other hand, if you have purchased one of the “old school” mitts — meaning the type that is not presoftened — then the process is slightly different. Before you use it, you may want to treat the entire surface, most importantly the strings, to a very light coat of Lexol. No water, no shaving cream, no oils — just a bit of Lexol.
Water will dry out a leather glove. Would you go out into the rain in your leather jacket? Of course not. Would you treat leather boots with something before wearing? Yes, and you should treat a leather glove no differently — keep it away from water. The only time your glove should see water is when you are playing a game or practice, and it just happens to rain. But rainfall won’t do too much damage to your glove if you first treat it with a good conditioner such as Lexol.
Additionally, stay away from “glove oils” (such as Rawlings’ Glovolium), mineral oil, neat’s foot oil, mink oil, and all other oils. Putting oil in your glove will soften it, but it will also make your glove heavy. It will also darken the color of your glove, which may or may not be a big deal to you. Plus, if you put too much oil on your glove, it will not only become heavy but it will also get too flimsy. If you like a flimsy, heavy glove, then go ahead and oil away, but most players prefer their glove to be lighter and stiffer. Pliable is probably a better word — but pliable is stiffer than flimsy.
Although many swear by shaving cream — myself included, for many years — nearly all the shaving creams and foams you find on the market today include a good dose of alcohol, which is a definite no-no for leather. Alcohol will dry out the leather in your glove, and in time weaken the strings. Many years ago most shaving creams included lanolin, which is a nice, light grease that by itself is a good choice as a leather conditioner. However even the modern shaving creams that do include lanolin have so little of it, it doesn’t help your glove, and any amount it does have is erased by the damaging alcohol content.
Which brings us to Lexol. At this point you might be wondering if I sell the stuff, or if I own stock in the company. Well, neither is true (though if you click on the picture and end up buying a bottle from Amazon, you’ll help pay the server fees to keep this site running!). The fact is, you must look at your baseball glove as not just baseball equipment, but as an investment in leather. In other words, your mitt should be placed in the same category as a pair of fine leather shoes, leather gloves, leather hat, leather jacket, or leather bag. You want to treat all your leather belongings with a conditioner that will keep it pliable and protected, without adding too much weight. That said, it makes sense to trust a company that has invested millions of dollars researching the best conditioner of leather — and one of those companies is Lexol.
Unlike Rawlings, Lexol has nothing to do with baseball equipment. In fact, they do not sell any items made from leather. Their company exists for the express purpose of developing and selling the best treatments, softeners and conditioners for leather goods. There’s great value in a company that has such a focused, and passionate niche. Think about it — does Rawlings (or Wilson, or any other glove company, for that matter) have any motivation to sell you a product that will prolong the use of your glove? Of course not. If they had their druthers, they’d like for you to buy a brand new glove from them every year. So why would they spend much effort or money to develop a glove oil that will prevent you from buying a new glove for several years?
That’s not to say that Glovolium or other “glove oils” are purposely made to rot your glove out faster. But the fact is, glove companies are in the business of making and selling gloves — not in preserving them. So it makes more sense to buy a glove treatment from someone who is in the business of preserving leather, doesn’t it?
Believe me, Lexol isn’t the only trustworthy leather treatment company out there. But it’s the one that I know, and have used, for the last ten years. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been playing baseball for over 25 years, and yes I’ve tried shaving cream, mink oil, the water bucket, Rawlings Glovolium, olive oil, and just about every other material that you’ve heard of. Trust me on this one: the best thing for your glove is a substance made by a company focused on keeping leather looking and feeling new.
So, what you do is get the smallest bottle of Lexol you can find, because you only need to use maybe 1/8 of a cup or less at a time. They’re often sold by independent shoemakers / shoe repair stores, but if you can’t find it you can click on the image to the right of this article and get it from Amazon. Again, I’m not a salesman, so if you want to learn more about its ingredients and why Lexol is a better alternative for your glove, you can read about it here. You may notice there is a spray bottle, which I don’t recommend because you have less control of how much of the stuff is going onto the glove. You’re better off pouring a little at a time onto a clean rag and then rubbing it all over the glove and the lacing. Remember, a LIGHT coat, applied once. (You can apply it again halfway through the season or more often if you live in a hotter, drier climate.)
After you’ve applied the Lexol, go out and play catch. When you’re not playing catch, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS store your mitt with a baseball in the pocket — otherwise your glove will take the shape of a pancake. While you’re breaking it in, you may want to keep it closed with a rubber band or something — I use a folded-up bandana and tie it around with the ball inside. Some people also put the glove under their mattress at night, but I’m not sure that does anything more than give you a backache. As long as it’s tied up with the ball inside, the pocket should take form without any compression applied.
If it’s too cold out to play catch, and/or you’re in a hurry to get your glove broken in, you can always slam a ball into the pocket, over and over. Similarly you can also buy one of these nifty devices, called a Mitt Masher. As you might guess, you simply slam the ball part of the masher into the glove to help form the pocket.
So that’s it — no ovens, car tires, water buckets, or exotic animal oils. Just a little bit of Lexol and lots of playing catch. A presoftened mitt should be ready for game use in three or four days, and an “old school” baseball glove will take about 2-3 weeks — unless it’s a catcher’s glove, which could take the bulk of a season (for that reason, a catcher should always have one “game” glove, and a newer “practice” glove that’s used for bullpens) — but more on that in a future post.