Players use all types of methods to break in gloves
Some find recipe for perfection in unconventional tactics, such as heating in micowave
SEATTLE -- Sometimes, even the King makes a mistake. Felix Hernandez is smiling when he tells the story of a simple, everyday baseball exercise gone awry -- a cautionary tale for all the kids out there trying their best in Little League and hoping they can someday be just like No. 34 on the Mariners.
Hernandez, as it turns out, likes to break in his brand-new Nike gloves with a familiar blast of heat and radiation found in most modern kitchens.
"I put it in the microwave for a minute and a half," Hernandez said on a recent night at Safeco Field. "That's the first thing I do."
It's not uncommon for baseball players to break in their gloves using this method, but you've got to be careful, especially at the Major League level.
"In the spot where they stitch in your name, it's a different material, and I wasn't thinking about that one time," Hernandez recalled. "My glove caught on fire."
Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, Hernandez's good friend and former teammate, heard that story and had a good chuckle himself. The two are always involved in good-natured ribbing on the field when they face each other, and while Beltre admitted that he, too, has tried the microwave trick on his gloves, he never caused any near-catastrophic events.
"I'm a little smarter than Felix," Beltre said, laughing.
But Beltre doesn't do anything fancy to his gloves anymore, and his approach seems to be more of the norm these days. Like Hernandez will do post-nuking, Beltre merely takes a glove mallet, which looks similar to a tiny baseball bat, pounds the pocket for a few minutes before infield practice, and then lets regular work -- and time -- take its course.
"I don't get weird with it," Beltre said. "No superstitions."
Some players rub their gloves with shaving cream, douse them with water, heat them up like Hernandez or sleep with them under their mattresses for weeks until they're ready for a game.
But a quick recent survey of the Rangers, Mariners and Padres revealed that more and more, Major Leaguers are going old school when it comes to this timeless and necessary pursuit.
Mariners bullpen catcher Jason Phillips, a former big league backstop, said that catcher's mitts are the toughest to break in. Phillips said that the customary practice for Seattle catcher Mike Zunino is to warm up the starting pitcher with the glove he's trying to break in while leaving the "gamer" untouched until the lights come on.
"I think the best way to do it is just go on the automatic pitching machine and just catch balls," Phillips said. "They'll pop out at first. It doesn't happen overnight. But you have to do it until you feel like you can use it in a game."
The other veteran piece of advice is to let each player break in -- or do anything else to -- a glove on his own terms.
"You never mess with a guy's glove," Phillips said. "Because if anyone else puts their hand in it the way they catch, it's going to be different. The guy's game glove … just don't touch it. You can use one of his bats, but don't touch his glove."
Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma said he'll typically use two gloves throughout one season and that he'll take up to a month to break one in if it has to be that way.
"I don't do anything out of the ordinary," he said, through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "I like it to just work its way through with the ball. The glove is a part of your body, so you want to keep it as natural as possible."
Mike Carp of the Rangers has two gloves in a case in his locker. One is a first baseman's glove, one is an outfielder's glove, both are from Rawlings. Both were sent to him in May, and neither is fully broken in.
Carp, too, is fine with taking his time.
"Guys have certain tricks, but I like to do it the old-fashioned way," Carp said. "Just keep using it and keep playing catch with it. I just let it form to my hand. Luckily, now I'm in Texas and we've got that hot, humid weather to help out a little bit.
"Everybody does it differently. I just start playing catch with it right away, and hopefully the guy I'm playing catch with has a strong arm."
As San Diego second baseman Jedd Gyorko explained, breaking in a glove can sometimes be a season-long project.
"I like my gloves to be soft and a little floppy," Gyorko said. "It takes a good amount of time. Some gloves are already a little loose when you get them, but it can take a full offseason to get the glove where I like it.
"With a new glove, I'll start in December and I won't use that glove the following season. I'll mess with it and break it in and then use it the following year."
When it gets right, it's ready for big league ballgames, and, in the case of Beltre and many others, history.
Beltre said he's not overly sentimental about his game gloves, which he'll switch out maybe every two or three seasons, but he's still got one laying around the house.
"I saved one," he said. "The one that won me my first Gold Glove."