How to Break in a New Catcher’s Glove

August 11, 2010

I’m here in Italy doing the European Baseball Academy and having a lot of fun. The kids are all working hard and making improvements. About 6 of the 10 catchers are repeat offenders (been here before) so I’m not having to start from scratch. I get to build on the foundation we built last year. It’s also nice to see the strides they’ve made in a year of implementing the “Art of Catching” style.

Anyway, for some reason I’ve been getting quite a few questions about how best to break in a catchers glove. Because there’s gotta be a quicker way than just catching with it, right? Unfortunately, wrong. Outside of the suggestion I made of using pine tar, I don’t have a whole lot for you. I’d love to share some super secret big league trick to speed up the process, but the truth is, in my opinion, the best way to break in a catchers glove is just to catch with it.

Catchers glove from 1905.

For that reason, I always had a little rotation going on. I’d estimate that I’d use up about a glove and a half a season. So, I always had three gloves in various stages of brokeninness. I’d have a gamer, a glove that was close to a gamer (but could definitely be used in a pinch), and a glove that was just getting started. When the gamer would die, the second one would rotate in – and on and on.

Catchers glove from 1940.

I’ve heard that the rich British back in the day (maybe still) used to have their butlers break in their new shoes for a them. You know, get that new shine off and skip the blister stage. Well, kind of like a wealthy Brit, I’d sometimes have the bullpen catcher get a few bullpens with my new #3 glove. Just to kind of get it started. But just for a bullpen or two. I definitely didn’t want the new glove to take on the habits of the bullpen guy. God forbid he clanked a few. You don’t want a glove to get used to that sort of thing. What if it thought that sort of behavior was acceptable? I had a few gloves like that and I got rid of them quick. Keep them away from the rest.

I also didn’t want the glove to take on the characteristics of his hand. And everybody’s got different preferences for how they like the shape of the glove. I wanted it my way.

So, the moral of the story is…to break in a catchers glove the right way, play catch. A lot of it. I think I’ve seen just about every method known to man, and that’s the best way I know.

A fairly modern day unit.

10 Responses to “How to Break in a New Catcher’s Glove”

  1. Gerry says:

    Brent,

    Ask a 100 guys about the best way to break in a glove, and you’ll probably get 100 answers, each guy convinced he’s got the best way. I recommend what you implied, that breaking in a glove is a personal thing and whatever way works best for the person that’s got to live with the glove is the best way for them.

    That said, here are a few other ideas that for worked for me:

    1. I’ve found that a “glove mallet” is a terrific way to get a lot of ball-glove impacts in a very short amount of time. Doesn’t replace catching a real ball, but (a) I can do it in my livingroom (b) in the dead of winter (c) without having to find someone to pitch to me.

    2. I’ve also caught bullpen with a pitching machine instead of a live pitcher. Let’s me work on my stances, receiving skills, etc as well as building up leg stamina. Plus I have them crank up the ball speed to the max, much higher velocity than most guys I know can throw.

    3. Between uses, I got a Glove Locker (by Markwart) to wrap around my mitt with a baseball in the catching position. This really helps speed up breaking in the hinge of the mitt (near my palm) even while I’m not using it.

    4. I use a quality glove oil not all over the mitt (as they recommend) but only in the specific spots that are the most stiff and that I’d most like to break in (for me, the hinge area being the main spot, but sometimes up into the palm of the mitt). I apply it both inside and out, but only in the few square inches I want to become more flexible. This keeps the mitt from getting heavy or floppy.

    In my experience, catchers mitts take the longest to break in. The above ideas have helped me speed the process without compromising the ultimate performance of the mitt. Hope this helps.

  2. Bart C says:

    Brent,
    I have been using a method to break in gloves for the past 30 years. Step 1: Drop the glove in a bucket of water for 20 minutes. Step 2: Pull the glove from the water, wrap it in a towel and store it in a warm place. Treat the mitt with saddle soap twice a day for about a week or until all the moisture is gone. After the moisture is gone the glove is ready to go and will feel like butter. Add pine tar as needed.

  3. Brent Mayne says:

    Thanks for sharing your methods guys. Excellent stuff. My only problem with water or oil or anything was that it tended to add weight (real or imagined) and I found that gloves I messed with didn’t perform, maintain their shape, or last half as long as the ones that I just played catch with. That being said, I had the advantage of catching 8 billion bullpens, 8 zillion games, and a ton of other playing catch opportunities that could break in a glove fairly quickly. Most folks obviously don’t get that volume of throws off glove leather. So, in the interest of time, some other method (h2o, oil, etc.) is probably valid…IF you recognize you’re sacrificing something (glove longevity, weight, etc.) in the long run.

  4. Brent Mayne says:

    Oh yeah, catching off a machine or using the “glove mallet” is good though. I would consider both of those equal to playing catch.

  5. Tim P. says:

    Call me crazy, but I would never feel comfortable dropping a several hundred dollar glove (investment) into a bucket of water…though I have heard of that method before. I don’t think leather and water go well together, but if it works for you, then by all means.

    Glove mallet is an excellent tool.

  6. Brent Mayne says:

    I second that fear…I had a hard time getting myself to put one of my gloves in water, and I was getting em for free.

  7. Bart C says:

    I have dropped roughly 12 to 15 gloves in the bucket over the past 30 years. I can tell you exactly how many of those have become problematic, zero. The first glove was a Rawlings Larry Bowa signature model purchased at K-Mart for $30.00 in 1978. The last was a Rawlings Heart of the Hide catchers mitt which is in a bag in my garage at the moment. I think the method may be best suited for youth baseball players as it gives them greater ability to open and close the glove while fielding.
    The conditioning with saddle soap is as important to the process as the water itself.

  8. [...] from Italy. Good to be home, but not so happy about the jet lag. Anyway, the post about how to break in a glove got me thinking. Is anyone interested in starting a glove drive? Basically it’ll work like [...]

  9. Michael Estrada says:

    hey those are good ways of breaking a glove in but how exactly would you like to shape your glove. Do you like it to collapse with the thumb side of the glove near the inside? But i recently heard from a friend that its better to have it collapse on itself and have a “triangle” look from the back and have a box like pocket on the inside what do you think.thanks

  10. Brent Mayne says:

    Michael, I just like to catch with the glove. I’ve never given much thought to the look…it just eventually takes on the “way I catch.” Maybe that’s too vague…if so, I guess I would lean towards having the catchers glove take more the shape of a first baseman’s glove. It’s all personal preference, there’s no perfect way. My biggest concern was that the pocket not get too deep. If it stayed right then I was cool.

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