Meriden, CT 06451
By Ken Hoffman | December 21, 2011
Some lucky boys and girls will find a new baseball glove under their Christmas tree.
Have you shopped for a new glove lately? They're as stiff as Rick Perry in a debate. It takes months to break in a new glove just right, so it's game-ready, till you can jump over the center field wall and bring back a homer.
It's not a problem up North, where the field is locked tight and the snow doesn't melt until April. Kids can take their time playing catch, oiling their glove and smacking their fist into the pocket.
But in Houston … Little League and high school tryouts are just a couple of weeks away. We're halfway through Little League season by the time kids near Yankee Stadium put away their winter coats.
My son's lefty Mizuno glove ($39 at Academy three years ago) was pretty worn out, so I decided to buy him a new glove for Christmas.
I did an Internet search on "baseball gloves" and "how to break in baseball gloves." That's how I found Dave Katz, owner of Katz Sports Shop on West Main Street in Meriden, Conn.
Katz calls himself a "glove-smith." He is singularly obsessed with breaking in baseball gloves.
The first thing on his website (www.katzgloves.com) says it all:
"I break in baseball gloves for a living. It's what I do. All day. Every day. I sell brand new baseball and softball gloves completely shaped and broken in. Or, send your glove to me and I'll return it shaped, conditioned and broken in."
Katz is Picasso with a catcher's mitt. He suffers for his baseball gloves.
A few emails and phone calls later, I bought a glove for my kid that cost more than every glove I ever owned put together - and I could play!
As far as he knows.
Katz designs his own line of professional-quality baseball gloves. He picks the leather, lacing, padding and web style. He doesn't just sell you a glove - he sells you the right glove. He wanted to know what position my kid plays, how big he is, how often he plays, his skill level, my credit card number, etc.
Then he suggested the perfect fit - a 12¾-inch outfielders glove with an H-web.
"There are several mistakes people make when buying gloves for their kids, but there are two that I encounter most often," he said. "The first is buying a glove that is too big. The second mistake is jumping the gun and buying a $200 or $300 pro glove for a 7-year-old."
No glove leaves Katz Sports Shop until it's completely broken in … "soft as butter" … ready to play a doubleheader that day.
"Although today's manufacturers tout the remarkable break-in qualities of their leather, gloves are harder than they've ever been," Katz said. "A glove can look great before you break it in, but some leathers just don't break in well. It's gotten to the point where I can tell just by the look and feel of the leather how it will turn out."
Katz has been breaking in gloves for a living since 1975. He will not reveal the magician's secret.
"I break each glove in by hand. No machines, no gimmicks. If you think I'm kidding, look at my hands. I not only make the gloves supple but shape them the way they're supposed to be shaped. Most new gloves don't come shaped correctly. I'd love to tell you how I do it, but then I'd have to find another job."
Local sporting goods stores say they will break in your new glove, too. They put the glove in a steaming device, rub some oil on it and go to town on it with a mallet. The process takes 20 minutes. I've checked them out. The glove is softer than off the rack, but you couldn't use it that day in a game.
Katz shrugs off that technique.
"Can you make good chicken soup in 20 minutes? I work with a glove for one week. I have a back room where I do my thing. I have never let anybody watch how I do it," he said.
I thought I figured him out. I told him, you have a pitching machine in your back room, and you crank it up to 90 mph and catch 100 balls each day for a week. Voilà! The glove is broken in.
"Sorry, my back room is only about 15 feet long, no room for a pitching machine. Keep guessing," he said.
I'd have an easier time getting KFC to give up those 11 herbs and spices.
Professionals, college and high school players and Little Leaguers (boys and girls) use Katz gloves. John McEnroe plays softball with a Katz glove. Caroline Kennedybought one for her son.
My kid's glove arrived by FedEx last week. Who can wait until Christmas? We opened it right away and headed straight to the Rec Center so I could hit him fly balls. The glove looks new but feels like it's a year old, soft and flexible. He has no excuse for missing a catch now.
My kid is lucky he's lefty and I'm righty, or that glove would be "Merry Christmas to me."
A custom Katz glove costs $275, including breaking in and shipping. He also sells Rawlings gloves for $45 and up. If you've already bought a glove and want it broken in before tryouts next month, send it to Katz. He charges $65 plus $15 shipping.
And you'll have a new mitt that fits … like a glove.