by Leo Gillis
My mother brought it home for me one day when I was seven years old. That was thirty-two years ago. It has done serious time in several cardboard boxes, but since about the middle of last baseball season, it has been on a shelf above the television. When I'm watching baseball on TV, I sometimes take the glove and it's companion—a souvenir ball bought at Nat Bailey Stadium-down from the shelf to enhance my game-watching experience. You can throw the ball into the glove to produce a satisfying "WHUP," or you can simulate a two- or four-seamer in slow-mo. And, after thirty-two years, the glove still smells the way only a baseball glove can smell.
It could be called a left-handed fielder's mitt, but I would call it an all-purpose kid's glove. It has seen action in all positions through elementary and high school, and it has been to several of my wife's family reunions when we lived in Ontario, but its last good workout was during a softball game two summers ago. Several friends offered to lend me their full-sized gloves, but that just wouldn't seem right. It is a bit small and frayed, but so what? It is made of "TOP GRAIN COWHIDE" and is a "CUSTOM PRO STYLE" with a "DEEP BALL POCKET." The original price of $3.47—marked in black ink in the pocket—is still discernible and so is my name and childhood address written in green ink on the outside of the thumb. Now, that's gotta be special. Right?
I was thrilled the first time I read W. P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe—not only because it was a great read, but because the main character, Ray, had a left-handed fielder's glove with green ink on it. When I had read that, I put the book down and searched the house for my glove and was very pleased that I had written on it in green ink. Ray mentioned the glove in reference to Salinger's Allie Caulfield—Holden's younger brother—who had written poems in green ink all over his left-handed mitt. Ray felt a connection with Salinger, and I, not having yet read The Catcher In The Rye, felt a connection with W. P. Kinsella. It was an entertaining fantasy which evaporated after I had finished reading Shoeless Joe. Aside from the 'glove,' I had nothing at all in common with W. P. Kinsella except that he also lived in the Vancouver area—along with two million other people. When I had read The Catcher last year for the first time, it took me back to when I was a teenager, but I didn't feel it was 'speaking' to me like it probably would have had I read it in my youth. I do, however, find Salinger's apparent mystical experiences interesting and would like to talk with him about them, but not enough that I would harass him with letters or hang around the end of his driveway.
So what of left-handed gloves and green ink? I go online and search for a few baseball glove manufacturers, but their Web sites have none of the frivolous information I'm looking for, such as the total number of left-handed gloves they've ever made. Hmm. What percentage of the population is left-handed? I type "left-handedness" into the Google search engine and soon discover that the figure is around 10 percent, but even after I lookup some population figures (over 30 million for Canada and over 272 million for the USA), I'll still need an idea of how many people play baseball. My next search is for "amateur baseball" and one site tells me that, of those Canadians over 15-years-old, 900,000 males and 300,000 females participate in baseball. We can't forget about the under 15's, but for simplicity let's say that 1 million baseball gloves see action every year in Canada. If the lefties in amateur baseball represent the general population (unlike professional baseball), then we're looking at 100,000.
My next online adventure is into the world of ink and pens. You can spend days here and even download your own ink-making recipes. Green ink has been around a lot longer than baseball, and ballpoint pens became commercially available in 1945. Allie Caulfield could've used a fountain pen to write on his glove, but The Catcher was published in 1951, so perhaps Salinger had a ballpoint in mind. Assuming that most kids (big or little) would at least write their name on their baseball glove, we have to wonder about the number of kids who would choose a green pen (not taking into account those who would do so because they've read The Catcher). For some reason, I've retained an image of that moment on that sunny summer day in 1968 when I chose the green pen from the pen, string, and tape drawer in the kitchen. I don't remember my motivations, if any, but I probably thought that the blue or black pens were boring because I had to use those in school. Now, if we add the number of left-handed gloves in the USA, Caribbean, Mexico, Japan, and, well...you get the picture.
Kinsella himself probably thinks having a lefty's mitt with green writing on it is no big deal. After all, the obsessed Ray Kinsella was a fictional character, and when I recently asked W. P. to autograph my glove "just above the green ink" when he was at the Vancouver Library to read from his new book of stories, he didn't flinch or look surprised. He likely signs a fair number of left-handed mitts with green ink on them. So, in the big scheme of things, my glove may not be unique but it's special to me, and now it's autographed—in black permanent marker—by my favorite baseball writer, "Bill Kinsella." But I'll have to take my mitt outside more often. That's what it was made for.
Leo Gillis and his wife, Mary, live within strolling distance of Nat Bailey Stadium where the Class A Vancouver Canadians play. He often watches hockey during the winter, but usually finds himself daydreaming about baseball.