The glove was gone. It was just gone. Everything else happening around Chet Lemon, all the players shaking hands and welcoming each other back, it didn’t matter. Because the glove was gone.
“Have you seen it?” he asked.
The equipment man said no.
“I thought I left it here,” he said.
The equipment man said no.
Every spring the players return, every spring Lemon gets his glove. The glove. The Rawlings Fastback Model with the picture of the cow in the pocket that says, “Heart of the Hide.” The glove with the frayed strings and the leather that had turned white. The natty, smelly old glove. The glove they wrote stories about. The glove he’s been using in center field, what? Nine years? Ten? The Rawlings Fastback Model. With the picture of the cow.
“It was like a plumber’s tools,” he said. It was his glove. Every year the manufacturers sent him four new, recently oiled models. And he just gave them away.
“My glove is magic,” he said.
And now the glove was gone.
They looked for it. They couldn’t find it. Did someone take it? Did Lemon lose it? No one knew. This was all anyone knew. The glove was gone.
“I was sure I left it here (at Tiger Stadium),” he said. “That’s what I always do, because if I take it home, I might lose it, or forget to pack it. Then they bring it down to spring training. But this year it wasn’t there. And I got back up here and it isn’t here. I can’t believe it’s gone.”
How many dives? How many shoestring catches? How many collisions with the walls were in that glove? The best. The worst. Wherever he went in the outfield, it went with him. Nine years? Ten? How many dives?
“Hey, Hondo. Tell him about my old glove, man,” Lemon yelled to teammate Larry Herndon. “Hondo asks me how I make those catches, man, and I say I just wave that glove out there and the ball goes fffffttttt!” — he smacks his hand
— “right into the glove.”
“Yep,” said Herndon, smiling.”Fffffffffft!”
“Yep,” said Lemon, nodding.
“Ball just jumped in,” Herndon said.
“Ffffffffft!” Lemon repeated.
He talked about it like an old friend. Like an old drinking buddy. They had been in Chicago. And New York, and Milwaukee. They had fallen down steps together. Sang the blues together. Walked each other home. They had been to a World Series. How many dives?
“It was a nasty old thing,” he said. “People were always telling me to get rid of it. They were afraid to stick their hands in it. But it was my glove. Only one I wanted.”
He was holding a new glove now. A substitute. A new Rawlings Fastback with the picture of the cow in the pocket. The model has been discontinued. But the Rawlings people found one lying around their warehouses.
The knuckles on his right hand were swollen from slapping his fist into the new pocket, trying to wear it in. Over and over. Punch, punch. How much did he miss the old glove? That’s how much. Four swollen knuckles.
“It still ain’t ready yet,” Lemon said, looking at the stranger on his hand. “I’ve been working on it. I told my wife to put it in the driveway and run over it a couple of times, and then throw it in the dirt, and then maybe it’ll look like the old one.”
He laughed, then sighed. “But it won’t feel like it.”
You hear of players who won’t let you touch their bats. Or polish their shoes. Or pitchers who have to wear the same T- shirt when they start a game. Equipment and performance are often tied together by heartstrings. Especially in baseball.
“The first day with a new glove was terrible, man,” Lemon said. “I didn’t feel right out there.”
He looked at his new partner. “This is gonna take time,” he said. “Just lots of time.”
Maybe, Lemon said, the old one will show up again. Maybe it’s in the stadium somewhere. Or behind some box or in a back room. Maybe someone will return it. The Rawlings Fastback Model. With the frayed strings and the skinny leather and the picture of the cow in the pocket, although you can’t even see the cow anymore.
“Sad,” someone said.
“Like a plumber’s tools,” he repeated.
Life is a series of involvements. And somewhere in between the teddy bear and the mortgage there is the glove. Man and his glove. The more time together, the stronger the attachment. You can’t explain it to non-glove people. You can just slap your fist into the pocket. Chet Lemon was slapping. And he stopped for a second. He looked at the glove, as if listening for familiar music. But there was no fffffffft!
“It won’t be the same, will it?” someone asked him.
“It won’t be the same,” he said. CUTLINE
Chet Lemon poses with his “magic” glove (left, in 1984) and the unwanted substitute.