LAKELAND, Fla. — Throughout his baseball career, Bryce Harper has leaned on his personal equipment manager at home — his father, Ron — to break in his gloves. The day he was drafted by the Washington Nationals in 2010, he handed his outfielder’s glove to his father, who started on the three-day process.
Ron Harper stuffed three balls into the glove, tied it shut and dropped it in a bucket of water for a day. The former ironworker then pulled the glove out of the water and smashed it with a sledgehammer. He repeated the soaking treatment, letting it dry for a day before his son used it to play catch. Ron’s method of breaking in the glove shortens the amount of time Bryce said he needs to play catch with it to loosen the leather.
“It gets it exactly how I like it and what I use,” said Bryce, who also uses saddle oil on his glove.
Baseball is a sport of quirks, habits and routines, and there’s no more unique part of the game than a player’s relationship with his equipment. Each player has his own personal relationship with his glove, bat, cleats and uniform based on comfort and look.
Nationals reliever Drew Storen, who studied product design at Stanford and designs his own shoe patterns for fun, used 37 baseball caps last season, according to his former roommate Tyler Clippard, who only used one. Adam LaRoche uses a first baseman’s glove so old the manufacturer’s logo has changed and the model doesn’t exist anymore. Infielder Steve Lombardozzi doesn’t let his gloves get bent.
“Once you break it in, it’s like your baby,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. Added shortstop Ian Desmond: “My glove is like a fine-tuned hammer for like a carpenter. It’s my tool. I feel comfortable with it.”
Most players break their gloves in the old-fashioned way: by playing catch with it. The old techniques, such as applying shaving cream or stuffing it under the mattress, aren’t as common because, players said, the modern gloves sent by manufacturers aren’t particularly stiff.
Suzuki uses only one set of catcher’s gear and glove per season, preferring the comfort of a custom fit. On a recent morning, he smashed his new mitt with a wooden hammer. But he mostly relies on catching games and bullpen sessions to get the feel he desires. By the end of the season, his hand may sting because the glove’s padding has worn down but he’s fine with that. “I like it soft,” he said.
Storen, a baseball equipment aficionado, cycled through seven gloves, blue or red, last season. He prefers them stiff because he likes resistance when he squeezes his left hand closed as he delivers the ball to home plate. He had his Twitter handle, @DrewStoren, engraved along the thumb on one glove but used it only once and had to black it out with a marker after league officials saw Storen use the glove during one of his rehab starts and sent him a warning letter.
“It was cool,” said Storen, who sends his father old jerseys, cleats and gloves. “It was something I wanted to do because I hadn’t seen it done.”
Some players are more particular with how they treat their glove. During long spring training road trips, Lombardozzi takes his 11 1 / 2-inch Mizuno glove out of his equipment bag and sits it next to him. Also, only he can wear his gloves. “Sometimes someone will go start to put their hand in it and I’m, ‘No, hold on a second,’ ” he said.
LaRoche is the most laid-back when it comes to equipment. He will use anyone’s bat and lets any teammate use his bats. He has two gloves that are six or seven years old and doesn’t have any particular rules for their maintenance or care.
“They’ve been re-laced 15, 20 times,” he said. “They’ve had new webs put in them. There are new parts all over those gloves.”
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman used a tan infielder’s glove in recent years until a rule change this season. He had to switch to a black glove because, based on the reasoning for the rule, the tan glove was too similar in color to the infield dirt and made it harder for umpires.
Zimmerman uses only one glove per season, plus a backup glove for fielding grounders during batting practice. He uses an 11 1 / 2-inch glove, smaller than other third basemen, because he wants a quick transfer to his throwing hand. After the season ends, the glove manufacturer sends him a new one to start breaking in during offseason catch or while fiddling with it around the house. He applies a strong grade of oil to protect it.
“You spit in it so much and it cracks,” he said. “You got to take care of it. It’s like your baby.”
Outfielder Denard Span cycles through cleats more often than most. If his cleats get dirty over the course of a series, he will break in a new pair of black Nikes because he likes to keep them clean. Desmond is the same way but with his hats.
“Some people like that dirtball look,” Desmond said. “I like to get my uniform dirty but with a clean hat.”
No Nationals players would admit to any unusual superstitions with their equipment beyond using the same bat or undershirt during a hot streak. A young Harper used to sleep with his bats. As a child, Desmond used to sleep with his baseball uniform and cleats.
“Obviously, now, I’ve got a wife and kids,” Desmond said. “I don’t have time to be bringing bats home.”
Adam Kilgore contributed to this report.