The two gloves, my father’s a lefty, and mine a righty, are both around 60 years old and still in decent condition. Pressed into action, they’d be serviceable, which is more than can be said for me if I were put on the field. I’ve seen better innings.
The gloves are both first baseman’s mitts, made by Wilson, each stamped “Made In USA.” Certifiable relics. China and Japan hadn’t yet gobbled up the American sporting goods market in the early ’60s.
I’d forgotten about the gloves, didn’t know they still existed, until a long-overdue cellar cleanup recently had me sorting through a battered old trunk. The gloves were stored at the bottom, next to dad’s leather skates and his heavy woolen skating socks.
The musty, leathery smell of the gloves brought me back to a time when my dad would drench them with Neatsfoot oil at the end of each baseball season and tuck them, each with a baseball in the pocket, for drying at the side of his tool bench.
They remained on his bench through the winter, harbingers of a new season to come. Baseball framed the calendar for me back then, and how I felt about each day, present and future, how I felt about myself, about everything.
Mel worked a lot, 60-70 hours a week at two jobs, and our father/son bonding time was spent playing catch in the backyard — usually for 10 minutes before he hurried off to his night job — and skating together, typically outdoors. Indoor rinks were slow to sprout up around Boston in the pre-Bobby Orr era.
I did not share his enthusiasm for cold, blustery New England winter nights, but I also never turned down the chance to be out there, hockey stick in hand, skating alongside, trading passes with him. Towns often kept up at least one outdoor sheet back then, usually with a single lamp post. We were often the only ones out there late at night, dishing passes under the light, retrieving errant pucks in the dark.
I was 8 or 9 years old when I got my Jim Gentile autographed model Wilson A784. I think it was eight bucks, which I saved up from raking leaves and shoveling driveways. The key was, it had to be like my dad’s. Just because.
Gentile was a power-hitting first baseman for the Orioles at the time. The Red Sox in that era had Pete Runnels and later Dick Stuart as their first basemen. I would have preferred one of their models, but no one was marketing their gloves, as I recall. Stuart, known as Dr. Strangeglove, could barely handle his own, never mind create demand in the consumer market.
I played with that glove all the way through Little League and junior high school, then switched to Rawlings, a Brooks Robinson model, in high school. Eventually, I only pitched. I loved to pitch, no doubt in part because I couldn’t hit a lick.
I did OK. Pitching gave me confidence, perhaps more than I deserved in retrospect, and I threw a curve and a knuckler that my dad taught me in those backyard sessions.
He would stand, his back to the side of the garage, and spot his glove, the same one that I rediscovered at the bottom of trunk, to a different location for each pitch. My accuracy was, shall we say, spotty.
Soon after he died in 1989, and the gloves were tossed in the trunk, we spruced up the house to prep it for sale. The work included ripping off and replacing the clapboards on the side of the garage, a good many of them cracked and splintered from my errant pitches.
“Bring it down a little,” I can still hear him calmly saying, the ball having smacked with a cracking thud into the clapboards.
He would be in his dress shirt and leather shoes, because, again, he would be leaving soon for the night job, fixing TVs and radios at a local repair shop. Mel Dupont never owned a pair of sneakers.
“Maybe try a different grip this time,” he would say.
So I did. It helped. But not always.
Generally not a patient man, my dad, but none of those errant pitches, or cracked clapboards or broken garage windows, ever flustered him. The same, too, when he taught me how to drive a car with standard shift. We would head to an empty parking lot on a Sunday afternoon and he would sit patiently in the passenger seat while I virtually tore the clutch and transmission out of his new ’70 Ford Maverick.
“Push down the clutch … start over … you’ll get it,” he’d say.
I’d give it too much gas, pop the clutch too quickly, heave forward, stall out. Not pretty. It took weeks for me finally to get it down. Never once bothered him. Amazing to me because he could run hot if the phone bill was too high or someone left the lights on in empty rooms.
“We’re not the Edison!” he’d holler, smacking the light switch down like a bullwhip to punctuate his point.
There really isn’t much to a glove, is there? It’s leather fashioned from a template, dotted with metal eyelets, lined with minimal padding, stitched and made complete with leather string tied in tidy knots.
All these years later, with the cellar cleaned up and painted, it’s a certain comfort to slip the glove onto my left hand, smack my right fist into the pocket, and remember the time, wisdom, and patience the old man shared in those backyard catches.
Baseball season is over. The long-forgotten gloves, dad’s a lefty, mine a righty, are about to be doused in Neatsfoot oil and placed at the side of my tool bench.