I felt like an enigma in right field, a position dubbed as the white-elephant spot.
Rumor had it that right field was for weaker players, since most beginning youngsters - at least the right-handers - tend to hit to center and left, if they ever get the ball out of the infield.Of course, I wasn't blaming myself - specifically, my underdeveloped, unpolished baseball skills - for my position predicament as a 8-year-old right fielder in an Iowa youth summer baseball league. Instead, I was sure that my lonesome location in right was the result of my old, beat-up, black baseball glove - rather, my Dad's 1951 black-leather, Andy Pafko-signature Wilson model A2080.
It was 1967 - my first year in baseball. I was using Dad's glove because I didn't have one of my own and I was the oldest child - no other hand-me-downs. I thought it stood out like a sore thumb - oversized, weather-worn, two-dimensional, a catcher's mitt with fingers. I imagined it as something Charlie Brown would sport on the pitcher's mound in a Peanuts comic strip.
After I soon got my own, more-conventional glove, Dad's glove went on being semiabused and certainly unappreciated - stuck at the very back of the garage drawer where the rest of the family's baseball gloves were stored.
If one of my brothers and my sister - both lefties - ended up on the same team in a neighborhood game, one would use the only left-handed glove, while the other had to make do by sticking Dad's glove on the opposite hand. And if we were short a base, the flat, black glove doubled quite well as third.
Only recently we sons have taken the time to learn the real history behind the glove, inspecting it a little closer whenever we go home to visit my folks.
It's a flat, squarish piece of equipment, with unique outseam stitching along the fingers. All the asbestos-felt padding in the fingers has been worn away or pushed to the side, and perspiration has worked much of the leather into a smooth, glossy surface. Elsewhere, its lines, wrinkles and cracks suggest the face of an old rancher - fashioned by age, work and weather.
Dad played third base in high school and later in summer league ball in southern Idaho on the hometown team from Almo, a small Cassia County ranching community on the outskirts of the City of Rocks state park. Games were played on Saturday afternoons, with participants and fans taking time out from the summer haying.
Having purchased the glove in nearby Burley, Dad says he thinks he paid somewhere between $10 and $15 - a '51 Wilson catalog puts the suggested retail price at $23. No matter the price tag, no matter that he couldn't recall offhand who Pafko even was - "I think he might have played for the Yankees" - it was the state of the art in fielders' gloves at that time. "It was considered an uptown mitt," he says.
Incidentally, Pakfo was an all-star outfielder with the Chicago Cubs during the late 1940s. Since the Wilson Sporting Goods Co. traditionally selected local players for its gloves, Pafko was a natural to name a model after, with the A2080 introduced in 1951.
But that was the same year that the lifetime .285 hitter was traded midway in the season to the Brooklyn Dodgers, joining the likes of Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. With "Handy Andy" departed to a rival city, Wilson soon stopped manufacturing the A2080 Pafko model.
However, the real story isn't the glove but its purchase process.
Dad says the glove was the result of magpie shooting, when as a teenager he was the unofficial champion magpie-shooter of Cassia County. A Burley junk dealer, Ernest Slotnik, paid a nickel a head for magpies, which were considered agricultural nuisances. Dad would string up the heads by the beak on bailing wire to dry - he totaled 300 in one summer alone.
The glove followed Dad through college degrees and careers, and from the Idaho and Utah to Oklahoma and Iowa. While his kids didn't care for it, Dad always dug it when whenever he played catch with us or participated in recreational softball games. Even in his late 40s he was scooping up ground balls and stabbing sharp line drives with it while playing second base in a Colorado church league.
After taking more than two decades of ribbing from four sons about wearing ancient history out on the diamond, Dad finally broke down and bought a new glove - another Wilson, model A9840, called "The Boss," made in Korea, sporting lots of leather lacing and an oversize web. It's like wearing a basket, Dad says. "If the ball is hit anywhere in the area, you feel like you have to get it."
The old baseball glove is a lot like something else Dad has given me - practiced principles, tested ideals, well-worn beliefs and proven ethics. At first glance, they've appeared old-fashioned - something from another era.
Dad is coming out to visit in a couple of weeks. I'm planning to ask him to bring along his old, black glove. I'd like to take it to a softball game, head out to right field and try it out - again.