Though I live in Los Angeles, my wife and I rarely venture into Beverly Hills. I have very little to look at in these posh palaces of luxury, and thankfully my wife, who is a weaver, prefers to make her own clothing. But she does like Coach bags, and there happens to be a Coach store on Rodeo Drive.
What surprised me when we looked at their window display was a baseball theme, with two-color bats and some multi-colored leather baseball gloves (orange/white, squash/fawn, navy/turquoise).
Inside, in the back of the store, is a small department for men. And sure enough, among the baseball beanbag paperweights and baseball-leather wallets, were some smooth leather baseball gloves that brought back a flood of childhood memories when I slid my hand into one. Good God, I thought, this was my Proustian madeleine.
I remembered Little League tryouts when I was 11 years old. The tryouts were meant to determine which boys would play in the Majors. I was a skinny kid, not very tall or strong, and I clearly belonged in the Minors; but when one of the coaches hit a fly ball to me, I chased it down in the outfield and somehow miraculously caught it. That ruined my chance to play much that summer.
I was put in the Majors, along with boys two and three years older than me where I sat on the bench, waiting to be tapped to pinch run or to play the last inning of a losing game. But still, a memory that I hold most dear is of that special catch during tryouts. The long run on the outfield grass, the hardball arcing over my head, my outstretched left arm, the ball landing in the deep pocket with a thwunk! and the look on everyone’s face when it didn’t drop out of my glove.
As my wife browsed bags, I tried on and pounded a stunning navy/turquoise leather glove. I remembered our junior varsity team in high school. I was 13, playing second base, and I convinced my dad that I needed a new infielder’s mitt. We went to a sporting goods store and I found a nice golden Spalding glove with the name Sam Esposito scrawled in the pocket. Esposito was a utility infielder for the Chicago White Sox in 1952, and from 1955–63. He had a lifetime batting average of .207 and hit just eight home runs in 10 years, so he wasn’t a major league ballplayer for his bat. His fielding percentage was .957. Esposito was a glove man.
I was a die-hard Yankee fan, so I didn’t really follow Sam Esposito, but I liked the glove and have never forgotten his name.
Nor have I forgotten when Mr. Morelli, our junior varsity head coach, decided to move me from second to first. “You need to get a first baseman’s mitt,” he told me. When I protested that I had just got my Sam Esposito infielder’s glove, he said, “You can’t be a first baseman with a glove like that. If you don’t get the right glove, I’ll have to bench you.” Those are cruel words to say to a fledgling ballplayer who had dreams of turning spectacular double plays and not fearing line drives. My dad had paid $29 for that glove. I knew I couldn’t tell him I needed another one, so I stuck to my guns and insisted I could play first base with the glove I had. Mr. Morelli stuck to his guns as well and put another kid at first.
This led to thoughts of my dad. Having a catch was one of the things we did in our backyard on weekends. He was a lefty, so he had an old mitt that couldn’t be passed down. We would play imaginary games, pitching to imaginary hitters, calling balls and strikes as we threw the ball back and forth. I think it’s the nicest memory I have of being with my dad. And just sticking a glove on my hand brought this back to me. If memory can be triggered so powerfully by something this simple, maybe it was worth forking over $348 to buy the glove.