Joey, my friend, this one's for you.
I would guess each and every one of us has at least one thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Undoubtedly, most of us have many, many things to be thankful for.
Speaking of such "thanks," this year I'm going to re-run a column I wrote more than 20 years ago about the grief of losing my beloved baseball glove and then my eternal thanksgiving for having it returned several days later.
Just about every time I see Joey Dyslin, he asks me to re-run "that column about your glove." Joey, an avid and very knowledgeable baseball fan, tells me he loved that column and thinks about it each and every baseball season. I could never grant Joey his wish because I couldn't find the old column in my vast, pre-computer collection of old, yellowed newsprint copies.
However, while recently having our store room repaired, I had the opportunity to sort through all kinds of stuff at the bequest of my wife ("Here, Spook, look through this and toss what you don't need. We have too much stuff.") Lo and behold, I found that old, dated column. Without further adieu:
Imagine George Burns without the cigar. How about Tommy Lasorda without a belly? Don Zimmer without a chaw? Harray Carray without a Bud? Attila without a Hun? Liz Taylor without Mike, Eddie, Richard, Ralph, Bob, Larry, Curly and Moe?
That was me a few weeks ago. My mitt. I had lost my mitt.
It's just a little weathered leather lovely that fits my hand like a glove. Top-grade leather and made in the US of A. I love that mitt. I'll always love that mitt. You baseball and softball players know the feeling. It was as if I had lost a dear old friend or relative.
Twenty years ago, in the summer of 1963, after pooling all my newspaper route and grocery store wages, I walked into the sporting goods store, took a deep breath, and said to the clerk, I want that first-base mitt you've got in your window.
"I'm sorry, son," said the clerk. But that glove costs $85. Do you have $85?"
Yessir, I said, shaking like a Dolly Parton sequin. I'm the one who's been drooling all over your front window for six months. See those nose prints? They're mine. I want that glove and I've saved up the money from my paper route and stocking bread and produce at the grocery store. Please get it for me. Now?
My feet didn't touch the ground all the way home. In 1963 you could almost go around the world for $85. It was every cent I had. But I had to have The Mitt. Moose Skowron's future replacement at first base for the New York Yankees can't be playing with no rag.
It was beautiful. I took it out of the box and caressed it for hours. Then, as Pop had taught us, I oiled it thoroughly, delicately placed a baseball in the pocket, wrapped it in twine and newspaper, and put it under my bed, where I could keep a watch on it all night.
Hey, tomorrow, Paul Struck's mitt was going to be the talk of the neighborhood, the town, and maybe beyond.
I hardly slept a wink. Every so often, I'd reach down under the bed and feel the box, just to make sure the boogie man hadn't hit.
Each fall, I would oil it down, wrap it in newspaper, and gently place it back into its tattered box. Ditto in the spring before the season started. In its life, I would guess The Mitt has caught a million balls, not counting an infrequent miss or two. A million.
God, I love that thing.
A couple weeks ago, I absent-mindedly left it in the dugout at a nearby town. For over 20 years, The Mitt had been my faithful, loving companion, and I leave it to rot in a small-town dugout, or die a sickly death on someone else's hand.
My mitt. The Mitt. Gone.
I didn't sleep for three days. Then a week went by. Then almost another when Steve Sullivan, a fellow-worker overhearing me lament about the loss of my glove, nonchalantly tells me, "Struck, I know who has your glove."
I'll pay the ransom, was my reply. Find out what he wants and it's his. I'm dead serious. And if he won't come forth, I'll hunt him down and kill him. I'll make Rambo look like a Cub Scout with a stick knife. Who is he?
"I can't say," said Sully. "I promised I wouldn't tell. But the guy's going to bring it to your next game.
With his eyes bulging out of his cold, clammy, blue face, and the entire Daily Times staff trying to pry my fingers from his throat, Sully finally coughed out the name of the guy who had my glove. A longtime friend, Jim Holt, of Cherokee, saw the glove in the dugout in the nearby town after we had left and figured it belonged to somebody from Cherokee. He saved The Mitt.
I got it back for a six-pack of Holt's favorite beverage. If he would have pressed me, he could have gotten a boxcar full.
I love that mitt. I love Jim Holt. I love Sully. I love boxcars.
It's now in my trunk, safe and sound. We played our final game of the season last night, so this weekend it'll be oiled, wrapped in newspaper, and treasured away for another winter.
It's been bopped a million times, patched, re-strung, thrown in digust, borrowed out, and lost in its 20 years of life. But it's now where it belongs and where it will forever be until my son wants to use it. Then it will be his and I'll be right there with it all the time. We're a pair, you know.
Eighty-five bucks. Hah! What a steal I got.
Jim Holt, I owe you buddy.