Fits like a glove: Cardinals' Mike Matheny breaks in leather
JUPITER, Fla. -- Mike Matheny added another responsibility to his duties as St. Louis Cardinals manager, which already included setting lineups and determining the pitching rotation.
"I'm the glove breaker-inner guy," Matheny said.
Players say he has a knack for it.
A six-time Gold Glove catcher, Matheny already helped first basemen Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams break in gloves this spring training.
"He did pretty good," Adams said. "He came up and said that's something that he takes pride in, wanting to break in gloves, and he always liked doing it. So I figured, why not let one of the best go ahead and break my glove in for me?"
Matheny no longer puts fresh gloves under his mattress like he did as a Little Leaguer. He submerges some gloves in water for about a half-minute to make the leather more pliable. He applies leather conditioner for softening and still wrap balls tightly in the glove overnight to help form a pocket. He works the Glove Pounder, a hammer-like tool with a weight the shape and size of as baseball attached to the end, designed to simulate baseball hitting the mitt.
There's also a tactic most weren't able to employ during youth baseball years. Some evenings before leaving the ballpark he'll sit on a bucket in the batting cage and catch ball after ball from a pitching machine.
"I guess it is quiet time," Matheny said.
The joy Matheny derives from breaking in gloves dates back to his youth -- he loved that new glove smell -- and continued during his playing days as a professional.
"I used to always break in other people's catchers mitts, too," he said. "I had a little process where I could get them done pretty fast."
Each player likes a little bit different feel to his glove. In the case of Carson Kelly, Matheny didn't know what the catching prospect wanted in his mitt. Kelly was moved from third base to behind the plate
St. Louis converted Kelly from third base to catcher after the 2013 season, and Matheny spent a few days with him before the start of spring training in 2014.
"I had no idea how to break in a catcher's glove," Kelly said. "It changed my life. That's how I break in my gloves now."
Matheny isn't the only manager who enjoys working the leather. Washington's Dusty Baker helped outfielders with their gloves.
He has a process and keeps it secret, much like the recipe to his father's barbeque sauce.
"I'll tell my son," Baker said.
As Matheny sat at his desk following Thursday's game, a rigid glove emblazoned with a red No. 13 rested on a duffel bag near his feet. He is working with Matt Carpenter's back-up leather.
"They keep showing up," Matheny joked.
While Matheny toils to get gloves ready, players know not to attribute errors to the way the leather was broken in.
"I can't go to the skipper and blame him for missing a ball," Adams said, laughing and shaking his head. "That wouldn't be a good move on my part."