Gimme some glove: Cubs explain their spring breaking-in rituals

A close look at Jon Lester's new glove for the 2018 season. Courtesy of Jesse Rogers

MESA, Ariz. -- On a nondescript day at Chicago Cubs camp, shortstop Addison Russell walked through the team’s clubhouse wearing latex gloves while holding his own leather in one hand. As he sat down at his locker, he began massaging the inside of his glove, smoothing the pocket over.

Spring’s annual "Glove Day" provides major league players with new gloves from various sporting companies for the upcoming season, and many times, beyond. Russell actually received his glove before camp and was working it over.

Next to their bats, position players are very particular about their gloves.

“I’m just softening the leather in my glove,” Russell explained. “It’s basically a lotion for my glove that I put on the latex because Arizona gets a little dry, so trying to keep it lubricated.”

The rituals of breaking in new gloves have changed over the years. No longer are players tying them with string or putting them under their pillow. Equipment guys can do the work for them in half the time.

“Trainers are good at putting some stuff on the leather,” pitcher Mike Montgomery said. “I’ll give it to them. They have tools that can simulate playing catch.”

Within the Cubs’ clubhouse there was a definite split between those who were more hands-on with breaking in their gloves and those who let team employees deal with it. Pitchers cared much less than position players, for obvious reasons.

“Pitchers are easy,” Jon Lester said. “Just play catch.”

Lester is new to Wilson Sporting Goods this season. He received a "JL34" model, which will be in stores soon. He has the initials of his three kids on his glove and says it doesn’t take long to break in, but he acknowledges catchers are a whole other breed. Willson Contreras got two new gloves on the same day Lester got his and immediately went to work on them -- him and only him.

“I don’t want anyone touching my glove,” Contreras stated. “I take care of it like a baby.

“I take them out to the cage and do my thing with the (pitching) machines. It takes me about a week and a half.”

That first notion brought to memory a few funny moments for Cubs manager Joe Maddon. He’s seen players look cross-eyed at their gloves after an error and take it out on them in much harsher fashions.

“Cliff Lee came off the mound one time and threw his glove right up into the stands above our dugout,” Maddon recalled. “And (former Angel Mike James), do not pick up his glove and put it on your hand. He would absolutely freak out if you put your hand into his glove.”

Contreras aside, no other Cubs that were asked were that possessive about their gloves, but plenty had their routines.

“I take balls off the pitching machine,” Kyle Schwarber said. “That’s my thing. I go in there and just keep pounding balls in there. Over and over.”

Schwarber was already using his new one in games, but some preferred older models while also breaking in new ones for future use.

“I try to break in gloves like a year ahead of time,” infielder Tommy La Stella said. “So I’ll break in gloves now that I might use next year. … Every glove is a little different, the way it comes. There are plenty of gloves I haven’t felt comfortable with for whatever reason, so I’ll just move on to the next one.”

Though gloves don’t keep pitchers up at night, there are some aspects that affect their game.

“The shape is important,” Montgomery explained. “I’ve gotten gloves that don’t turn out so well. It could be a bad pocket and guys can pick up pitches, so size is important and how you break it in is important.”

What about superstition? It isn’t a driving force behind continuing to use a glove, but saving Game 7 of the World Series might be a good reason to keep using one a couple of years later.

“I like that one anyway,” Montgomery said. “I’ll mix in other ones, but that one is kind of special to me, right?”