Let’s start this Sunday with a rather off-the-wall story about a completely unexpected pitcher.
I was away on the day Brian Gordon made his Yankees debut, but even if I were there, I doubt I would have noticed his glove. I remember only two times that I actually paid much attention to a player’s glove during a game: The first time I saw Kei Igawa break out his blue glove in Scranton — it was hard to miss it — and the first time I saw Pat Venditte pitch.
Anyway, here’s a story that’s not so much about the newest Yankees starter. It’s really about the newest Yankees glove.
A career minor leaguer, it all seemed pretty natural for the newcomer. Except for his mitt, that is.
On Thursday, Gordon is believed to have become the first big leaguer to play with a glove made entirely of synthetic materials. Not a side panel or string of leather anywhere.
Way to flash the nylon microfiber, rook!
Sitting high up along the third-base side at Yankee Stadium, Scott Carpenter soaked in the entire scene.
“It was chills,” he related Friday by phone. “To see my name on the mound, starting a game for the New York Yankees, I couldn’t believe it.”
That’s because he’s the founder — and only full-time employee — of Carpenter Trade Company. From his shop in Cooperstown, N.Y., near the Baseball Hall of Fame, he’d spent 10 years on this labor of glove, building toward this moment.
“I always had the dream that synthetics were the future of baseball gloves and that I would be the person who made the first all-synthetic glove used in major league baseball,” he said. “I kept it to myself because it seemed so preposterous. There weren’t a lot of people offering a lot of encouragement along the way.”
“Baseball is all about traditions. One of them is the lore of the glove, the memories of the smell of the leather and breaking it in,” he said. “There’s such a romantic notion of that, the idea of a synthetic glove strikes people the wrong way.”
These lightweight mitts that carry his name are totally legal. Even though the Official Baseball Rules say fielders may “wear a leather glove,” Carpenter checked way in advance with Major League Baseball and got the OK.
“At first I really didn’t know what to think about it,” Gordon said Friday at Wrigley Field, where the Yankees played the Chicago Cubs.
“It’s very different looking and not your, the traditional look. But I asked more and more questions about it and it just made sense to me,” he said. “I think a glove is a tool. A glove is our tool, a tool we use every day, and it may as well fit, fit for us.”
For the record, Carpenter’s gloves have no scent. They also don’t require any oils, shaving cream or water to break them in. Pop a ball in the web, that’s plenty.
The advantage of these new-wave gloves, Carpenter said, is that they’re five to 10 ounces lighter than standard leather models — consider a baseball weighs five ounces, and when a fielder moves his mitt into position, that could mean the fraction of a second between a nifty play and near-miss.
Carpenter said about a half-dozen minor leaguers currently use his gloves. Gordon got the idea from Triple-A pitcher Michael Schwimer — they were teammates at Lehigh Valley in the Philadelphia system until this week, when Gordon joined the Yankees.
Synthetic components in gloves have become increasingly popular in recent years. Alex Rodriguez, Roy Halladay and other big leaguers use mitts that supplement leather with man-made materials.
Gordon’s glove, from a distance, looks like anyone else’s. Up close, it’s easy to see the different, carefully constructed panels. All of Carpenter’s gloves are black, rather than the shiny brown leather often seen in a Wilson A2000 or Rawlings Heart of the Hide model.
The 39-year-old Carpenter formerly tried his hand at making sneakers. He said an old cobbler in Brooklyn once told him baseball gloves were much harder to build. An artist’s residency in the Adirondacks eventually put him on this trial-and-path.
For glove of the game, so to speak.
Carpenter said synthetic materials allow for greater strength and flexibility. He said there’s some trade secrets, too, in the design because the nylon microfibers move differently than leather.
“He does a casting of your hand, he molds your hand and then builds the glove from that mold, from the hand out. It’s just a true fit. Right when you get it it’s ready to go,” Gordon said. “There’s no slipping or wearing or tearing. It’s a very durable piece.”
“He asks you which way you like to squeeze a glove,” he said. “Some guys are thumb to pinky, thumb to ring finger, thumb to middle finger. He’ll take that information. Then that way, right when you slip your hand in it’s already broken towards that fit.”
No two of Carpenter’s gloves are exactly alike. Some come with embroidery: Gordon’s mitt has red stitching with a Bible passage.
Carpenter makes hardball and softball gloves for outfielders and most infielders — no catcher’s mitts or versions for first basemen. It takes about 20 hours for each, and he’s currently working on another one for Gordon.
A quirky part of his business: He hasn’t sold a glove this year. Instead, he trades them. He recently bartered a glove to a musician who is putting “Carpenter Trade Company” into the lyrics of a new song.
For now, Carpenter is glowing over seeing his glove in the big leagues. He’s positive it’s the first totally synthetic mitt in the majors.
“I suppose only God knows for 100 percent certainty whether or not some guy in 1921 went out for one inning of an MLB game wearing an all-canvas glove,” he wrote in an email.
“I have been working hard at this milestone for 10 years” and done research with the Hall of Fame and other sources, he said. “I can’t imagine there is anyone more knowledgeable than I am about this question.”
Associated Press photos