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AFFAIRS TO REMEMBER
IN MANY WAYS, PEOPLE SHOW THEY'RE IN GLOVE WITH THEIR MITTS

They're called "glove affairs" - people's love affairs with their baseball gloves. Anyone who's ever owned a mitt can tell you some special memory attached to it, some story, superstition or quirk.

It isn't hard to understand why there is such an emotional attachment to a leather glove, the piece of baseball equipment that evokes memories of fine catches and thrilling putouts. Like blue jeans that get better when they're worn and faded, gloves get better and more comfortable when they get older.

Buffalo Bisons outfielder Chris Clapinski has gone through much of his career with just two gloves.

He "retired" the first glove during spring training two years ago, after using it for more than nine years. The game glove Clapinski uses now is the same one he uses for batting practice and is close to four years old.

It takes Clapinski two years just to break in a glove -- longer than it takes some players to go through a glove.

"I think once you start using a glove for that long, it becomes almost impossible to break away from it," said Clapinski, who began his minor league career in 1992 and played 70 games with the Florida Marlins in 1999 and 2000. "You get that comfort and you know exactly what type of reaction you can get from the ball when it hits the glove. It's just something that feels good."

David Amaro, the catcher for the University at Buffalo Bulls baseball team, won't let anyone touch his glove. Because of the position he plays, Amaro has to get a new glove every year. That doesn't mean he's any less protective about it.

"Sharing a glove with me is like sharing a toothbrush," said Amaro. "I think I go overboard with it, but I have unusually large hands so the way I wear my glove is with three fingers in the last hole, which is unusual."

When people try on his glove, they adjust the laces and change the fit. "I go crazy," Amaro said.

For Bulls shortstop Joe Mihalics, his superstition is keeping the glove he affectionately calls "my baby" away from pitchers.

"I try not to let pitchers touch my glove because they'll jinx it," Mihalics said. "They're a different breed, pitchers."

One reason gloves have so much significance is that players spend most of their playing time with them on. The glove becomes a symbol of the game itself. Players also take tender care of their glove because it is the piece of baseball equipment that is subject to the most use and, almost by default, abuse.

"I get pretty attached to my glove," Mihalics said. "I take care of my glove very well. When I think the glove is wearing down a bit, I'll untie the knots, the laces, and rub some oil on it. One thing I think is if you take care of it, it'll take care of you."

Bisons catcher Dusty Wathan makes a "glove sandwich" whenever he travels, so that if his bags get smashed, his game glove will still be in good shape. Wathan takes three gloves -- a bullpen glove, game glove and backup game glove -- and puts them in that order, game glove in the middle.

Former teammate Russell Branyan recently gave him a foam ball, which he now puts in his glove to make sure it holds its shape. UB first baseman James Kingsley does the same thing, only with two baseballs.

Former major league catcher Pat Borders used to try to trade brand new gloves with younger players in the minor league camps, so he wouldn't have to break gloves in.

For those who choose to do it themselves, breaking gloves in can be an art form. There's rubbing petroleum jelly, leather lotion, glove oil or shaving cream onto it. Dunking it in water or sticking it in the microwave or conventional oven. And then there is playing catch with the glove until a natural pocket forms.

Amaro's first glove was passed down to him -- not an unusual thing when it comes to gloves.

When he was 4, Amaro's father, a minor league player in the Cincinnati Reds organization, gave him a too-big baseball glove. The now three-decades-old glove is displayed proudly in the family trophy room.

Embroidered onto the side of the glove are the Amaro last name and the No. 5, the jersey number for both father and son.

"He wants me to take care of it, so hopefully I can give it to a son that I have," Amaro said.

It is this kind of emotional attachment to the glove that has kept John Golomb busy for 17 years, turning people's glove affairs into a glove repair business. At his shop in the Bronx, the self-proclaimed "sports doctor" has about 100 baseball gloves waiting to be made good as new.

"The baseball glove is a sentimental item that's particular to their user," Golomb said. "It's not typical of other equipment. Maybe a tennis player has a favorite racket, but there's something about baseball gloves. There's a whole process of breaking it in, nurturing it, getting it just right. . . . It becomes an appendage of you. It's hard to part with it when it's just right."

Golomb once repaired the glove of former New York Yankees third baseman Wade Boggs, after Boggs' trainer told him that the all-star couldn't bear to part with his mitt. The glove had been sent to a shoemaker in the past, but it was finally at a point where the shoemaker didn't think he could save it.

Golomb ended up fashioning a new glove and put it inside the old one, to "keep the outside looking like it was the original glove."

It worked, and "the rest is history," Golomb said, gleefully noting that the Yankees won the World Series that year, 1996.

Most of his clients, though, are average people. Some want to pass their glove down to their children. Others are older people who want to continue playing with their old mitts.

As Golomb said: "My customers want to keep their glove and when they send it to me, I can give it a second life."

An ordinary adult fielding glove can run from $40 to $300 at the local sporting goods store, although a few notables have sold for considerably more.

Comedian Billy Crystal paid $239,000 for a signed, game-used Mickey Mantle glove at a Sotheby's auction five years ago. The Spalding mitt Lou Gehrig wore in his last game, April 30, 1939, sold for $387,500, also at Sotheby's -- the highest price ever paid for a baseball glove.

But a glove doesn't have to be expensive to be the most prized possession in the world.

Eight-year-old Ashley Korczynski's father bought her a $50 baseball glove last year.

"It is very comfortable and it helps me," said Korczynski, who was playing catch Monday at Stiglmeier Park in Cheektowaga before a pitch, hit and run contest. "It's big so I can catch the ball."

e-mail: ksim@buffnews.com

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