Even now, a kid remembers a Christmas glove

by Gary Shelton on December 25, 2015 · 1 comment

in general, NFL

Friday, 6 a.m.

The glove was dark brown with light brown stitching. And it fit as if it had been sewn around my hand. “Clete Boyer,” it said in the palm.

The glove smelled rich and luxurious, and it felt like the saddles of horses. Slide this glove in. A glove like this endangered every line drive ever struck. Ground balls never had a chance. Fly balls would go there to die.

I must have been 11 years old, maybe 12. And this was the first real glove I had ever owned, the first glove that wasn't a hand-me-down or a kid's version. This was a real glove, and I would spend hours rubbing oil into it. I would put a baseball in the pocket and wrap a belt around it in that eternal labor of love that most boys my age practiced.

Even now, I can remember that glove.

Even now, I can smile at a cool Christmas.

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You probably had a precious gift when you were a kid, too. A bike. A guitar. A camera. Electronics. For me, it was the Clete Boyer glove of legit size and heft. It had been sold by a store called Western Auto which, like many stores in many small towns, sold a bit of everything. This one sold baseball equipment (we had no sporting goods store). I would stop three, maybe four, times a week by Western Auto, and I would try on the glove, and I would snap a baseball into it.

For kids of my generation, this was an Ipod. This was Call of Duty. This was a Star Wars action figure.

This was the Clete Boyer glove, and nothing quite felt as much like Christmas as it did.

For me, and for many of you, this is what Christmas was. It was a fusion of the sports world and hope, of athletes and faith, of games and dreams. I never became a great baseball player, and Clete Boyer didn't catch them all. But just the feel of it made me believe that I could be.

For most of my life, there have been sports gifts at Christmas. Footballs. Bats. Baseballs. Tennis rackets. Basketballs. Sports board games. Frisbees. Skates. All of it. We were not much for action figures in my neighborhood. We weren't much for Monopoly. And video games, of course, had not been invented.

I spent a lot of time bouncing one of the old Super Balls off the steps so it would rebound. But if those hit a crease, they could crack and break apart. One day, I found an old golf ball, and I tried to bounce it off the steps. I threw harder, and it came back faster, and I thought I had found a way to spend the day. Then I threw one hard right into the edge of the steps, and it came back so fast I thought I had been shot. It bounded off my forehead and knocked me to the ground, then bounded off my skull and into the street beyond where it rolled on a direct line into the gutter.

You know what sports toy was a blast? It was a game called Electric Football. It was loud, and uncontrollable, and all the players ran in circles. Joe Montana himself could not complete a pass with that foam football.

And I loved it.

My first game had the Packers against the Chiefs, the first Super Bowl matchup. The players all ran in circles, and eventually, they would all gather into a corner. Trust me, it was not endorsed by John Madden.

Then there was the noise. I would later try to play the guitar (Wild Thing, take 42) and that wasn't nearly as noisy. It was like a motorcycle mating with a cement mixer. My father hated Electric Football. He would rather I juggle Cherry Bombs (the Jason Pierre-Paul starter kit) than play Electric Football. One day, he accidentally stepped on the metal vibrating game board. I still suspect there wasn't much accidental about it.

I had dozens of board games, all with spinners and dice, all lesser version of the Strat-O-Matic games that the cool kids had. I never had Strat-o-Matic. I am current seeking counseling because of it.

Computers were the evening out of sports games. When I was a young man, there was a game from Xor that was pretty fun. It put you in the role of the coach, and you called the play. But every time the other team tried to blitz, you could score if you called a screen pass. An absolute flaw.

I loved having sons. Sports returned to Christmas for me. There were video games, soccer and football and baseball and basketball. My younger son was a hoot. He would show me how to play the latest sports game, but he wouldn't show me everything until he needed to score. Oh. You can do that?

I loved Rock-Em, Sock-Em robots.

I loved Flick Football, which was a game we played in Geography Class in school. The finest shot I ever made went off Eddie Taylor's skull right as the teacher came down the aisle. That one cost me detention for a week. This was slicker, and the triangular footballs were pre made, but there was no Eddie Taylor. Not as cool.

There was a game I wished had been of my era. It was a called Nolan Ryan Baseball, and it was sort of a dart board with foam baseballs. You threw, and it called balls and strikes and hits and outs. I played the kids a lot of games when they were young.

I remember spending hours assembling an air hockey game for them. It turned out to be the flimsiest game ever assembled. I think it lasted 12 minutes.

Now, years later, it occurs to me that this is why we love sports, not because we watch millionaires playing them. Oh, I often say that people have little idea how good pro athletes are. That's not the point. The point is the magic of a kid unwrapping formed leather, of its feel, of its smell. To a kid from the neighborhood, it was like unwrapping baseball.

Thanks, Clete Boyer.

You were quite the catch.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

barry mcdowell December 25, 2015 at 7:33 pm

And the magic was even more powerful, and poignant, if you were lucky enough to use that glove while playing catch with your Dad. This is one of the true pleasures of the game of baseball, and of life itself.


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