A good glove is like a trusty sidekick, ever ready to help you catch anything that comes your way and letting you get all the credit a hero deserves. That is, unless it is brand new or old without a pocket, then your glove is like a tag-along, obnoxious little sister who wants to help but usually just gets in the way. Having a good glove is key to being a confident defensive player, and breaking in that glove is about the most important thing that a player can do for herself defensively.
Breaking in a new glove and taking care of it is a rite of passage for every player. Basically, the goal is two-fold: we want to make the glove more flexible so that the hand can close around the ball easier, and we want to form a “pocket”. The pocket of a glove is a slight indention in the palm and webbing of the glove the size of the ball where the ball will naturally sit in the glove. A flexible glove with a deep pocket can catch balls easily without the ball popping out of the glove, and it will conform to a player’s hand…well, like a glove. Eventually, a Softball glove becomes unique to the player who owns it.
While most new gloves today are made with soft leather that is already partially broken in, breaking in any glove well takes time and patience. There are many products that can be bought at a sports store that can help move the process along, but ultimately a player needs to catch a lot of balls with the new glove to break it in. Catching the ball helps build the pocket, and sweat from the hand helps condition the leather to make it more flexible.
I break in my gloves using the following procedure:
1) I use a heat treatment, like “Hot Glove” two or three times (following the directions on the can).
2) After the last heat treatment has soaked into the glove, I rub in a large amount of glove conditioner all over the outside and the inside of the glove. Glove conditioners can be mineral oil, lanolin, or other over-the-counter leather treatments.
3) After rubbing in the glove conditioner and before it completely soaks into the glove, I take a ball and put it where the pocket should be (pretty much between the thumb and index finger along the webbing of the thumb), then bind the glove up tightly with the ball using rubber bands.
4) Once the glove is closed with a glove in its pocket, I put the glove under a mattress for a couple of days. Yes, I sleep on it.
5) Now it is time to work the glove. Take it out from under the mattress and play catch with it. If you are by yourself, throw the ball hard into your glove, squeezing your glove hand every time the ball is in the glove. Better yet, have someone hit you balls, preferably in the outfield so you have to run around a lot, sweating into the glove as you shag flies.
6) When not using the glove, bind it with rubber bands (with the ball in the pocket). Treat it every few days with another dose of glove conditioner (see Step #2).
Repeat steps 5 and 6 until the glove is completely broken in. It normally takes a few days or a couple of weeks to do so depending on how much you work with the glove, but it is definitely worth the work. A good glove can mean the difference between starting and riding the bench!