39: Dud and the Catcher’s Mitt

39: Dud and the Catcher’s Mitt

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Dud and the Catcher’s Mitt

Baseball is the only place in life where a sacrifice is really appreciated.

~Author Unknown

I should have been a boy. Boys climb trees and fall out. They play sports and get black eyes. Boys break bones. I did all of those things, and more. It was hard on my mom, but my dad had the best of both worlds. All wrapped up in the same package, he had a little tomboy to romp with and a little girl to sit on his lap.

Somewhere along the line, I started calling him “Dud.” It wasn’t a reflection on his abilities, just a pet name that happened over time.

One day, when I was about thirteen, an unexpected package arrived for me from my Uncle Mike. “Wow! A package for me? Mom! Dud! Come look!” As my folks came in to watch, I grabbed a pair of scissors, cut the twine and ripped open the box. Nestled inside was a brand-new, top-of-the-line catcher’s mitt.

Dud looked at the gift. “That’s an expensive glove. Uncle Mike must have noticed you needed a new mitt when he played catch with you.”

I took it out of the box and tried it on. “Perfect fit!” I declared, even though my fingers didn’t reach very far inside and the glove could have fit Dud better than me. I handed the glove to Dud, anxious to share the joy. “Try it.”

He slipped it on and pounded his fist into it several times. “Now, the first thing you need to do is break it in.” Dud handed it back to me and I looked at him, wondering what that meant.

“You break it? Won’t that ruin it?” I asked.

Dud smiled, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “Breaking it in means you soften the leather and give it a pocket.”

I frowned slightly. How would you go about making leather soft? Put hand cream on it?

Dud looked pensive for a second, as if making sure he had his facts correct. “You spread special oil on it, which makes the leather supple. I’ll pick some up on my way home from work.”

Dud brought home a can the next day. We lovingly rubbed the oil into the glove with an old rag and put a softball into the pocket. We wrapped the mitt closed with twine and placed it in a warm oven to cure.

I waited, conjuring visions of me tagging a runner out at home plate using the best glove on the team. I could almost hear the thwack of the tag, and smell the dust in the air from the runner’s slide at the plate. My mind cheered as I pictured myself making the out and saving the most important game of the season.

Then, a little devil sat on my shoulder and brought me back to reality by whispering thoughts in my ear. “What if your glove catches fire in the oven? You’ll open that oven door and a black cloud of smoke will belch out. All that will be left is a charred lump of something that used to be a catcher’s mitt!”

I looked at Dud and clasped my hands. “You’re sure it won’t get ruined in the oven?”

“It’ll be okay.”

The earthy smell of oil and leather drifted from the kitchen. The glove beckoned me, but still I waited. When I thought I couldn’t stand it any longer, Dud finally said, “I think it should be ready.”

I reached into the oven and pulled out the mitt. It wasn’t burned, but my throat tightened as I realized something had gone wrong. Concrete reinforced with rebar would have been softer and suppler than that glove. The thing could’ve been used for a doorstop.

“What happened?” I cried in dismay. Even after untying the twine, the mitt stayed frozen in position, wrapped around a ball that we had to pry out of the pocket.

Dud picked up the can of oil and read the label. “I bought the wrong kind,” he said with chagrin. “You’re supposed to use Neatsfoot oil. This is linseed oil and it hardened the glove.”

My heart sank as I blinked back the tears. We hardly had enough money for groceries. I knew we couldn’t buy another mitt. It was back to using my four-fingered, hand-me-down glove. My adolescent mind was convinced that the old mitt had been around for centuries.

Dud set his square jaw, the jawbone working back and forth with determination, and said, “It was my fault. I’ll buy you a new one.”

I never knew where he got the money (I suspect he took on extra work to earn it), but he kept his word. When the season started, I played catcher with a new glove.

That day, Dud taught me a lot about honesty and taking responsibility. He showed me that when you do something wrong, you have to make it right. He taught me fairness and kindness to others, no matter what their age or position in life.

The principles that I learned from that experience have stayed with me long past my softball days. They’ve guided me when it would have been easier to let someone else take the blame, and given me the determination to make restitution, even when it was hard to do.

Dud is a great-grandpa now. I’ve never told him what I learned that day, but I plan to before it’s too late. I’m going to thank him for being the kind of man that he is, and for the lessons he taught me with the wrong can of oil and a brand-new catcher’s mitt.

~Cindy Beck

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