The prodigal mitt

Admin has woefully neglected this blog of late. There is a reason, but no excuse.

However, last week, while being served wickedly fantastic adult beverages by our friend Tona Palomino, master of the bar at Trenchermen on North Avenue, we heard a story that just begged to be posted. We stood sipping a “Desperate Vesper” (you gotta try one!) chatting with Andy whom we know both through friends in our old Edgewater neighborhood, and, coincidentally enough, through my job.

We chatted about this and that, and then Andy began telling this wonderful tale of a lost baseball mitt.  His story especially resonated with yours truly because I, too, once had a mitt that had become like an appendage to my left hand, and lost it to an unknown thief on my own baseball team! But that’s another story. Andy’s is much more uplifting, and so as we wait for the Cubs to get on with their 104-year-long rebuilding program, I present it here, adapted from a note Andy sent to his family …

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I recently broke my foot when I was back in Des Moines walking my aunt’s family dog Sofie down the boulevard that runs in front of my mother’s house. It was late at night and I took a bad step on uneven pavement. That bad step resulted in me inverting my foot, breaking my fifth metatarsal, and being prescribed a walking boot and a heavy dose of inactivity. This event had a cascading effect in my mind which resulted in me being rather down and sour. My attitude was probably a result of spending a little too much time reflecting on how it could be possible that I broke my foot on the very same day that my Dad died 5 years ago. Also, I was really piling on myself by thinking about how my summer was now handicapped, in disbelief as to how simple the event was that led to me breaking my foot.

My sulking migrated into comfort by daydreaming about my childhood. I just so happened to break my foot in just about the very same location where as a child I use to spend a lot of time outdoors. I thought about countless hours of baseball games on that very same boulevard and how much I missed my long lost baseball glove. As a way to pick myself up I decided that in the very near future, when I was back on my own two feet, I was going to run more and play catch again like I did so many times on the boulevard.

Since I could not really address the running part of my promise I decided to start with my commitment to playing catch. In order to do that I was going to need to find a baseball glove that was similar to my lost mitt. Growing up I was initially a very reluctant owner of a Kirk Gibson baseball glove, but by my late teens a very proud owner of the glove. I decided that I was going to find a vintage Kirk Gibson mitt like the one I used during so many Beaverdale Little League games, break it in while my foot healed (putting it under a couch, running it over, rubber banding a baseball inside) and play catch when my foot felt better. The starting point to accomplish this for a hobbled man was really only one place. I was going to hit up eBay and find a Kirk Gibson glove, new or used, similar to the one that I had in my Beaverdale Little League days, and break it in.

You might not remember or have ever known that Kirk Gibson was a long-time Detroit Tiger who became best-known for one very famous home run in the 1st game of the 1988 World Series. Hobbled by stomach illness, a bad knee, and a bad hamstring, Kirk Gibson (now with the Dodgers) was inserted to pinch hit by Tommy Lasorda in the 9th inning with his team down 4-3. On the 3-2 pitch from Dennis Eckersley he knocked a backdoor slider over the right field fence to win the game. This would be his only appearance in that World Series and his final game at that level.

I knew none of this when it came time around 1990 to sign me up for Little League. A very clear memory for me is when Mom and Dad brought my brother Pat and I to the sporting goods store to buy our gloves. Pat was the first one to the rack and got the large Barry Bonds glove (I remember Mom telling Pat his glove was too big), and I got what I thought at the time was a nobody Kirk Gibson. Kirk Gibson was not what all the other boys at Holy Trinity had. I was disappointed. At the time you could not find two guys bigger than Jose Canseco and Darrell Strawberry, so all the boys were either a Canseco or a Strawberry. I wanted one of those gloves but I ended up with this nobody Kirk Gibson glove. The only thing that comforted me in my failure to obtain the “cool glove” was that Dad thought the world of Kirk Gibson. Before he hit his famous home run he had played 12 very successful seasons with the Detroit Tigers (Dad’s favorite team), won a World Series in 1984, had a reputation as a hard worker, and was a Tigers team leader for a decade.

Here is his famous Home Run:

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=19792151&source=MLB

Sometime in the early 2000’s I asked Mom where my glove was. After looking around for some time she could not find it. I asked her repeatedly over the next few years to find the glove, as if she hadn’t tried hard enough the first time.  But each time she came up empty. I unfairly fit my mom’s failure to find my glove into the same category as her throwing Dad’s Tiger baseball cards out when they moved from our West Des Moines apartment to our house in Des Moines. I thought she had thrown it out or, worse, given it to someone only to have it never returned. I spent the next 4 years childishly upset with her in the same way I behaved when she failed to buy me a Canseco or Strawberry glove. I did in time resign myself to the idea that it was never coming back and there was nothing I could do about it. For that, Mom, I am very sorry.

Thinking all of this, deciding to buy a new glove, and going on eBay took less than 5 minutes. The very first glove to come up in my search was a Kirk Gibson glove with autographs on it just like my old glove. The seller had said “there are signatures on this that could come off with some ink remover” and “needs a little work”. As I was looking at this glove my memory started flashing back in a photographic manner. The signatures on the glove were in the very same places that my glove had signatures, autographs of players I saw play in Iowa Cubs games in Des Moines. As I was looking at this Kirk Gibson autographed glove a very sharp chill ran up my back. This glove was my glove and it did not make any sense because the owner of the glove lived in Texas.

I purchased the glove that second through the “Pay Now” option and received a note from the seller that it shipped that Monday afternoon.

A couple of days later, as I was gimping down my stairs I saw that my landlord had placed a package at the bottom of the steps. I opened it up, took the padding out, unwrapped the tissue paper, and saw something I thought was lost into the ether of the early 2000’s – my old glove. I sent the following message to the seller to confirm:

Joskaggs,

I recently purchased a Kirk Gibson Wilson glove from you. I have to ask you how you came into this glove. Was it something that you purchased at a thrift store? I hope that this is not coming off accusatory because that is not my intention. You see, I have this very strange feeling that this is my childhood glove that has been missing for close to 9 years. Growing up I had a Wilson Kirk Gibson glove that I used for Little League ball. During the summer I used to attend Iowa Cubs games with my glove and have players autograph the glove just like the one I received. Additionally, the glove shows some signs of being gnawed on and, well, that’s something that I used to do while being bored in the outfield. If this is my glove it has made quite a journey. I have been to Texas twice in my life and I have never lived outside of Omaha, Des Moines, Ames, or Chicago.

Any help would be much appreciated. Right now I am very confused that this has happened to me.

Thank you,

Andrew Tomka

Here is the seller’s response:

Andrew,

That’s quite a story & really interesting. I don’t remember for sure where I picked it up as I always look for them at estate sales & here where we live in Central Texas we travel about a 150 mile radius so it could have come from Gatesville, Waco, Marble Falls or even Abilene. Only other possibility is I was in Omaha last May & hit a lot of neighborhood garage sales in the Papillion-Millard area & I might have gotten it there. I wished I could be of more help than I am but I just don’t remember. Did you find the lacing needle?

Jess

My theory is that I lost this glove in Omaha where I lived in 2004 and played on a softball team. That’s the only explanation I can reach. Its current existence in my possession is a combination of tragic, unfortunate, and wild events. I was so baffled by its presence and its ride back to me that last night I slept with it in my arm as if I were a child.

I know that this all seems a little impossible but this glove is mine and, to me, I’m looking at my old friend. This glove and I spent many cold February practices together only to have that lead into many freezing cold March and April games. I have used it as a muzzle to warm my face while I pray to the baseball gods for a quick 3-up-and-3-down inning. I did this many times, year after year, as a way to get myself and my sub 80-pound frame back into the comfort of the dugout and to the hot cocoa that awaited me. We have fielded grounders, caught fly balls, played catch, moved, and grown up together. I once had to be admitted to the hospital because my glove was too slow to catch a wicked grounder that bounced up and knocked me square in the nose. I don’t know where I go from here, but I am glad that something very important to me has completed its improbable journey back onto my left hand.

I believe in baseball and I believe in Kirk Gibson.

A. James Tomka

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Thanks, Andy. A great baseball story. I believe I’ll check eBay for an old Nellie Fox mitt, circa 1959.

One Response to “The prodigal mitt”

  1. Hoosierese says:

    BEST STORY EVER.