The Journey: The Glove 10-25-2021
By Dean FosterOctober 25, 2021
The Journey: The Glove
By Dean Foster
"But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong." 1 Corinthians 1:27
Some people work two jobs just to keep their car running and a few cans of cat food in the top cupboard. Other people pray, trust, and depend on God, because He is their All in All. This is one of those stories.
Welcome to The Journey
The boys were scattered across the outer part of the infield, beyond the bases. Counting Alan there were eleven or twelve of them. A hefty man with a broad smile and thick black hair stood a little in front of home plate hitting fly balls out to them.
The man had greeted the boys and their parents a few moments earlier "I'm Lefty Schwartzwalder, but you can call me coach."
Then after some Little League small talk, "O.K., Parents take a seat in the bleachers there if you want. We'll start with a little infield practice. Boys, get out there almost to the grass and show me you can catch a fly ball."
The pop-up fly balls coming out to each of them really felt like Little League baseball practice to Alan and the rest of the boys. The ball arced off the coach's bat to whoever he was hitting to. They'd catch, then throw it in to Jack, the coach's son. He'd toss to the coach and out it would come again. This was T-league for six and seven-year-old boys. It was a first attempt at organized sports for most of them. Truth be told it was a, "Let's see what happens," experiment with younger boys for the Suburban Little League Association.
That particular late afternoon was what Alan's mom had prayed about. She'd prayed that his first T-League practice would go well. Alan had prayed about the practice also, the way he prayed about most things. At almost seven years old he wasn't quite sure what he was getting into but mom and dad signed him up and wanted him to try it so why not. There was nothing anxious about Alan's prayer for the practice. He just wanted to meet some other boys and see what it was all about; he thought it would probably be fun.
Prayer was an important part of Alan's life. An important part of the faith in God that his mom and grandmother had seen to and nurtured in him. He was almost seven then and they had always taught him about God. Who God is and the way He wants us to know and think of Him. Alan's faith was something to be admired in a boy his age. In the simple faith of a boy Alan had found a freedom in knowing who God is. Alan believed God knows and wants to hear about our quiet lives, he would share everything with his very best friend. Prayer came natural to Alan. He had a growing sense of who God is and that God wanted a growing relationship with him; with everyone who believed. Alan was almost seven, this was his first T-league practice, and God was with him.
Alan watched the other boys catch their pop-fly in the web of leather between the index and thumb of their handsome light brown or well-oiled darker brown baseball gloves. Most of their gloves looked new. One or two of the boys caught the ball in the pocket and the web. They made catching look easy.
No time to analyze what they were doing, Alan's pop-fly was in the air! He got under it the way the coach was telling them to. He knew his glove didn't have a nice big web like the others did. His dad had shown him how to catch with the glove he had. Dad told him, "You catch here in the pocket and squeeze."
Alan got under it but the ball seemed to speed up as it came down and got closer. Then…flip, Bam! The ball hit on the fingertips of the glove. That slowed it down some thank God, before it hit Alan in the left eye of his black, horn-rimmed glasses. Alan felt the impact on the glasses at the same time he heard the "click" of the unbreakable, scratch resistant lens pop out. It fell on the front of his shirt as he went to the ground and the frames flew off in the dirt to his left.
Landing on his back in the dirt, Alan was a little stunned. He heard the other boys' voices and feet running toward him though, which made him sit up quickly. That is what kids who wear glasses instinctively do when they fall down and their glasses fly off. They sit up quickly to find them again. Especially when they hear other kids running nearby.
To Alan's relief a random boy's voice called out, "I got his glasses."
Still finding his bearings, Alan felt a gentle hand on his shoulder and his mom's voice, "Honey, are you alright?" He briefly wondered, 'How in God's name did she get all the way down from the bleachers out here behind second base so fast? I just fell down a minute ago!' (At least you think he would briefly wonder that…but seven-year-old boys have no idea what moms are capable of. So, they either don't even notice or just let it go.)
Coach's big hand took Alan by the chin, slowly turned his head side to side and said, "I think he's, O.K."
This was the summer of 1965 so there was no thought at all of taking him to an ER, or counseling any of the boys who saw it happen, or anything like that. Alan's dad climbed down from the rusty steel and weathered gray 2 x 8 wood plank bleachers and walked out there. By then they had Alan dusted off and his mom had the frames and lens of the glasses in her purse. Just the one side was bent a little. She was pretty sure she could warm them up in some hot water to bend it back. She knew how to pop the lens back in at home. His dad told the coach that Alan would see them at practice Saturday morning.
On the ride home Alan's dad was driving and saying something to him. Mom had checked him out on the walk to the car, the way a mother would and was looking at the glasses in her lap. Alan was thinking about what just happened.
The glove laying on the seat next to him was the question. It was dawning on Alan how difficult it was going to be using his dad's old high school baseball glove to play T-league. He knew the other boys were going to have new gloves so that was no surprise. He'd seen them when they brought them to school. He'd tried one of the oiled ones on, soft leather, nice fit.
Alan knew his parents couldn't afford to get him a new baseball glove like that. He kind of asked his mom anyway by talking about the other boys' gloves. She explained to him that between raising him, his brother, two older sisters and other bills, a new baseball glove just wasn't in the budget for them right now. They weren't even sure he was going to like playing Little League. If he did, maybe later or next year he could get one. Alan told her that he understood, and he guessed he did.
Alan's dad had used the old glove when he pitched for his high school team back in the late 40s. Since then, the leather of the glove had dried and flattened in the shape of a large, hand. Two short bands of leather held the thumb and index close together. There was no web. What his dad called the "pocket" was a spot in the palm somewhat larger than a baseball where the leather had been worn thin. The thicker padded leather of the fingers was to be used to guide the ball into this pocket. If your fingers were big enough to do that. Alan didn't know exactly how that was going to work in his case.
At home in his room the more Alan looked at the glove, the more he prayed about it. Not for a new glove as you might expect. Although he knew that with God all things are possible, Alan's grandmother taught him to ask God for help with the problem itself. Alan had learned that is how God often answers our prayers. By offering us the way to do something for ourselves. If we will do it. Going ourselves to comfort someone we pray for, or otherwise go out of our way to help someone. Alan loved it when God showed him something small to do that helped someone. Especially when they didn't even know it. So much better than just asking God to fix things for you. The faith of this almost seven-year-old boy made him want to work with God for whatever he prayed about. A small boy working together as one with the Creator of all things! Imagine that!
Alan believed his friendship with God helped him do things for other people. That somehow made him feel full inside. His grandmother told him it would work that way. Further, when Alan needed help or was aching about something, God already knew about it and if Alan prayed, his Almighty God's plan was way ahead of him. Alan knew that God had plans for what to do about the glove, plans He would unveil to Alan when the time came. After he prayed, Alan waited.
Two days later Alan's dad brought home a can of glove oil. It was brand new about the size of a long bar of soap. After dinner they went out on the back porch and his dad showed him how to oil up the glove. They used the whole can of oil and the glove softened up a bit. Well, at least the glove became more pliable, let's put it that way. It couldn't change the color too much on the outside, age had given it a bit of a brown crust. But it did get softer on the inside, so it would stay on Alan's hand better. Alan also found that at least he could bend it now. Alan considered the oil and working with his dad an answer to prayer and thanked God later that night.
Before the next practice Alan found that by putting his hand into the index, middle and ring fingers he could bend the glove into a sort of scoop. That would definitely do some good.
At practice they got to know each other by name. You couldn't miss Jack, tall blond, confident, loud; boy named Scott, about Alan's size; David, tall, big guy, seven years old, wanted to be a pitcher. Alan could tell you who all the others were.
They did more fielding and catching. Alan had prayed and he did better. Not so much on the fly balls but he caught some. The oil and the scoop of the glove helped a lot. He got the ground balls, caught almost all of them. Stopped them all, they didn't get passed him so he could pick them up and throw to first base. Some of the other guys did the same thing. Jack annoyed everybody telling them how to do stuff. As if he was an assistant coach or something.
Then they got to practice hitting off the rubber T at home plate. With the rest of the team in the infield one guy at a time went up to hit three times from the T. Two of Alan's went in the air a little before hitting the ground. One went out far enough a guy caught it in the air. Coach said Alan was a good hitter. Alan knew it was God answering his prayer again, thanked him right there.
When they started playing the games Alan's team did well. He usually played the outfield, left or right. There weren't many fly balls to the outfield in T-league because most of the boys hitting off the rubber T got up and tried to kill it by swinging hard. That's why they got a lot of ground balls into the infield. Because they were trying to hit it hard. That's what Alan's dad said anyway.
Alan knew you had to keep your eyes and your head in the game though, even if they weren't hitting to you. Playing the outfield was important, you never know when you might have to back up the infield or some kid is going to get lucky and hit one out to you; especially in the sixth inning when they have a pitcher. The coach told Alan and the other outfielders to remember that before every game.
Since there were only eleven boys on the team Alan got to play third base once when some of the other guys didn't show up. It made Alan a little nervous because his dad was there to watch that time. It was good though, Alan got a few ground balls, caught them all, threw the guys out at first, one at second. Dropped a fly ball that was right to him in the sixth inning though. Jack was pitching, made him mad, but he got over it.
The season went along that way and Alan's team did well. Alan's dad couldn't go to all the games, but he brought home another can of oil and they put it on together. Softened it up a little more Alan guessed, his dad said you didn't want to get too much on it either. The best part was doing it with his dad.
While he was praying for the team, Alan also prayed for Jack. The other players didn't seem to like him much because he was such a pushy guy and a show off. Alan prayed that something would help him calm that down.
By the seventh game of the nine-game season, what had once seemed like an impossible challenge, Alan had worked into a very usable baseball glove. By no means soft, but with a pocket and a scoop in place of a web. If you knew how to use it, the thing was very effective. Alan gave all the credit to God.
As they were in batting in the bottom of the fifth inning of that important game, the coach came up behind Alan sitting on the bench and said, "Alan, you're playing third base when we go back out, Scott, you take left field."
Unsure of what he had just heard Alan turned to Scott sitting next to him. Scott, the usual third baseman, was also surprised but shrugged his shoulders. They only had a one-point lead so three outs in the top of the sixth would win the game. What was the coach doing?
When Alan took his position at third base he looked around and saw that the coach had made other dramatic changes to the infield. It was the other team's last chance to score, and yet, David was pitching for the second time in his young life. Jack was at short stop. Roland, who usually played centerfield was at second. The guy from right field was now playing first base. Everybody was moved around and nobody knew what the coach was thinking.
Didn't matter, Alan thought, get your head in the game. David walked their first guy up, so now the play was at second. The first pitch to the next guy came off the wooden bat bouncing at Alan. No easy grounder, Alan watched it all the way into the glove, turned and threw it to Roland at second base.
"Out!" the umpire shouted.
People in the bleachers were clapping, cheering. Alan's mom was up there, his dad had to work that afternoon.
David actually struck the next guy out.
"That's good Dave! Two outs!" the coach yelled from their bench, " We only need one more."
David walked the next guy, and hit the next kid with a pitch. Now there were boys on first and second. Alan had his head in head game: Two outs so the play was to any base. He could get it thrown to him if it was a ground ball. David threw a pitch and it was a ball. Alan saw the next pitch go in and heard the bat hit the ball into the air. Alan swallowed. He must have at least thought that prayer everyone has prayed or will pray someday, "Oh God."
As the ball arced high Alan was sure it was a fly ball that had his name on it. The world grew silent.
Now do we really want or need this story to end with Alan catching the baseball in this old glove of his dad's? Who wants that cliché sports story again? The title of the story is "The Glove," not "The Catch." The high point of this story was back when Alan knew God had a plan so he prayed and then he waited; and when we learned how Alan liked to work with God. Alan could wait and rest in God because he knew that however it all worked out, it would be for good. His own and everyone else's. Alan may not have known this, but the glove was only part of it. He had prayed, now he waited. It would all be for good.
There are dozens of ways for this story to end. Perhaps Jack thinks about running in and catching the fly ball before Alan can, but doesn't. He likes Alan, realizes what a jerk he has been to the other kids and decides to change. Or perhaps Alan misread the ball and it flies over his head into left field where Scott catches it and feels good about himself. Or maybe it was about drawing Alan and his dad a little closer. Or who knows what God could have done with that simple fly ball at that nondescript T-league baseball game on that wonderful summer afternoon? Or a different baseball game somewhere else.
All I can tell you for sure is that they gave the game ball to Alan and on the way home his mom stopped at a grocery store to have him run in and pick up a couple cans of cat food.
This is The Journey