Some guys can't forget their first true glove. San Diego infielder Tim Flannery still hankers for his, the one he used during his first six years in the major leagues. What can you say about a glove like that? That it was black, it was beautiful, it felt just right? Flannery and his glove were inseparable until, inevitably, something went wrong. The leather cracked here, a stitch came loose there. Then it was gone.
In the three years since his loss, Flannery has developed a sharp eye for a shapely pocket. At last count, Flannery had four gloves: one for practice, which he acquired from the Cubs' Vance Law; a flimsy one for hot days, which he got from teammate Garry Templeton; a new one, which he lent to teammate Dickie Thon to break in last year and which he recently took back; and finally his "gamer," an old third baseman's glove he picked up this spring from California manager Doug Rader. But those are not enough, somehow. Flannery is a man who covets other men's gloves.
"I've probably had my hand up 30 gloves over the past few years, but I just keep dealing until I find one that I like," Flannery says. Everyone's glove is fair game. "Kids will come up and they'll ask him to sign their gloves, and he'll trade for theirs," says Tony Gwynn.
Flannery makes it clear that he doesn't pilfer the gloves—he trades for them. "I say I'll give them one glove and a glove to be named later. That usually clinches it," he says.
"If your glove feels good to Tim, he'll find a way to get it," Templeton says. "Never let him put his hand in your glove. If it feels better than the one he's got, chalk it up."
When Flannery's roving eye spots an unattended glove, he can't resist slipping it on and trying it out. He's called the Great Glove Shark by other players, although Padre third baseman Randy Ready says. "He's more like a glove snake."
As a pinch hitter and platoon player, Flannery explains, "I go into situations where you can't afford an error. I don't want to go into battle without something that feels comfortable." That means a well-broken-in glove. He has taken seven from Templeton and two from Ready. In fact, most of the Padre in-fielders know what it feels like to lose a glove to Flannery.
He wasn't always like this. "I was spoiled by that one good game glove," Flannery says. It was a Rawlings infielder's glove, which Flannery acquired new in 1980, his rookie year. Padre teammate Aurelio Rodriguez offered to break it in for him. Rodriguez played some games with it, loosened it up, and colored it with black Magic Marker and shoe polish (to preserve the leather, he said). When Flannery got the glove back, it was perfect. Flannery says it felt like part of his hand. He used it almost exclusively until, despite his tender care and desperate patch jobs, the end came.
He's so misty-eyed about his old glove that the chances are he'll go through this summer and the rest of his career without finding another that can live up to its memory. Time is running out. Now in his 10th season, Flannery, 31—the only Padre who has been with the team since before 1980—says, "Every year is my last year."
But Flannery may already have a glove to settle down with the second time around—that practice glove he got from Law in a trade earlier this season. When he retires, Flannery says, "I'm going to use it for softball."
Flannery loves all his gloves but still mourns the one that got away.