How Wilson Sporting Goods Created a Holiday for Major Leaguers
By: Marty Winkler
Originally Posted: 2/11/2019
For any baseball fan, there is no greater memory than receiving your first baseball glove. The feeling of slipping it over your hand for the first time. Trying to squeeze it as tight as you could in a feeble attempt to break it in. Hearing the wonderful sound of the baseball popping into the glove pocket. And going to bed with the glove stored safely under your pillow, just in case a game of catch broke out overnight. It was your glove; The one piece of the game that became an extension of yourself that you could take wherever you went.
It’s a feeling that all baseball fans know. Professionals are no exception. And thanks to Wilson Sporting Goods, it’s a feeling that has become a ritual for Major Leaguers every Spring with the creation of Glove Day.
From the start of Spring Training to the beginning of March, Wilson will visit all 30 Major League training camps to hand out new gloves for the pros to use for the upcoming season. And according to Product Manager and Senior Designer, Ryan Smith, it’s like “Baseball Christmas” for the game’s premiere players.
“You see the players react to the new equipment and they instantly become kids,” exclaims Smith. “It’s 30-year-olds turning into 15-year-olds.
And no one is immune to the joy of a new ball glove. Whether it be a young up-and-coming prospect or a well-seasoned veteran, everyone is happy to be receiving a new piece of leather.
“Miguel Cabrera,” says Smith, “Who is arguably a first ballot hall of famer, comes out and when he gets his glove, he just gets this giant smile on his face. It’s pretty special.”
Wilson has been providing gloves and smiles to Major Leaguers in this fashion for over half a century. The tradition started in the 1950s, when Wilson representative, Gene DaCosse, started presenting Boston Red Sox outfielder, and baseball icon, Ted Williams his gloves in-person. DaCosse expanded the tradition to other players such as Ernie Banks, Juan Marichal, Luis Aparicio, and Ron Santo. All of whom would go on to be enshrined in Cooperstown. DaCosse would become a bit of a legend himself, being named the “King of Baseball” at the 1995 MLB Winter Meetings.
Glove Day continued to grow over the years, but really started to become a full-fledged event with the introduction of Wilson Master Craftsman, Shigeaki Aso.
Born in 1945, Aso could be, and should be, considered a “baseball lifer.” Growing up near Tokyo, Japan, he was an avid fan of the Yomiuri Giants. In 1977, he was hired by a Wilson sales partner as a quality inspector for Wilson leather products, including baseball gloves. In 1985, he was able to attend his first Spring Training in the United States and gained some very valuable feedback from professional players.
But the game would find them once again.
“I went to camp to see what kind of gloves Major Leaguers were using,” remembered Aso. “And I was very disappointed in the in-fielder’s gloves. The pocket was not ideal. The thumb and pinkie were too long. So, when I got back to Japan, we started working and developed the A2000 1786.”
For those unfamiliar, the A2000 1786 is an infielder’s glove that features an H-Web and uses different types of binding to help keep the glove pocket shallow for quick transfers of the ball from glove to hand. It has gone on to become Wilson’s most popular pattern of infield glove.
Seeing the success of his new design, Aso returned to Spring Training the next year to gain further input from players. Since then, Glove Day has become not just a holiday for ballplayers, but a chance for the designers to enhance their products to fit the modern-day player and the modern game.
“With the game always changing, player priorities change,” says Smith. “Over the last three years, pitchers and middle infielders have been requesting bigger gloves. It’s nice to get that instant reaction about the product.”
While how a glove functions and feels will always be top of mind for designers like Smith and Aso, how a glove looks has also become top-of-mind for today’s professionals. Which is why Wilson allows any player to design a custom glove that will be presented to them on Glove Day.
“What these guys are able to come up with year after year is pretty sweet,” says Smith. “Miguel Rojas always does some really colorful ones. Mike Clevinger worked with us this year and he got extra funky.”
Aso and Smith will be celebrating their seventh Glove Day together this year. With the help of Marketing Director, Scott Paulson, they will hand-deliver over 1,500 gloves. Needless to say, handing out that much leather for over 50 years has led to some special bonds not just between a player and his glove, but a player and his glove’s designers.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with many great players and become close friends with many of them,” says Paulson. “Barry Bonds, Pudge Rodriguez, Jim Thome. Those are just some of the players I call very close friends.”
“I like to work with Brandon Phillips,” exclaims Aso. “David Wright, Dustin Pedroia. The gratitude they show me is very much appreciated from the bottom of my heart.”
“There is someone from every team I enjoy seeing,” says Smith. I look forward to seeing Jameson Taillon of the Pirates. He’s always fun. Jose Altuve is a great guy. Marwin Gonzalez too. He’s a glove junkie so he’s my type of guy.”
So, much like a holiday, Glove Day is as much about reconnecting with old friends as it is celebrating the birth of a new season. It combines the immeasurable hope of Spring, with the good tidings and joy of Christmas.
But most of all, it’s a reminder that, at its heart, baseball remains a kid’s game played by adults.
“The players get so excited,” Aso explains emphatically. “We can see their smiles. It’s a special thing for all of us.”