It may just be your very first baseball memory. A parent or someone you look up to hands you a glove and tells you that this is yours now. But first, you have to break it in. But what does it mean to “break in” a baseball glove? What do you have to do? How do you know when it’s broken in? And what should you use to break it in?
There are all sorts of myths out there, and it’s hard to separate the myths from facts. You’ll be told to use shaving cream. Conditioners. Specialized glove oil. A mallet. Or simply to play catch with it over and over until the glove is properly “broken in.”
Let’s separate those myths from facts and determine what it means to break in a baseball glove the right way.
Why Break in a Baseball Glove at All?
Breaking in a baseball glove is about two things: Flexibility and malleability. When you buy a new baseball glove, it’s going to feel a bit stiff. The stiffer it is, the less you control over the movement of the glove. This restricts your ability to make a good catch. The more you can get the glove to respond to your finger movements, the more control you’ll have over every catch. Stiffness is the enemy here.
• Fitting. A baseball glove has to fit two things. First, it has to fit comfortably around a ball so that every time you make a catch, the baseball drops easily into the mitt, almost like a ball falling into a pocket. Every outfielder also knows that the glove should fit your hand comfortably. The more comfortable it is, the more you’ll wear it—and the easier it will be to handle the impact of a catch.
Breaking in a Baseball Glove: Myths and Truths
When you buy a new baseball glove, you’ll notice right away that it has all the features of new-baseball-glove syndrome. It’s stiff, it’s not form-fitting, and it’s maybe not even comfortable right away.
• Myth: You can’t break in a baseball glove easily. We’ll give this one partial credit. What people mean to say is that it’s difficult to break in a glove quickly. But it can be done. There are stories out there of catchers working to make their mitt more pliable during the two hour drive to a game. It may not be ideal, but the work will produce results.
• Truth: A broken-in glove is more comfortable. Anyone who’s opened a brand new baseball glove knows how odd the experience can be. It’s like opening up a pair of new shoes. Until the shoes are “broken in” and more flexible in their fit around your feet, you might not feel as though they’re comfortable. They can even cause blisters.
• Myth: Beating up your baseball glove is not effective. There’s some debate on this topic. For instance, a leather worker might recommend using a glove mallet or glove hammer, softening up the glove with hot water, and essentially beating up the baseball glove until it’s closer to the form you like. Others may recommend glove steaming.
We say: if you notice a difference afterward, there’s a good chance the work was worth it.
How Do You Break in a Baseball Glove Overnight?
First things first: you can do a lot to break in a baseball glove without playing catch ten thousand times in a row. In fact, it’s probably better that you do.
Ideally, you’ll have weeks at a time to break in a baseball glove. But if you have a brand new glove and you notice something strange—like the way it fits your pinky or that the pocket of the glove isn’t quite set—you can do a lot to break it in overnight.
One method for breaking in a baseball glove quickly goes like this:
• Procure the right equipment. A bucket of hot water will be necessary. So will a cup, a soft surface upon which to work, and either a glove mallet or a glove hammer to help break it in.
• Use the hot water. Pouring it over the glove (without dunking it in, which would over-saturate the glove), you’ll simply want to soften the surface so you can work with it.
• Work with the “hinge” of the glove. The part where the padding under your thumb goes is the key here, because if this area isn’t flexible, it’s difficult to fully wrap the glove around a ball. You then use the glove mallet or glove hammer to pound down this area, getting it looser and easier to open and close.
This method doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be off to the races with a form-fitting glove. But it will do enough to have you catching fly balls, for example, if you’re an outfielder.
Can You Use Shaving Cream to Break In a Baseball Glove?
You can, and in fact, it may be preferable to certain methods, as shaving cream won’t do a lot of damage. But it won’t have a lot of positive effects on how “broken in” your glove is, either. You’ll likely want to add some other element here to make sure that you get more of the broken-in effect you need.
For instance, some people let their baseball glove rest with a softball inside it to help determine the shape. Others disagree with this method—because they’re trying to catch baseballs, not softballs. But the point remains: shaving cream isn’t very aggressive for changing the way your baseball glove feels. It takes pressure and time to get the truly “lived-in” effect you need.
Can You Use Vaseline to Break In a Baseball Glove?
This is one of those “old-timer’s” tricks that people in baseball are well aware of. The idea is simple: using Vaseline on the exterior of your glove will help soften the leather, making it more pliable and accepting of new feedback. The problem is when the manufacturer makes specific recommendations for what you should use. When it does, don’t use Vaseline. You may find that it reacts with the glove in a way that’s not conducive to its long-term durability.
If you’re not sure and plan on using Vaseline on the glove, you’ll want some rules for making sense of how it works:
• Only use this method when you have a few hours to let it dry. Using Vaseline right before a game, for example, will only slightly soften the glove while making it slippery. You need two or three solid hours to let the Vaseline incorporate and soften the leather for pliability.
• Remember that Vaseline is a “conditioner.” Applying Vaseline alone won’t do the trick. You need to understand the role Vaseline plays. It’s a “conditioner” in the same sense a conditioner might help soften your hair. A conditioner is applied to the glove to enhance pliability. But you’ll need to give the baseball glove more feedback (such as putting a baseball inside it) so that you use this pliability. Otherwise, it’s a bit like sculpting with clay without ever deciding the shape you want to give your clay.
• Use it in limited quantities. Conditioning a glove over and over doesn’t mean that you’re going to get the results that you want. You should condition only when you want to form the glove later on. But making a daily habit of it over the long term may lead to textural issues that don’t necessarily lend themselves to making the glove a better performer. You’ll also want to use tricks like wrapping a ball inside the glove and putting rubber bands around it to make sure that you make full use of the time you’re not using it.
Additionally, do not over-apply a conditioner when you’re using one. This means not to constantly use Vaseline, and if you do, don’t use so much of it that it completely saturates the glove.
Can You Use Olive Oil to Break In a Baseball Glove?
Olive oil often falls into the same camp as Vaseline. You may find some “home remedies” on behalf of ball players suggesting that you should use olive oil to break it in, and it can work as a glove conditioner. But you’ll want to make sure that you use the glove manufacturer recommendations first.
Otherwise, treat olive oil much the same way you would treat Vaseline above. That means understanding not to over-use it, to treat it as a “conditioner” and not a special breaking-in product, and otherwise limiting your exposure to it. If you use the glove enough, you won’t have to rely on conditioners like olive oil before the glove starts to have the flexibility and pliability you need.
Should You Steam Your Baseball Glove?
Sure! This is a great method for doing minimal damage to the glove while enhancing how pliable it is to work with.
One glove steaming process is to apply the glove manufacturer recommended conditioner. Then, you steam the glove so that it’s soft enough to work with. From there, you’ll use a glove mallet to break in the glove, making it much easier to fold over a ball when it comes your way.
What Oil Can I Use to Break In a Baseball Glove?
A manufacturer’s glove oil is usually your best bet. Manufacturers don’t make these recommendations idly; they want to help you avoid damaging the glove. After all, it’s their hope that you enjoy the product and leave them a positive review.
Sure, you may read all about microwaving and using warm water for all sorts of at-home remedies. And many oils, such as olive oil, are often recommended as conditioners. But ultimately, breaking in your glove is an off-season activity because it will take time to make sure it has the shape and flexibility you want. There is no substitute for time. Oils may help with pliability in the short-term, but it’s time that will give your glove the lived-in feel you need.
How Many Gloves Do MLB Players Go Through in a Year?
It’s hard to find rock-solid statistics for this, but typically, major leaguers will get two gloves each spring. One of these gloves is the “primary”—the one they’re breaking in starting in the offseason. The other is the backup, in case the first one breaks.
It’s possible that major leaguers go through even more of these, breaking in new gloves with tricks like petroleum jelly or a wooden mallet. Everyone’s preferences seem to be different. But many major leaguers also swear by using a “trusty” glove in the literal sense of the word: they want a glove they know and trust.
When a big-time hit comes off of a baseball bat, or you’re practicing outfielding against a batter with a pitching machine, you want confidence that your glove will be able to neatly fold over the baseball when it hits your hand. Whether you’re playing shortstop or are the first baseman, fielding with a glove that’s been properly softened and broken in is essential.