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Breaking in new baseball gloves is not easy, and the number of ideas about how to speed up the process must by now reach into triple digits. Among the multitude of these break-in methods is to bake the new glove in an oven, to soften the stiff, still unused leather.
Yes, you can put a baseball glove in the oven to help break it in ~ but it is not advised by most experts on baseball gloves. Light baking or otherwise super-heating new gloves certainly can soften leather short-term; but long-term it could shorten the lifespan of a glove.
Aside from the leather over-drying and cracking, some have had experience where the fingers eventually get so flimsy that the glove is hardly usable. Finally, baking baseball gloves could break warranties from manufacturers.
Yet, many people swear by the oven or microwave to loosen up their leather. Let’s examine how baking new baseball gloves is done; explanations by proponents of it; and drawbacks.
Brand new baseball gloves made of decent leather are stiff, and hard to squeeze, or to softly receive (catch) baseballs with. The ball can tend to pop out of the glove before you squeeze it safely, or roll out the top of the pocket because the fingers are not flexible.
New gloves must be “shaped,” or broken in uniquely for the player, and according to how he or she plays the game. Outfielders might want their gloves shaped differently, for instance, like with the thumb tips bent outward. Some players just love long, deep pockets; others prefer short and compact, like infielders.
Some players want all the leather to be nice and soft before using it in games; others just want the pocket to be nice and cushy, the heel well-worn to hinge easily.
Breaking in a baseball glove using an oven is pretty straightforward. A general outline:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
- Place a ball inside the pocket and wrap the glove around it using strings (optional)
- Place glove on cookie sheet, then turn the oven off (no need for consistent heat)
- Watch for 10 to 15 minutes
- DO NOT leave to come back. You have to watch to ensure no smoke or fire
- Pull out glove, and carefully oil the pocket, web, inner fingers, and heel using manufacturer-approved baseball glove oil via a rag (application tips below)
- Wrap a ball tightly inside the pocket and leave it alone for days
- Later on, go play catch, and do it often!
My insight: The glove should never be too hot to touch and hold for several seconds. So, every 3 or 5 minutes, take it out and put your fielding hand inside if possible. You should still be able to handle the glove even though it’s warm.
Once it’s just too hot to hold for more than 2 seconds, it’s done. Wrap and store.
There is no single best way to break in new baseball gloves, simply because it is highly subjective. What is satisfactory to 1 player might be not-so-good to another. The hopes, desires, expectations, and more differ with every person.
However, a break-in method that has been around since the invention of the baseball glove is still among the best ways for breaking in ~ if not the best way:
There it is, the simplest way to break in a baseball glove and ensure that the result is a glove that uniquely fits your hand and bends in accordance with your needs.
The reason for the industry that has built around breaking in baseball gloves is that the original way to do it takes too long. With the quality (and cost) of new baseball gloves today, their owners are excited to use the cool tool in games as soon as possible.
This is a reason why we strongly recommend having 2 baseball gloves until the new one is broken in.
To skip all the tips and products, you can best break in a glove by playing catch with it as often as possible, at practices and on the side until you feel comfortable that every catch will be made easily and naturally. This usually takes a week or 2.
A lot of players will say simply, “Dunk it in water.” That is, submerge the new glove in a bucket of water briefly, usually for 2 or 3 minutes, then take it out and begin ragging away the excess.
Once the glove stops dripping, put a ball (or a couple balls) inside the pocket and wrap it all with an old athletic sock, string, or rubber bands and leave it alone to dry out for 2 days.
Nervous about dipping your expensive baseball glove? Then use a very moist towel, and just wet the main parts involved with breaking in a glove, namely the heel, pocket, and the inside of the index finger atop the web.
This segment is on oil made specifically for baseball gloves ~ and not other substances which we will get into next.
Oil for breaking in baseball gloves has been around since, well, introduction of gloves by players in the 1870s. What has changed is that gloves have gotten a lot bigger and more complicated; and manufacturers choose to package and market certain types of oil just for baseball leather.
Manufacturer-approved glove oil is most recommended. There are many ways to oil a glove, but the biggest no-no is oiling the entire mitt. Using too much glove oil adds weight to the glove, which impacts play and a player’s stamina.
The straightforward way to oil is to use a rag, drip oil into the rag, and use the rag only on the main stiff points of a glove: the heel, heel hinge, pocket, inside web, and hinge point inside the index finger. The rag helps make it easier to apply the oil evenly, and avoid over-oiling.
Rub oil into these spots then immediately begin using the glove either with a mallet or playing catch.
Some people swear by using petroleum jelly (Vaseline), or even shaving cream to loosen up the leather. Application is the same as the how and where to rub it as outlined above.
We are unsure about the effectiveness and safety of using shaving cream; we do not recommend using petroleum jelly due to the added weight, and sticky residue which will just gather dirt.
Other ways to “oil up” include using baby oil, or saddle soap.
A lot of ballplayers swear by just beating the crap out of a new glove. Some use a specially designed baseball glove mallet, others might use a hammer, namely a ball-peen hammer, or just a block of wood.
Just whap the glove in all the stiff points until the leather bends to your satisfaction.
Some ballplayers add to this bending. Don’t be afraid to bend your new baseball glove inside-out, or in any direction really. Every single stretch and action loosens the leather to make it softer for play.
Baseball gloves made of non-leather material like vinyl do not need breaking in. So why don’t all players just use vinyl gloves?
The answer is durability and longevity. Baseball gloves take a tremendous number of violent impacts ~ fast-moving hard balls onto thin strips of material ~ and leather has proved to be the most durable of materials to use.
Add to that the fact that modern baseball gloves are made with high-quality leather, which takes even longer to break in sufficiently.
Quality baseball gloves sometimes give you a tiny bit more leather, meaning thickness, which means more to soften up. Otherwise, quality leather is simply more stiff out of the factory.
When these stiff leather parts are tied together with leather laces, certain pressure points are hard to squeeze together to allow for a catch, like at the very bottom of the thumb at the heel.
Also, stiff leather in the very middle ~ the pocket, the inside palm between the index finger and thumb ~ can pop baseballs away, and out of gloves. Most baseball gloves take a week or 2 to soften up the pocket, to make it more easily receive the ball.
A whole heck of a lot of things are needed to catch a baseball, including good eyesight, coordination with the hands, technique, and the tool used in the process ~ the glove.
If you polled baseball and baseball glove experts, I will venture to say 3 out of every 4 will recommend against baking or otherwise over-heating a new glove, especially the very expensive ones. Nonetheless, let’s explore the different types of heat-break-ins.
There are 3 break-in concepts that are similar in applying heat aggressively, each differing in popularity:
Like a minute at a time, again, do not overdo it so it’s a hot potato coming out. AND: Beware of gloves with metal rivets or grommets (little eyelets; tiny donuts protecting holes cut for lacing) ~ the metal will damage microwaves.
Microwaves work by heating water molecules. Think deeply about this: leather fibers contain plenty of water. When you heat water, it expands, and the fibers don’t always bounce back to the original shape. Also, water evaporates with heat, leaving the leather dry and prone to cracking.
Using microwave technology to break in a baseball glove is probably not the wisest idea.
Using steam to break in baseball gloves came to the forefront in the 1990s, as an alternative to the microwave which of course was an alternative to the oven. The same caveat about heating quality leather too quickly applies, although of the trio above, this is the safest for the longevity of the glove.
Most people these days turn to a machine for this, usually just called a steamer. Some baseball glove break-in kits also claim to apply heat in the process.
Some baseball glove enthusiasts use the hot towel treatment, which might not be effective for a full glove break-in, but can be beneficial to heat and loosen points of a glove, without the severe heating that impacts the leather’s microscopic fibers.