Smooth Moves.

- Evan Wansbrough // // @evanwansbrough

This Is My Wilson

Spanning my 1996 to 1999 baseball seasons, I’d taken my position at Shortstop with a total of three different brand new baseball gloves. The first was a brown 12” Louisville TPX dual-post web that listed at under a hundred bucks, and which lasted me two seasons before I convinced my dad that if I was gonna keep playing up the middle I needed something better and smaller, so he bought me a two-hundred-and-fifty dollar 11.5” Pinckard in black with an I-Web which I immediately spray-painted neon orange, infuriating my dad. The Pinckard looked sweet, to be sure, but it was a little heavy for me and I had a problem keeping back-handers from popping out so after the ‘98 year I petitioned to my father once again for new wares and picked up a black and brown 11.5” single-post from an emerging company called Glovesmith. Glovesmiths were small-run, let’s say “boutique” gloves at their inception and were notorious for being a pain in the ass to break in properly, but were still the choice of discerning highschool-level infielders with three-hundred of their parents’ bucks to drop on some leather. I worked mine all season but it was still stiff as Hell and I hadn’t completely resolved my back-hand problem. Ideally, you strive to field a back-hander in the pocket or webbing of your glove, but invariably, due to the rainy and ill-maintained conditions of the diamonds we played on in and around greater Vancouver, you’d get a lot of hops up in the palm of your glove going to your right, and it was no good to have a glove that wouldn’t retain a ball in that scenario as well. Of course, finesse and technique are equally-if-not-more responsible for excellence in the art of fielding grounders, but without the complimentary equipment, it is difficult to stay competitive in a talent poor such as I was in. My dad would rap at me about Omar Vizquel growing up with a milk carton for a ball-glove - which I admire if it’s true - but everyone else he played with had the same gear - it’s not like Vizquel was out there sucking up rangers with a 1-litre while everyone else was fumbling around with an Ozzie Smith signature-series. The shit, as they say, is relative. 

"You’ll be giving your old one to your brother". My dad said, as I pulled down all three Wilson A2000 1786 models stocked on the glove-wall at Canada’s premier baseball equipment supplier,Prostock Athletic Supply - or as they should be called: Prostock Baseball Authority. 

"Yeah. Whatever. I’ll never need another glove". Wilson is the official glove sponsor of Major League Baseball and the A2000 line is their pro-stock model. They were, at that time, still made in Japan and from there they either go out for retail distribution, or straight to the choosiest of professional baseball’s middle infielders, despite Rawlings owning the patent and endorsement of the MLB Gold Glove Award. The 1786 model - of which I was prejudicially inspecting all three that Prostock had brought in that year - is their 11.5” middle-infield model. Stock production colour was gold tan with a black I web, black lacing, black welting. 

"If it was me spending three-hundred bucks on a baseball glove", my dad advised, "I’d be getting the black one, not the tan one". And the old man had a real case; the 1787 model he was holding in my face was the same one used by my second-favourite player of all-time and arguably the greatest defensive shortstop ever - Rey Ordonez - and was virtually identical to the one I had my heart set on, except it was a quarter-inch bigger, and came in black. 

"I want the eleven-point-five. This is the only glove I’ll ever need” I reassured my dad. Not to mention, a team-mate had just picked up the Ordonez model during Fall Ball and it happens to be a serious faux-paus to cop the same glove style as a team-mate. Said team-mate and I had played together on several provincial teams, regular season squads, and the District 5 BC games team. So I took the glove code seriously where he and I were concerned. 

It took me about 30 minutes of chucking a ball in the stiff pocket of each of the 1786’s I was considering  (along with conducting various other physical tests, such as inspecting creases in the leather for potential bunk break-in spots and putting the glove on my hand and looking at it in the mirror while pretending to field back-handers) to make my selection, cast the losers-out aside to be forgotten until now, and leave to embark upon a new season of promise and increased fielding percentage. 

"Can you please cut that out for a while, Evs?… That’s extremely annoying you know that?… EVAN, FOR GOD’S SAKE! ENOUGH!" My mother pleaded in vain as I sat in my sweatpants in the living room chair by the Christmas tree, pounding a baseball into the pocket of my new Wilson for hours on end. Occasionally, I’d get distracted by something or other and completely miss catching the ball as I whipped it and it would bounce away and smack into the wall or the TV cabinet or sliding glass door or whatever - that was when my mom would really freak out - but still I couldn’t be thwarted; I had a schedule to keep, and I was breaking this thing in the old fashioned way: fuck oil, fuck shaving cream, fuck the fucking microwave - I was breaking my new baby in with love. And so, I spent the entire Christmas break sitting in that chair in my sweatpants, smacking the ball into the glove, anticipating the season to come.

As things turned out, the proceeding baseball season (which, under the watch of Canadian Hall of Famer, John Haar, yielded some of my best defensive work) would be my last playing competitive baseball. What happened after that year is that I met Mikey and we decided to start a punk rock band, and it had become too time-consuming to play competitive baseball and do anything else.

But I loved baseball too much to give it up entirely so I joined a fastpitch Men’s beer-league team called the Cruisers and put my Wilson on display there, earning a Rookie of the Year trophy in 2001 without breaking a sweat. I held my position playing shortstop and second base for the Cruisers through bands, tours, college, jobs, girlfriends for ten years - every August swearing (for primarily logistical reasons) I would not be back the next year, but every March breaking my own promise.

Spring of 2011: the Vancouver Canadians announce that my favourite baseball player of all time, and arguably the best second baseman in the history of Major League Baseball - Roberto Fucking Alomar - would be making an appearance at Nat Bailey Stadium to sign autographs as part of the new Blue Jay’s farm club’s marketing campaign, and I don’t mind admitting that I had not been more excited about anything in a great while, and I made a point to get there early.

Deep tan, clean shave, fresh cut; Robbie graciously ploughed through an endless line of nostalgiac, mid-twenties-to-thirties autographseekers - all decked out with “retro” Jays memorabilia, and each with his (or her, in the case of local artist, Melanie Coles, who I ran into near the front of the line) own touching Roberto Alomar anecdote. Melanie’s trumped mine, revealing that she’d named her pet goldfish after our mutual childhood hero. 

"You named your goldfish ‘Roberto Alomar’?” I asked, rather impressed. 

"Yes" she bashfully admitted. Awesome, I thought, and might have stated, conscious though, of not wanting to appear to be aiding and accessorizing a chat-and-cut. I’d been in line an hour, being tortured by drunken recounts of Carter’s homer, and there was at least an hour’s wait behind me. Nobody in the whole scene was likely to gain a thrill off my lifting the rope for Melanie Coles or anyone else for that matter. So she moved on and I watched ahead as the only two people left between me and my idol took their sweet time letting the poor guy know how important he’s been in their lives and bullshit like that, et cetera. Fuck that, I thought, as I stepped to the plate and smacked my ball glove down on the table. 

"Hey bud, how you doing?" Robbie asked vacantly, his eyes darting every direction but toward mine, as he took my hand in his soft, soft Dominican grip and shook it. 

"It’s an honour to meet you" I told him, recognizing the rare feeling. I was hoping to God he’d get a look at my Wilson, put it on and say "Wow, that’s a real nice mitt, Slugger, what do you say we ditch the rest of this line-up and go toss a few? Boy, this really is a nice glove!" He’d be hocking a loogie in there and pounding the pocket with his fist. I’d be using his old SSK ’cause naturally, he brought it along in anticipation of this very scenario. I am, afterall, probably the only guy in the whole fucking yard that hasn’t asked him to say "Catch The Taste" all day; and he just wants to show his appreciation. 

"Thanks bud, here you go" scribbling on my glove in Sharpie marker his name with the number 12 beside it then handing it back to me. I was fucking ecstatic.