Patrick pushed open the door to Mr. Whitman’s shoe store, and a string of bells that were tied to the handle jangled against the glass as it opened. Patrick had known about the little store for years, but he’d never actually been inside. He’d only admired the looks of the store from the outside. It was one of several brick buildings connected together on the main drag of his hometown, and painted right on the brick, up above the front of the store in red and white paint was a sign that read “Whitman’s Shoe Repair,” written in a fancy style. On both sides of the door, there were large glass windows, filled with all manner of boots and shoes, displayed to look nicer than they might have in a department store window.
As soon as Patrick stepped inside, the scent of leather was so strong that it felt liked he’d just pressed his face inside his baseball glove. That thought was the first that came to mind, since he actually had the glove in his hand. That was the whole reason he’d come to Mr. Whitman’s store anyhow. He’d recently noticed that the strings on his glove were wearing out, and about a week or so before, he’d been tossing fly balls up to himself when one came down and busted its way right through the glove, just missing his face on its way down. What was left of the strings was so rotted through that each one had torn apart when Patrick had tried tugging them loose.
It was an old glove to begin with. He’d picked it up at a yard sale from a man who at first had been almost unwilling to part ways with it. He’d told Patrick about nearly every game he’d used it in, how he’d sat on it in between innings, and how he’d tied it up with shoestrings when he wasn’t using it. Patrick had liked the look of it from the start. The color of the leather was the lightest shade of brown he’d ever seen on a glove. It was almost cream colored. The man told him that he’d misplaced it once for about a month or so, and when he’d finally found it beneath a tree outside his house, the sun had bleached it white. Patrick listened to the man for so long that the man must’ve felt sorry for telling him so much, because he ended up giving the glove to Patrick for free.
The glove was already coming apart when Patrick got it, and when it finally bit the dust, someone told him he ought to bring it to Mr. Whitman’s shop and see if the man could fix it up.
When Patrick came inside, the only kind of commotion he could hear was the sound of a sewing machine running in the back of the store. He looked toward the back but didn’t see anyone, so he browsed around for a minute and looked at some lace-up boots on one of the shelves.
The sound of the sewing machine stopped, and after a moment, a man’s voice called out, “Hello?” The man stepped out of his office, and Patrick turned and saw him. He was a short man, bald on top with grey and black hair on the sides of his head. He had on a small pair of glasses, flat on top and round on the bottom, and there was a silver chain attached to them to hold them on his neck. He had a long, skinny face, thinner around the jaw than it was above it, and he had a big nose, wide all the way down.
“Well, hello there young man,” he said. He had a cheery voice, quiet but cheery. “What can I do for you?”
“I’ve got a glove here that’s falling apart,” said Patrick, raising up the glove so the man could see it. “Someone told me you might be able to fix it.”
“Did they now?” said the man, smiling. “Well, I’d hate to make a liar out of them. Let’s have a look at it.”
He reached out and took the glove from Patrick, holding it out far from his face. He pushed his glasses down on his great nose and tilted his head forward.
“Well now,” he said, “looks like this thing’s dern near rotten all the way through.” He pulled at one the torn strings. “Did you have one bust through on you?”
“Yes sir,” said Patrick.
“Well I don’t see that you’ve got a black eye,” said the man, “so I assume you must’ve seen it coming.” He raised his eyebrows, and Patrick smiled and nodded. “Come on back here to the office and we’ll see if we can’t stitch this thing back together.”
Patrick followed the man back to his office, which turned out to be more of a shop than an office. There was a metal storage cabinet in one corner, and a few scattered binders and papers, but everything else was shoe related. There was a small, electric sewing machine on a table, a big, long one like he’d never seen before that stood on its own, another one with a big wheel on one end and a foot pedal on the bottom, shelves stacked full with shoeboxes and spray cans, tons of strings hanging from hooks on the wall, and plenty more. The man walked around and slid out a chair for Patrick, and then sat down himself on a wooden stool.
“Been a long time since I’ve worked on a ball glove,” said the man. “I only had granddaughters, and ain’t none of them cared much for playing ball. Guess I can’t blame them.” In a moment he added, “Ain’t much too it though. I’m Jack by the way.”
He reached out his hand, and Patrick shook it and said, “I’m Patrick.”
“Good to know you Patrick,” said Jack. “You a big time ball player?”
“Yes sir,” said Patrick.
“I was once myself,” said Jack. “Played in the minors, if you can believe it.”
“You played in the minor leagues?” asked Patrick, moving forward on his chair.
Jack laughed. “I did. On a single-A team in Iowa.”
“What was it called?” asked Patrick.
Jack laughed again. “The Quad City River Bandits. Ever heard of them?” Patrick shook his head. “Well you’re not the only one. They called us ‘farm teams’ on account of someone saying they were raising up new players like corn.”
“What position did you play?” asked Patrick.
“Second base,” said Jack. He had a rag in his hand and was wiping off the glove. He pulled out a tub of cream and started rubbing it onto the glove, and immediately the color started to brighten. “They called me ‘Hoover’ Whitman back then ‘cause they said I sucked up grounders like a vacuum.”
He had the glove oiled up well by then, and he set it down and went over to one of his drawers. He pulled out a few strands of leather and finally settled on one, then he came and sat back down and started to relace the glove.
“Yeah,” he started again, “I couldn’t hit worth a dang, though. I reckon I only averaged about .150, probably less. I had a knack for advancing the runner but never for getting on base myself.”
Patrick knew the feeling. “Did you ever get upset?” he asked.
“Oh you bet I did,” said Jack. “Every time I struck out, I thought about walking away right then and there.”
“Did you?” asked Patrick.
Jack smiled and shook his head. “Couldn’t do it. I just loved it too much.” He set the glove down and raised his head up toward the ceiling. “There’s something about that game that’s unlike anything else. There’s a magic in it.”
He lowered his head back down and finished lacing the glove. He pulled on it between the fingers and stretched it out.
“Now there’s a good-looking glove,” he said, and he handed it to Patrick. “Go ahead and try her on.”
Patrick took the glove and slid his hand down into it. He opened and closed it, and he rubbed his fingers across the palm. Jack had shined it up really well, and it was still greasy to the touch. The polish had brought out some of the brown in it, and Patrick liked the way it looked.
“It’ll probably be a bit tighter at first,” said Jack. “But use it enough, and it’ll stretch out for you.”
“Thanks!” said Patrick. “How much do I owe you?” Patrick only had a twenty dollar bill in his pocket, and he hoped that would be enough.
Jack smiled. “Son, you don’t owe me a dime. You just keep using that glove ‘til it wears out. Bring it back to me if it ever needs fixing again.”
“Yes sir!” said Patrick.
Jack walked Patrick back up to the front of the store and shook the young man’s hand again. “Glad you came in,” he said.
“Thanks again,” said Patrick, and he turned to walk out the door. The bells jangled again when he pushed it open.
“Say there, Patrick,” said Jack. Patrick turned his head. “Sir?”
Jack smiled at him one more time. “Catch a little magic for me.”