In the backyard of Dennis Partlow’s Rock Hill home, baseball gloves of every size and color are splayed out on an old table.
There are Easton gloves, SSKs, Wilsons, Rawlings, Power Bolts, Louisville Sluggers, Mizunos, Spaldings... name the brand and one of them is sitting on the table, or in Partlow’s shed, nicknamed “The Palace,” or in a tub somewhere else on the property. There is even an A2000, a baseball glove that retails for $239.99.
Watching the Little League World Series last summer, Partlow and his 14-year-old grandson Connor wondered if people in the York County area struggled to outfit their kids with quality baseball equipment, gloves especially. They began collecting donated gloves to recondition and give away to local youth baseball players in need of the most basic equipment, a project Partlow is calling “God’s Glove Gift.”
The original goal was to get 100 gloves done; 52 have already been finished. Most local recreational baseball leagues are starting in the next few weeks so Partlow has been making arrangements to get the gloves doled out soon.
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“We don’t know how many gloves we’ll give away. We may not give but 25 away,” he said on Saturday morning. “But there may be some kids out there.”
Partlow, who grew up across the street from Confederate Park’s ball fields, has been involved in local baseball for well over 40 years; one year removed from college, he helped coach Rock Hill High’s baseball team to the state championship game in 1969, and he’s been coaching youth baseball with the Carolina Reds in recent years. Partlow is also the chairman for the York County Sports Hall of Fame.
Partlow has reconditioned gloves ever since he’s been involved in baseball. He did the work partly as a hobby for people he knew, and also on a contract basis in recent years with In The Game Athletics, a Cherry Road sporting goods store that is helping with the God’s Glove Gift project.
“He does an excellent job,” said Karen Martin, the store’s manager. “Dennis, he has years of experience and he usually goes above and beyond. If they just want one little lace fixed he’ll go over the glove and make sure everything’s perfect before he gives it back to them.”
God’s Glove Gift will take donated gloves of any size and wear. Smaller ones are preferred, but larger gloves can be sold to used sporting goods stores in order to buy youth-sized gloves.
Once they receive the gloves, Dennis and Connor set to work, usually on weekends. First, they diagnose what needs to happen. If the glove is too flexible and broken in, the Partlows will soak it for three days in water and then let it dry completely, which takes about a week. That begins the process or recreating the glove’s proper shape.
If the glove is not too worn in, then the first step is to clean it with a damp rag, something that Partlow recommends everyone do with their glove after each occasion it is used.
The inside of the glove is then oiled with an old sock as necessary - “you don’t want it so oiled that it opens back up,” said Dennis - and a ball is placed in the pocket and leather lace tied tightly around the glove to reform the pocket. Partlow said the glove should never be able to turn inside out. The oiling process takes about a month with the grandfather and grandson checking on it about three times during the course of those 30 days.
The finger tips of the glove are also scrunched in to ensure a caught ball rolls back into the pocket. After about a month, the glove, now crisp on the outside with an inviting pocket, is ready to go.
“I like working with the gloves, but I just wanted to give back to the community and help out,” said Connor, a ninth grade JV baseball player at Rock Hill High. “I wanted to learn how to do it. I just knew how to catch a ball with a glove, but I wanted to learn how to lace it and stuff.”
Connor said he keeps two gloves, one for playing infield and one for outfield. That’s twice as many as some kids have, a fact not lost on either Partlow sitting in a family living room Saturday. Their eagerness to help baseball and their community was born from one simple desire.
“We didn’t want a kid to show up at practice and not have a glove,” said Dennis.