By John Pierce

Although growing up with few earthly possessions, none was more treasured than my baseball glove. In fact, from the first hint of spring until the late fall chill, the well-worn glove was more of an appendage than a possession.

As a seminary student in 1979, I bought a brand new glove at University Mall in Chapel Hill, N.C., and joined a couple of good softball teams. It lasted until a line drive ripped through the webbing during a spring training batting practice session in Vero Beach’s old Dodgertown just a few years ago.

So I bought another one that could withstand snagging MLB practice balls that soar into the stands at Turner Field — something that still brings a thrill to me in my 50s.

These last two gloves I purchased were well engineered, unlike the gloves of youth that usually had a previous owner. Padding would escape through cracks in the leather and dry-rotted rawhide laces were in constant need of replacement. Often shoestrings (from my brothers’ shoes if they were not looking) could be threaded through the holes to connect finger to finger and keep the webbing secure.

As a youth, it is hard to remember a day when the sun was shining and the temperature was rising that the glove was not on my hand. Organized games and practice sessions with coaches on marked-off fields were gravy.

My brothers, friends and I could play some version of the National Pastime with any number of persons and adjust to any setting. One of our favorites was “flies and skinners” — where one person hit, another one pitched and everyone else gathered in the outfield. Whoever amassed enough points by catching flies or grounders (skinners) would replace the hitter.

Sometimes we’d play so late on a summer night that darkness would obscure the ball to the point that a bump on the head would need ice. But we played, played, played.

A few years ago, I retired for the third or fourth final time (I think) from playing organized softball. However, I still enjoy throwing the ball around with my daughters and trying to chase down more batting practice homers than my conniving little friend Marshall who is too old to be doing such folly.

But when spring (or spring-like weather) comes around, it’s hard to imagine a time when I would not put a glove on my left hand and bring the pocket toward my face just to inhale the smell of leather. It’s about that time again. Play ball!

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