When Troy Tulowitzki came over to the Blue Jays at the 2015 trade deadline, it wasn’t long before people noticed the shortstop’s unusually old and ragged glove. We started calling it the ‘pancake’ because it was yellow and laid flat when he took it off. At one point it had its own Twitter account. It became legendary, as did the lengths the team was going to in order to keep it in one piece.
During the 2015 postseason, Sportsnet’s Kristina Rutherford wrote the pancake its own profile piece. She also tweeted this photo, which immediately made me think about my own treasured glove, and how reluctant I’d been to part with it.
— Kristina Rutherford (@KrRutherford) October 20, 2015
Where some people saw a broken-down, impractical piece of equipment, I saw history, and loyalty, and even love.
That’s when I got the idea to paint it. Something that meaningful should be preserved.
I wasn’t a very athletic child. My family skied in the winter, and I did swimming lessons year-round, but my parents insisted I participate in an outdoor summer sport too. I had tried soccer, but thought it was boring. I didn’t like running back and forth all the time. So they signed me up for softball.
My first season, we borrowed second-hand equipment from a neighbour. Softball requires a lot of gear, and my parents didn’t want to make the financial commitment until they knew I was in it for the long haul. That glove was light brown, and had a green patch on the back and her name written inside. I played that year and loved it, and told my parents I wanted to keep going. The next Christmas, my softball-playing aunt gave me a brand-new glove, a black Louisville one. It had camel-coloured trim, gold lettering, and a big white “L” on a black patch by the thumb.
I loved that glove. I loved the webbing that reminded me of a checkerboard, and the furry patch in the wrist hole. I loved being the only girl on my team with a black glove. Out of nine years of softball, six of them were spent with that one. It was the glove I used after I finally made my elementary school 3-pitch team. It was the glove I tossed up in the air the year my team won our division tournament (and then, once we were done celebrating, the glove I had to walk back out to right field to retrieve).
It was the glove sitting idly in front of me that one time I was catching and, on pure reflex, reached my throwing hand up to snag a foul tip on my right side. It was the glove holding the tag on a runner when she slid into me at second base and I sprained my ankle – I still maintain that she was out, because I didn’t drop the ball until after we were both on the ground.
If I have so many fond memories of a glove that played 20 games a season in house league for six years, how many more amazing memories would Tulo have shared with his pancake? How many line drives did it catch? How many double plays did it turn? It was on his hand for the 2015 playoff run – and probably the 2007 World Series. The thing belongs in Cooperstown, for all the history it’s witnessed.
It was also quite possibly the glove he wore when he turned an unassisted triple play on April 29, 2007, a claim only 14 other gloves in MLB history can make.
Tulo has won two Gold Glove awards – in 2010 and 2011, both with the Rockies. Traditionally, when a player has won a Gold Glove award, he gets special shiny gold patches for his Rawlings gear (another Blue Jay, catcher Russell Martin, has a prominent patch on his chest protector from when he took home the award in 2007 as a Dodger). The pancake is missing that signature patch, because he hadn’t replaced it since winning. In the rough stages of painting, I was sketching it out and nearly added a sixth finger – maybe explaining that Tulowitzki defensive prowess?
In 2007, the year after Tulo’s MLB debut, I was in my seventh year of softball. I was put on a team with a group of girls who’d been playing as a pack for years. Although it was only house league, they took the competition very seriously. One day, during fielding practice, I dropped a very easy pop fly. My coach took me aside, and bluntly told me I needed a new glove. I was hurt and angry, and felt like he thought my glove, and therefore myself, weren’t good enough for his team.
My dad took me to the store to pick out a new one. I was protesting the whole time, reluctant to look at anything, much less try one on. We tried to find one that at least looked similar, but they had nothing like that in stock. Eventually we settled on a brown and camel Wilson model. To soften the blow, he bought me a pair of high socks and a pink sliding pad too.
I resisted wearing it for a few weeks. Once or twice, I “forgot” the new one at home. My coach took me aside again and more gently pointed out that my old glove was worn down and the padding in the palm was basically nonexistent. By that age, the pitchers were throwing harder, and if I was catching it wouldn’t offer me much protection. He just didn’t want me to get hurt. It was at this point that I also noticed that the heel of my hand was basically sticking out at the bottom. I was still heartbroken, but I knew that I had to move on.
Now, I have pretty small hands, but my fingers especially are shorter than most girls’. This year I found out, thanks to an x-ray, that one of the metacarpals in my pinky fingers never developed to its full length. This is probably how I got away with wearing a child’s glove up to the age of fourteen. So when I got my new glove, it felt awkward and like there was just too much room. If the black one was a tidy square, this one was a floppy long rectangle.
It wasn’t just that the glove wasn’t broken in yet, it was that there was so much more of it I had to control. With my black glove, I could get my fingers far enough around the ball to get a decent grip. With the new one, it was being held in place by empty leather. I would squeeze as tightly as I could to keep the ball in, but unless it was in the palm part of the mitt, it would pop right out the end. The first few times that happened in a game, I got extremely embarrassed and frustrated. I blamed the glove. I resented it so much.
Tulo used a backup glove during Spring Training 2016, and during fielding practise before games. He gave the reason as taking time to work it in the way he liked. But he still kept the ‘gamer’ around. On April 26th, the old pancake failed him, and he made his first error since becoming a Blue Jay. He made six more the following month – including three in a two-game span – after switching to his backup.
If you look closely, that backup is visible in the background of Rutherford’s original photo, peeking between the third and fourth fingers. (I didn’t include it in the painting. It seemed disrespectful.)
It’s a lot of work taking care of a glove that beat-up. For my part, I was constantly tying and re-tying the black strap that held my thumb in place. I’d stand in the outfield between batters, tugging one end with my throwing hand and the other with my teeth.
As for Tulo’s, Rutherford mentioned the equipment crew’s unusual methods in her article, including using a hole punch to re-lace the thing. While painting it, I grew familiar with every crevice, the holes between the fingers, and the different hues of brown in places where the leather hadn’t completely faded to grey. Even though we both had to have known the end would come for our respective gloves, we still stubbornly clung to them.
My coach was right about one thing – the padding in my new glove was so much better. The first time my dad and I played catch on our street, I could barely feel the impact in my palm. He and my grandpa offered to help me break it in – going down to the park on weekends, where they would toss me one pop-up after another. Eventually I worked it in a little better, but to this day I can’t squeeze the end completely shut.
The day I finished my painting, it came to my attention that my art smock was an old softball shirt. Purple – just like the Rockies. The year I wore that shirt was my last full season spent with the black Louisville glove. Though it’s been replaced in my softball bag, it still lives in my parents’ garage. Maybe someday I’ll dig it out and paint a picture of it. Its heroics aren’t as legendary as the pancake’s, but you can still tell it’s got some stories etched into its surface.
As for that pancake, it hasn’t seen game action since April 2016. Tulo himself hasn’t played since July 28th of last year. But I wonder what he’s done with his old glove. Did he throw it away once it outlived its purpose? Or does he have it stowed away somewhere? On a shelf in his garage, or in some dusty bag in his basement? Perhaps, like me, after all these years he simply can’t bear to part with the thing.
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