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The last American baseball glove maker

Cool story, if you overlook the obnoxious Trump references.

Baseball gloves, like many other things, aren’t really made in America anymore. In the 1960s, production shifted to Asia and never came back. It might be America’s favorite pastime, and few things are more personal to baseball-lovers than their first glove — the smell, the feel, the memory of childhood summers. But most gloves are stitched together thousands of miles away by people who couldn’t afford a ticket at Fenway Park.

One company didn’t get the memo. Since the Great Depression, Nokona has been making gloves in a small town outside Dallas with a long history of producing boots and whips for cowboys. There’s a livestock-feed store next door to the factory, which offers $5 tours for visitors who want to see how the “last American ball glove” is made. You can watch employees weave the webbing by hand, feed the laces through the holes with needles, and pound the pocket into shape with a rounded hammer. The American flag gets stitched into the hide — and that, they say at Nokona, is more than just a business matter.

“Made in America means you believe in our country,” said Carla Yeargin, a glove inspector and tour guide at Nokona, where she worked her way up from janitor. “We have the love for the ballglove, because we made it here.”

[…]

Making a glove involves about 40 steps and can take four hours. Hides, mostly from Chicago or Milwaukee, are tested for temper and thickness. Workers lower presses onto metal dies to cut the leather. The pieces — some models require 25 of them — are sewn together, joining the inner and outer halves. The product is turned right-side-out and shaped on hot steel fingers. A grease used during World War II to clean rifles is lathered under the pocket, to keep it flexible.

The company emphasizes the craft that goes into each glove, and that’s reflected in the bill. Rawlings has gloves for all budgets: Its top-end models cost plenty, but you can get a 9-inch children’s version for less than $8. Nokona’s equivalent-sized mitt costs $220, and its pro model runs to $500.

This was from a couple of months ago and it got lost in the pile, but I figured now was as good a time as any to finally put it out. As the story notes, these are niche products, made for discerning customers. The model in the embedded image will set you back $380. A good investment if the game is your passion or your profession, maybe not so much if you just play catch with your kid or the occasional pickup game. They’re a small operation, with 35 employees, but nobody lasts for nearly a century without doing something right. If I’m ever in the area, I think I’ll take a side trip to Nocona – the name of the company is spelled differently because they apparently couldn’t trademark the name of the town – and see about getting a tour.

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2 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    Reading about products made in America is always a good start to the morning. Bonus that the gloves are made in Texas. Thanks!

  2. mollusk says:

    There is also a separate company that makes Nocona boots, which might explain the copyright issue.