Today’s Salute to American Success goes to Dave Katz, owner of Meriden, Conn.-based Katz Gloves. Katz breaks in baseball gloves for a living. That’s right – breaks in baseball gloves – for a living.
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“This is something that people can’t believe you can make a living off of,” Katz laughed.
But Katz has, for almost 40 years in fact.
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It started in 1975, when Katz bought a sporting goods store from his brother, Richard – a teacher, coach and athletic director at a local high school. At the time, Katz was fresh out of college and unsure of what career path to take, and running a sporting goods store looked like a lot of fun.
“Truth is, being a doctor is too hard,” Katz said with a laugh. “My father was a doctor and that was too much school.”
At first, Katz sold all the products you would expect in a sporting goods store – sneakers, baseballs, sporting equipment. He stocked his shelves with brand new baseball gloves, but wasn’t a fan of their stiff and immobile leather.
“If you’ve ever put a brand new baseball glove on your hand, it’s as hard as a rock. You literally can’t catch with it,” Katz said.
Growing up, Katz was known for a knack of working a glove until it felt like “butter.” So he broke in a couple mitts, and threw them on the shelves.
“I did it as an experiment, not knowing whether they would think they were used,” Katz said. “But they just caught on.”
It got to the point where nothing else sold as well. So he got rid of every tennis ball and every lacrosse stick, and devoted his entire store to selling his broken-in baseball gloves.
Every glove takes Katz seven days to “break in correctly,” a process he charges $75 for. Most sell for $300-400.
“To add another $75 to that and save it from being thrown into a closet and never used is actually a worthwhile investment,” Katz said.
“You wouldn’t know it if I showed you a before and after, you’d be shocked it was the same glove. That’s what I’m able to do.”
Katz said that most people don’t know how to break in a baseball glove.
“If you go on the Internet and do a search on how to break in baseball gloves, you’ll get just as many answers if you look for a cure for the common cold,” Katz said. “There [are] a million opinions of how to do it. Almost every year I’ll hear a couple new ones I’ve never heard before.”
The more batty methods include: nuking it in the microwave, toasting it in the oven, shoving it under a mattress and sleeping on it, running it over with your car, bathing it in motor oil, and massaging it with shaving cream.
“Over the years, I have refined the way I do it. If I just pick [a glove] up, sometimes I can tell just by looking at it if it’s going to break in well. Every single glove breaks in differently,” Katz said.
But don’t try asking him about his top secret technique.
“It’s like the Coca Cola formula, I don’t tell anybody,” Katz said. “Everybody has tried to find out. It kind of adds to the magic of the whole thing. I think the kids get a kick out of it and so do the parents.”