Ryan's Love of Leather

Brendan Ryan discusses his selection of gloves as he plays all over the diamond for the St. Louis Cardinals.

St. Louis Cardinals infielder Brendan Ryan is in the major leagues and has become at least a part-time starter for the club due to his strong defensive play. Ryan came up as a shortstop, but since his 2007 major league debut, the 27-year-old Californian has actually appeared in more games at positions other than short.

Ryan's major league totals (games):
Shortstop 79
Second base 54
Third base 29
Outfield 4

This season to date, Ryan has handled 40 chances at second base and 40 at shortstop and made just one error, at the former position.

I asked him how he determined that being able to man multiple positions was important to remaining a major leaguer.

"By talking to my agent and learning about Tony (La Russa) and what it takes to play for him. If you're not a marquee, All-Star shortstop, it is only going to help by being more versatile and be able to play more positions."

Fans often wonder how the defense is set and adjusted not only by batter, but sometimes by the pitch. Ryan explains how it occurs.

"As far as where to play certain guys, Dave (McKay - outfield) and Joe (Pettini - infield) help tell us where to go, to do the homework on where to shade guys during the game, tendencies. There's a lot behind the scenes that do into where you're playing on the field. They do a great job with that."

Where I really wanted to go with this article is to the leather. I have learned from past discussions with players that the only thing they view more protectively than their bats are their gloves. Ryan is no different.

When I spoke with Ryan recently, he had three gloves with him, all shortstop models, with another half dozen in various stages of being broken in or in transit. They vary by position.

"I keep accumulating more and more gloves, trying to break them in for each position. At third, I want to use a little bit bigger glove (11 ¾"). There is not a whole lot of difference in footwork. It is more first step stuff. The glove thing is just trying to catch the ball.

"At second, I use a bit smaller glove. Shortstop is in between. Obviously, in the outfield, you're going to want to use an even bigger glove. I am still fiddling around trying to find the right outfield glove for me. I've got a couple coming in and I hope they will work out."

Ryan has a 12 ¾" outfield glove now with a 13 inch on the way from Rawlings.

I couldn't help but ask the energetic Ryan if he ever considered volunteering as the club's third, emergency catcher.

"I don't have a catcher's mitt yet but that might be something to look at in the future (laughs). I'm not going to be any Yadier Molina or anything, but I caught a little bit before high school and in high school. You've got to be an athlete back there and get it done. It would be fun."

Breaking in new gloves is not something that happens overnight. Ryan has a number of such projects running in parallel.

"It takes a long time to get a glove ready to go. I've been using this glove since 2003 or 2004. I just got one that works for me and I'm comfortable with it. But I am always trying to break in a backup." (His "gamer" is pictured above.)

"The one right here is pretty new. "This is a kind of a natural brown Rawlings - maybe a caramel – kind of brown and tan. It is a shortstop glove, 11 ½ inch. At second base, I'd go 11 and a quarter. It is measured from the tip of the pinkie to the base of the palm."

In terms of selecting the style of leather, Ryan and his MLB peers have pretty much free reign to build the gloves of their dreams.

"At this point, in the major leagues you can pretty much make your own model and do whatever you need to do with it – change the webbing – really create your own glove, which is very special and cool at the same time. We are lucky we can do that. I've used Rawlings forever and I love what they make. They make a great product."

I have seen clubhouse attendants help others break in gloves so I asked Ryan if that is a route he takes. Clearly, he is not interested in short cuts of any kind.

"They can, but not for me. I don't like anyone messing with my gloves. I've been known to freak out if anyone puts their hands on my gamer."

I carried out this discussion with Ryan over the duration of a four-game series. I watched him closely in the field and noticed only his gamer saw live action though he used the others in workouts and warmups.

It was then that Ryan came clean. He hasn't yet made the full emotional commitment to his new leather.

"At this point, I don't have anything broken in enough to put it ahead of my quote, unquote gamer. I am actually using the same glove everywhere but that's just for now because I don't feel comfortable with the backups just yet. I still have a lot to go with them. I have to commit to one at a time, which I have a problem with."

Ryan's surely not the only one out there having trouble with commitment, but he is not having any difficulty standing out with whatever glove he is using.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Catch his Cardinals commentary daily at his blog, The Cardinal Nation.

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