In baseball and softball, a glove is a thing of beauty. While some might look at their mitt as just a piece of sports equipment, others may truly admire the artistry and craftsmanship that goes into this exhibition of leather and lace. And with every piece of art lies an artist. Just as Picasso is to Cubism. Dali, the same to Surrealism. Baseball and softball, too, have a renowned artisan in Shigeaki Aso.
Born in 1945 in Toride, Japan, Aso has served as the game’s Jedi glove master for over 40 years. He has crafted some of Wilson Sporting Goods’ most acclaimed glove patterns, including the popular 1786 model. DICK’S Sporting Goods Associate Joey Lancianese had the privilege of sitting down with Wilson’s master glove craftsman for an inside scoop on his work. Follow along as we explore the glove guru’s origins, practices and habits in this special Pro Tips feature.
HOW ASO AND WILSON CAME TO BE
Wilson Sporting Goods began crafting gloves and mitts for the baseball diamond in 1922. Their pioneering designs helped establish their reputation amongst athletes for decades. However, it would take another 50-plus years before their glove guru would cook up his own take on innovating designs.
Lancianese: Let’s start with a little bit of the history of the craft and maybe what got you into making ball gloves.
Aso: Actually, I was [an] inspector for Wilson Sporting Goods from [another] company from Japan. I started to think about how they can flex me. And so, I started process inspection. So, process and go out and process and pick up bad part, pattern in gloves. This is the part by part. So, final product will be fine after that.
So then, they asked me and, you know, “Please come to our factory more often,” and so on. And so, knowing baseball gloves. So, pattern and leather, everything – workmanship, you know, I learned from them.
Did you play the game growing up?
Actually, I was 14 years old. I played baseball, but I was not [a] serious player. I was catcher, and the catcher is fine for me. I mean, very good play and position to play.
HOW THE WILSON GLOVE GURU WORKS HIS MAGIC
To make a custom glove, Wilson Sporting Goods needs certain measurements from athletes. This data can help craftsmen cut, mold and create the mitts to fit a ballplayer’s needs – and hand. This might seem meticulous to some, but for Aso, it’s almost as if the numbers are only one handshake away.
I read a fascinating story about you being able to modify a baseball glove just by shaking a player’s hand or watching them play. How were you able to shake someone’s hand a just get a good sense of what kind of glove they may need?
Actually, not only shaking hand, but they have a basic idea for what the glove is. And so, just I compare hands so then I can know what, you know, how I can tight on the hand and so on.
Is that something that you notice right away, or is it something where you need to get a more of a feel?
Actually, I feel like, you know, hands, size, thickness – that’s it. But I need to have some kind of glove they wear. I request them to bring in, you know, game glove so that they – I can, knowing everything – how to put the hand in and what is the size of hand and so on. How to catch the ball. So, I copy from that one to the new one.
REFLECTING ON THE GAME AND ITS ATHLETES
With a career spanning multiple decades and a constant finger on the pulse of the game, Aso has seen plenty of changes. Players come and go. Personalities and trends rise and fade. Even how athletes play the game can evolve. All the while, Aso caters to the ever-changing needs with charisma and creativity.
Working with MLB players – you’ve done it for years now since 1987. Are there players you’ve really enjoyed working with that have taught you even things? Any players stand out?
Brandon Phillips, David Wright and Dustin Pedroia, Mookie Betts. Everybody, actually. Actually, I love the players.
Are the female athletes just as outspoken as the MLB players?
Not yet. But start doing that way. Actually, colors, you know, like red and team colors and USA colors and so on. I mean, USA players, for instance, they love to have white, navy and red colors.
You’ve been doing this for 40 years. The players have evolved, the game has evolved. Is that what excites you? Is that every day you can come in with a new Aso idea?
Actually, not every day, but every day, I think about it every day and what next endeavor, what is [the] next thing, and baseball is changing around so quick. After five years, maybe play, even same play, they change around a little bit. More speed and so on. And, we should learn from them and then we should think about new growth and so on. So, lighter-weight and deeper pocket, whatever.
For decades, Aso has been diligent in his quest to manufacture top notch gloves. Constantly pushing the limits of ingenuity and innovation, he has truly embodied the title of master glove craftsman. You can see his admiration for the game and its athletes in this special Pro Tips feature.
Want more entertaining insight from the diamond? Take a behind-the-scenes look at How Baseball Bats are Made in this special Pro Tips Feature from DeMarini.