(G)love Story

Friday, July 12, 2013
West Lebanon — When Stateline Sports employee Bud Hill isn’t ringing up sales, aiding shoppers or attending to merchandise, he can sometimes be found dispensing glove love.

A 46-year-old Plainfield resident and 1985 Lebanon High graduate, Hill is a jack of many trades at the store, where he’s worked full time since 1997. But about a decade ago, he added tinkering with baseball and softball mitt repair to his repertoire.

“I saw a need for it, but I had to learn to go slow and steady,’’ Hill said. “I had a few early moments where I had taken a glove apart and wondered how I was going to put it back together.”

Hill concentrates primarily on re-lacing gloves, although he occasionally puts in a new pocket. The cost ranges from less than $10 for simple repairs to about $50 for more complicated work. The items brought to him mostly feature stretched or broken leather, but sometimes he’s asked to do re-lacing jobs for cosmetic reasons. A Hartford High baseball player requested that the tan-colored strips on his glove be replaced by red-white-and-blue ones.

Hill has a bag full of colored leather laces and has used them to customize mitts from schools at Hanover, Lebanon, Woodstock and other places. As he points out, however, if you draw attention with gaudy handwear, you’d better have the skills to back it up.

“When I play soccer, I wear black cleats and not neon green ones,” Hill said with a chuckle. “But some people like to make a fashion statement.”

Hill can re-lace an entire glove in about 90 minutes, and while he mostly uses dead time at the store to do the work, he occasionally takes a mitt home if a customer has a game fast approaching.

“He was my go-to guy and provided unbelievable service,” said Marty Adams, who stepped down as South Royalton School’s baseball coach after the 2012 season. “He’d turn them around in a day or two and did a great job. Frankly, I don’t think he charges enough for what’s a lost art.

“I don’t know of anyone else around here who does it anymore.”

Stateline sells basic, do-it-yourself glove repair kits and virtually most local players and coaches can keep a glove together under emergency conditions. Hill, however, has built up experience with even the most complicated lacing patterns, and has learned to walk the line between lacing a glove firmly, but not so tight that it’s hard to handle.

“You have to allow for the fact that the leather will stretch, but you don’t want it to be uncomfortable,’’ Hill said. “Sometimes people come in and just have me tighten up their gloves instead of repair them.”

Much like a mechanic who would rather tinker with a new Ferrari than a rusting AMC Pacer, Hill gets more excited when a finely crafted glove is brought through the door for work.

His favorite is Wilson’s A2000. A 2008 Esquire magazine article anointed it “the finest piece of sports equipment ever made by man” and the $200 model for sale on Stateline’s wall positively glows, its rich, handcrafted leather soft to the touch and giving off a savory smell.

At the other end of Hill’s spectrum are Spaulding gloves, or “the bane of my universe” as he calls them. Like many machine-made, mass-produced mitts, their lacing holes may not line up exactly, and the pattern itself can be problematic.

“It’s like no one really thought the glove through before they made it,’’ Hill said.

The projects that make him smile are when there’s an emotional component to the repair. For instance the time when a wife brought in her husband’s old glove and had it refurbished as an anniversary present.

Recently, a father had his aging, brown MacGregor mitt re-laced so he could play catch with his son. He chose bright blue laces, giving the vintage piece a decidedly modern flair.

When Hill’s not around, co-worker Jon Alves reluctantly steps into the breach.

“I dread when Bud goes on vacation,’’ Alves joked. “I’m not as quick, but I get it done — and the way it’s supposed to be done. We could slap it together and the customer probably wouldn’t even know, but we take pride in what we do.”

That means making sure the new lacing doesn’t just mimic the original pattern, but that it sits flat and tight as it snakes through and around the leather. Hill uses scissors to snip one lace end to a point, then screws a large, aluminum needle onto it and slicks each lace with glove oil before he gets to work.

“I have fun doing it,’’ Hill said. “Looking back at how many gloves have come back to life is rewarding.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at ctwykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.

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