Baseball gloves are perhaps the most emotionally loaded Americana artifacts.
For players, that piece of equipment can carry mythic, even anthropomorphic power.
“I care for it as if it were my wife,” Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras recently said in the New York Times' "Precious Leather" feature. “It’s my baby. It’s the most precious thing I have in my locker.”
For everyone else, baseball gloves can serve as leathery time machines, transporting you back to nostalgic eras when ballplayers were superheroes and games of backyard catch with mom or dad made everything feel right in the world. (As an adult you're forced to stomach bummer truths like Kirby Puckett being a monster and dad joining Qanon.)
Jimmy Lonetti, proprietor of D&J Glove Repair, has heard countless glove stories.
“We do so many sentimental gloves," he says from inside his just-opened shop at 3742 Minnehaha Ave. "The lengths people go to save their glove, just for a piece of that memory or history...”
Lonetti remembers the customer whose house burned down, and the only item he was able to save was his beloved “water-logged, smoke-damaged” Wilson A2000 glove. And the customer whose soldier husband died fighting in Afghanistan; she wanted his glove restored so she could pass it on to their son. Other stories are less tear-jerky. Based on the high frequency of fang damage he encounters, Lonetti observes that dogs are the natural enemy to the baseball glove.
The glove-restoration ace didn't receive formal training. Lonetti began working the leather back in 2010, in part to help out his son's Highland Park little league team. He thinks some knowhow must've rubbed off while watching his Italian immigrant grandfather repair shoes on St. Paul's East Side. “On a whim, a friend in the ad industry made me a logo and an 8th grader built us a website," remembers Lonetti, who's semi-retired after working for the post office and in the beer industry.
D&J Glove Repair was born.
"I kinda outgrew my garage," Lonetti says of his brick 'n' mortar move. Gloves come in from all over the country by mail, but the number of locals plopping gloves into his alley dropbox got tough to explain to neighbors.
Pro-baseball teams employ their own equipment staffs, so Lonetti doesn't anticipate seeing any big-leaguers inside his Longfellow storefront. (By chance, he struck up a relationship with the Tampa Bay Rays equipment manager, who occasionally sends gloves from Florida.) Customers will notice loads of vintage Twins memorabilia on the shop walls, as well as posters of the Replacements and Daniel Johnston. The cash-register stool once cradled butts at the ol' Uptown Bar. "It's a good chance for me to surround myself with stuff I like," Lonetti says with a chuckle.
To finally address the Barry Bonds-esque asterisk in the headline of this story: Based on some online digging, Lonetti believes his business is the only dedicated baseball glove repair shop in the country. In the Rickey Henderson sense, let's just run with it.
This Saturday, from noon to 4 p.m., Lonetti is throwing a grand-opening bash featuring free hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jack, plus beer from Arbeiter Brewing, games of catch out front, and a raffle with prizes. Will longtime Twins curator Clyde Doepner make an appearance? You better believe it.
In the meantime, here's a lil photo tour of the shop, courtesy of my bush-leauge Motorola smartphone: