When it comes to his glove, Martin Prado turns defensive.
Caked in layers of pine tar and sweat from years of use, the beloved glove worn by the Marlins’ third baseman looks like some relic one might pick up at a garage sale for 50 cents — certainly not an important piece of equipment worn by a Major Leaguer making $13 million.
Just don’t bad-mouth it. Don’t call it ugly or say it’s a mess.
“What do you mean mess?” Prado bristled. “That’s kind of offensive.”
Prado slips his left hand inside the glove, spreading it open palm side up and turning it side to side.
“Just look at it,” Prado said with adoration. “It’s a beauty.”
He calls it “Gamer.”
Prado and his glove have been an item for seven seasons. Teammates talk about the two, tease Prado about his unwavering attachment to a piece of cowhide. Most players go through a glove every few years. But Prado refuses to part company with his most prized possession.
“It’s nasty and it’s old,” said Marlins infielder Miguel Rojas. “Just look at it. It looks like a pancake soaked in maple syrup.”
But Prado would never think of disowning his glove based on age or looks. As far as he’s concerned, the two are inseparable. They’ve traveled the globe, going hand in hand to dozens of ballparks, scooping up ground balls, snaring line drives and catching most everything that comes their way.
They’re not perfect. No couple is.
But ditch his mitt over some error, some tiny little bobble? Never.
“If I miss a ball, they say it’s because my glove is too old,” Prado scoffed. “They’re always on me. They say, ‘Come on, man. You’re in the big leagues. Get a new glove.’ ”
It’s not like Prado can’t afford a new one. Besides, as part of his agreement with Wilson, the glove company sends him two new ones each and every season. He uses those for practice.
But he prefers his old one, an Evan Longoria model designed and measured for his hand, 11 3/4 inches from the heel to the tip of the glove’s index finger.
And so what if everyone else finds it an eyesore?
Prado is not exactly a neatnik. He gunks up his bats with pine tar, which eventually spreads to his helmet and glove. During games, you’ll notice a stripe of pine star on the right shoulder of his uniform, from where he lays his bat while at the plate.
“I’m a little messy,” Prado acknowledged. “But you know what? It makes me feel ready, and messy is sometimes good.”
Take last year in San Diego. Bottom of the 10th, a 2-2 score, and the Padres had runners at the corners with two outs, game on the line.
“And Erick Aybar hits a missile,” Prado said.
Prado dove to make the grab, but the ball hit the one tiny patch of leather inside his glove that doesn’t contain pine tar and started sliding out — until it hit a sticky area near the top of his webbing, that is, and moved no further.
A snow cone catch.
“We [ended] up winning the game in the 11th,” Prado said, smiling.
Prado’s baby is so darkened from use that the folks at Wilson called to inquire. They couldn’t make out the company logo when he was on the field. Was he breaking their agreement by using some other company’s glove?
“They thought I got a different glove,” Prado said. “They say, ‘Hey, we don’t see the Wilson logo.’ I said, ‘Well, I can see it.’ ”
But only if you look closely. The logo is barely distinguishable underneath all that staining.
It’s fair to say that Prado treasures his glove like few others. He still has the first glove he ever got when he was 5 and growing up in Venezuela.
“It’s not in good shape,” Prado said. “It’s not usable. It’s for my memories. I want to show it to my kids one day.”
Brittle bats are here today and gone tomorrow, as disposable as drinking straws. Baseballs are boxed by the dozen and hold no special appeal to him. But gloves are forever, Prado said.
He said he treats them as he would his wife, with tender loving care.
“You have to treat them the same, in good times and bad,” Prado said.
Prado said he even talks to “Gamer” from time to time.
“He talked to me the other day,” Prado said. “He said he wants to retire with me. He wants to stay with me and I’m going to give him a chance. We’re best friends.”