PHOENIX — The first money Aaron Harang made in baseball came not from throwing pitches but from restitching gloves.
“My dad and I used to take out ads in the Little League program,” says Harang, who grew up in San Diego. “People would bring their gloves by and we’d fix them.”
He doesn’t have to do that any longer. Over the last seven years Harang has made more than $45 million as a pitcher with the Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres and Dodgers — and he’s owed at least $9 million more from the Dodgers, who signed the right-hander to a two-year, free-agent contract 16 months ago.
Yet there was Harang, hunched in front of his corner locker in the Dodgers’ clubhouse Wednesday morning, relacing a glove for pitcher Ted Lilly. Last year he redid mitts for catchers A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz. And other teammates are constantly stopping by for repairs.
“His skills when it comes to that, they’re off the charts,” says Alex Torres, the Dodgers’ clubhouse attendant in charge of glove repair. “I just started picking it up the last year. [But] he’s really perfected it. I definitely learned some things from him.”
Harang keeps a glove-repair kit — a gift from glove-maker Wilson — in his locker, one that includes pliers, a hole punch and plenty of leather laces. He’s customized it over the years, discarding some items and adding others.
And speaking of customizing, that’s one of common reasons players bring him their gloves. Some want the color of the laces changed, some don’t like the way the glove fits. And even the most well-adjusted player can get a little eccentric over his glove, which many treat as a talisman.
Former All-Star shortstop Walt Weiss, for example, wouldn’t part with his college glove, using it for most of his 14-year big-league career. And former Angel Rene Gonzales, who played seven positions in 13 seasons, used to carry his glove in a Wonder Bread bag.
So when players come to Harang, they are usually asking him squeeze one more season out of a pound of leather that would be better off discarded. Lilly dropped off his worn mitt with Harang on Wednesday morning and had it back before the Dodgers had finished dressing for batting practice.
Torres said that job could have taken him three to four hours.
“He’s a good guy to have around,” Federowicz said of Harang.
When Federowicz was with the Boston Red Sox organization, he used to watch Jason Varitek completely remake his catcher’s mitt from the inside out.
“It would be like a new glove,” he said. “I want to learn to do it.”
But glove repair is becoming a lost art. Harang picked it up from his father and quickly proved to have an affinity for it. As a teenager, he could do simple relacing jobs in a matter of minutes. And in college his love for gloves earned him some extra spending money.
Harang’s mitt magic apparently stops when he leaves the clubhouse: Two years ago only Matt Garza, among National League pitchers, had more errors and a lower fielding percentage than Harang.