Glove doctor mends leather, dreams

November 08, 1992|By Frank Lynch | Frank Lynch,Staff Writer

Harford County's newest doctor is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but there are some things you need to understand before seeking his services.

First, he doesn't make house calls. Second, he doesn't accept payment from insurance companies. Third, he doesn't treat humans or animals.

He works with cowhide, rawhide, sometimes kangaroo, and a little salve. He's the Glove Doctor and his name is Al Neville.

For fees ranging from $5 to $40, the former owner of the Bel Air Sporting Goods Store will repair and recondition old baseball gloves.

"It really isn't something new for me," the 62-year-old former professional baseball player said recently while bringing an old catcher's mitt back to life. "I've been doing this since my playing days. And, when I had the store, people would bring gloves to me all the time. Some I'd repair before the people left the store."

A new baseball or softball glove often can cost more than $100. That's a nice piece of change for an item that is often left behind at the park, soaked by the rain, baked by the sun, run over by the car or chewed by the dog. Unfortunately, few maintenance tips are available to the buyer.

"It's a rather simple process, but you've got to have the proper material and tools," Mr. Neville explained as he drew a 72-inch piece of rawhide through a series of grommets. "I learned [how to repair gloves] from a old clubhouse man in Samford, Fla., during my first season in the minors. Before I knew it, teammates were bringing me their gloves to repair while we were away on road trips."

To ensure that the craft continues for at least anothe generation, Mr. Neville has trained his youngest son, Joe. "He began doing his own glove when he was in high school and is now almost as good as the master," Mr. Neville laughed. "I guess you might call him my finest intern."

The former New York Giants farmhand says the material in today's gloves differs little from that in the ones he used 40 years ago. "Cowhide is cowhide," he said. "The difference, in my opinion, is in the tanning."

According to Mr. Neville, most gloves today are manufactured overseas and "the tanning process is not as good as the one used when all gloves were made in this country."

A trip to this doctor's office usually means that you will be entertained -- at no extra charge.

Because of his sense of humor, the 6-foot-4 former outfielder can, and will, make most youngsters feel at ease, and he can weave interesting baseball stories for the parents. During his five years in professional baseball, Mr. Neville was in the company of several greats of the game such as Carl Hubbell and Mel Ott.

His talent as an athlete was detected early by scouts from several major league organizations.

As a 15-year-old in 1945, he was taken to Boston for a workout with the Braves, where he got to meet pitchers Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain. "I was so nervous being on the same field with players I had only read about," he said. "Everyone treated me nicely."

By the time he reached his senior year at Mount Saint Joseph High School in West Baltimore, the three-sport athlete had received offers from the Washington Senators, Philadelphia Athletics, Brooklyn Dodgers, Detroit Tigers and New York Giants. He decided, however, to attend the University of Baltimore on an athletic scholarship.

"After my first semester, the Giants took me to Florida for a tryout," he said. "There were nearly 800 players at that camp. After several days, they made a substantial offer. I called home for advice and my father told me to do what I thought [was] best. I signed." Five years and several serious injuries later, he was released and returned home to begin a "new" career. "I was married and had three children," he said. "It was time to forget pro ball."

After working for the City of Baltimore and the Glenn L. Martin Co., he moved to Harford County and, in 1962, opened his sporting goods store. The store was located on Main Street in Bel Air until 1979, when he bought the old McMahon Bus Co. building on Archer Street.

"In the 28 years I was in business, I met many wonderful people," Mr. Neville recalled. "When I closed the store [in 1989], it was my desire just to retire."

But, Mr. Neville said, "I got anxious to get involved in something and, after looking into several opportunities, I decided to concentrate on repairing gloves . . . so."

So, if you have a glove or two needing repair, give the Glove Doctor a call or stop by for an office visit.

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