As planar fasciitis continues to affect Evan Longoria, the Rays are lucky that he was able to play through pain and return to their lineup on Tuesday. However, with Longoria stuck at designated hitter, a fundamental piece of his game has been missing: his sparkling defense at third base. With smooth actions, quick reflexes, and a rocket for an arm, you only have to see Longoria for one game defensively for it to become evident why he has won two Gold Gloves and is primed to win more in his future. But much like the team with whom he hopes to spend the rest of his career, Longoria isn’t satisfied with his natural defensive ability alone. To help him succeed, Longoria constructed his own special glove that makes his defensive talents stand out just a little bit more.
According to Baseball Express, the classic infielder’s glove features an open web, allowing dirt to move through the glove when fielding a groundball, and a smaller pocket than other gloves to make it easier to take the ball out and release it more quickly. For a third baseman, the pocket is a little bit deeper than for a middle infielder, giving him a better chance to hold onto the harder line drives they get because he stands closer to the batter (especially when he’s in anticipating a bunt). Here’s a view of the inside and outside of a typical third baseman’s glove, in this case Adrian Beltre‘s Rawlings glove with a Pro I web.
Evan Longoria, though, has never been your typical third baseman, and that holds true for his mitt as well. Longoria’s glove is orange-tan, not a color that his supplier, Wilson, usually makes, but the coloring is only the most obvious difference. Here’s Longoria’s Wilson EL3 glove.
Third basemen’s mitts can be deeper than those of shortstops and second basemen because their great arm strength usually gives them plenty of time to throw. Longoria’s glove, though, features an even deeper pocket than other third basemen’s mitts. Why does he do that? Your knee-jerk reaction has to be that maybe his great hands allow him to transfer the ball from his glove to his hand faster than other third basemen, so he’s best off snagging a few more hard-hit balls and letting his hands make up for any time he loses taking the ball out of his mitt because the glove is deeper. But what Longoria does is actually much more creative than that.
What makes Longoria’s glove unique is its webbing, which is known as Cross Web. Comparing Longoria’s glove to Beltre’s, the we can see that Beltre’s model features a space between the space for the thumb and the piece of leather running vertically on the left side of the picture of the right. Longoria’s meanwhile, features that extra piece of leather right next to his thumb. That allows him to maneuver it a little bit more and make up for the deeper pocket by pushing the ball out and facilitating the process of transferring the ball to his right-hand. Looking at these two videos of similar plays, it seems like Longoria transfers the ball a tick faster than Beltre not just because he has great hands but because he’s reaching into his glove slightly less less even though his glove is deeper (and yes, I looked at multiple videos to make sure it’s not a one-time blip). Evan Longoria and Adrian Beltre are both outstanding third baseman and may very well be the frontrunners for this year’s AL Gold Glove at third base. But Longoria’s glove may be what puts him ahead.
If Longoria’s glove makes him better, why doesn’t every third baseman have a glove like his? The answer is that so much of choosing a glove is based on comfort and habit and it’s very tough to suddenly switch the style of glove that you use in the middle of your career after using the same one for your entire life. Longoria just found something he’s comfortable with and has found a way to use it to his advantage, and other players try do the same with their gloves. We know that Evan Longoria and the Rays do everything they can to get even the slightest edge. For Longoria, his glove is just the latest example of that. And with Longoria the face of the franchise, you have to wonder if maybe the next revolution the Rays start revolves around gloves.