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Wilson's Glove Guru: Shigeaki Aso


“I just cannot do…any other thing.” - Shigeaki Aso


It is a fantastic thing when someone to find their passion in life. However, it seems like so many of us either never get the opportunity to pursue our passion in a meaningful way -OR- we don’t recognize/have the courage to go after it when a chance presents itself.

Even if they don’t know it, the baseball glove community is grateful that Shigeaki Aso found and pursued his passion.

Shigeaki Aso is often referred to just as “Aso” and he is the Ball Glove Master Craftsman at Wilson. And in a glove market today where the term “glove guru” is tossed around rather lightly…one could say that Aso is the OG of the glove gurus.

We see Aso as the baseball-famous Glove Guru that he is today and it can become easy for us to only think of his high profile among ballplayers and glove connoisseurs. When we do that though, we rob ourselves of understanding the journey he took to get to where he is today!

Please keep reading this post to get the details of how Aso ascended to where he is today within the baseball glove world!

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Aso’s Origins

Given his current-day acumen for designing, breaking-in and repairing gloves, one might think that Shigeaki Aso must’ve been obsessed with baseball while growing up. Oddly enough, his interest in the sport seemed to be relatively mild as a child in Japan during the mid-20th century. Dick’s Sporting Goods conducted an interview with Aso where he mentioned that he first began playing baseball at the age of 14. By American standards, that is an older age at which to begin formal participation in the sport. He played catcher and has even admitted to not being a very strong player overall. 

With the information available on his exposure to baseball as a youth, it would seem really peculiar to us here in the States that Aso would end up on a path toward becoming an expert in the art of all things baseball gloves.

Aso And Zach Plesac[A young Aso may have been surprised to know he'd
work side-by-side with big leaguers like Zach Plesac]

Nonetheless, after completing high school in what would have been the 1960’s, he found himself working as a quality control worker in a factory in Japan that produced Wilson ball gloves. Wilson mentions on their site that during this time, he possessed an “unrivaled attention to detail” when it came to gloves.

His career then appeared to take a different path…he became a chauffeur for the president of his company. This ended up being a critical stretch of years in his life. Although he was taken away from the frontline of glove manufacturing, he used his downtime to teach himself English (which was about to come in handy). What looked like a move away from his passion ended up being a savvy move as he leveraged his contacts made from chauffeuring and a recently-attained Economics degree (earned by attending night school) to land a job in his company’s hides division…back on the frontline of glove development.


Off To America…Back To Designing…Then A Masterstroke

Eventually the company under which Aso worked in Japan was officially absorbed by Wilson Sporting Goods in the United States.

Aso found himself on his way to visit the United States for Spring Training…only to be disappointed. He found that the gloves being sent to America were less than satisfactory when compared to what was being used in Japan.

Upon his arrival back in Japan from his first Spring Training, he asked for permission to design the gloves going to America in a different manner. And he was given approval.

This was the mid-1980s and infield gloves in the US were bulky. Specifically, the Wilson website notes that the pinky stall and thumb stall on these American gloves were really long. This design was especially not conducive to players at second base or shortstop trying to make quick transfers or glove flips around the second base bag.

Looking to cure the ailment of the American infield glove, Aso delivered what could be considered his masterstroke: Wilson’s 1786 glove pattern. This 11.5 inch pattern glove with the Wilson H-Web and relatively shallow pocket depth quickly became a quintessential infielder glove. It met all the requirements for a middle infielder, but you could even take it over to defend third base without missing a beat. And nearly 40 years after Aso created it…JustGloves still sells well over 10 different gloves built with the 1786 pattern on it!


The Aso Glove Break In

As Aso’s profile rose in the United States among the baseball community, so did his unique method of breaking in a player’s glove.

Until Aso arrived on the scene, the mainstream way of breaking in a glove probably looked like a scene straight out of The Natural. You had a dad and a kid purchasing a glove together at the local brick and mortar sporting goods store. They took it home and worked some concoction into the leather that helped soften it. Then they took the glove out and “had a catch”. Finally, the son would've put a ball in the pocket of the glove and slept on on it to help form the pocket.

There’s nothing wrong with a break-in that could help build a familial bond. And as long as the glove is softened, lasts as long as you need it and helps you make plays…you can’t really mess up the process.

However, Aso’s method that he brought to the United States introduced three cerebral additions to the way we break in gloves…

  1. A Customized Approach - If Aso was going to be breaking in a glove for a specific player, he would meet with them and size up his hand to theirs. Next he would ask to examine their old glove so that he knew how they put the glove on their hand and then also how they would close the glove.
  2. Water Is Okay - His break-in method shattered the misconception that glove leather could not handle water. Granted…you never want your ball glove to sit in a rainstorm overnight. But if you add a controlled amount of hot water to a glove, the glove leather will become more malleable for the break-in and the leather won’t get ruined.
  3. Clear Cut Accomplish-ables - There are certain spots on every glove that require softening and Aso's method quickly worked in these areas. And since he knew how a player liked to close their glove (i.e. thumb-to-pinky | thumb-to-index | etc…), he knew the exact spots that needed the most attention during the break-in. This prevented him from doing what most would do and look at the glove saying “this entire thing needs broken in”. Aso knew the spots that needed the most attention and focused his work there.

His break-in has been captured on camera many times and you can view it below…

Aso’s Work Today

Fast forward to today...Aso has attended dozens of Spring Trainings, probably broken in thousands of gloves and had his famous break-in process videoed hundreds of times. One would think he'd be worn out during his seventh decade of life…but a passion remains.

In Wilson’s fantastic profile on Aso, Portrait of a Master Craftsman, they record Aso as he uses the following words to give an overview of his work: 

“Basically, I work with players…[they’re] kind of my teacher. 80 percent of my design is from players.”

He has been blessed with striking humility plus a clear understanding of self. He cites that his weakness in mastering English over the years may have been his greatest strength in regard to designing the best gloves possible:

“I’m not a very good English speaker – which is why I ask questions again and again to players. They explain very honestly what they want. If I spoke English better, would they explain things so well to me? But they make sure to explain everything well – because that means they’ll get a great glove.”

A man like Aso, who finds strength in weakness, must be more than just a glove designer.

It would be easy for one to simply think that Shigeaki Aso's passion is baseball gloves. But the more you listen to him talk about his work, you may wonder where his passion truly lies. He has said that when a player expresses satisfaction with his work, the “[player’s] smile is my smile”.

In this writer’s opinion, Aso’s passion is helping others. And the mode by which he does that is designing ball gloves.

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