VAN NUYS, Calif.—When you walk into the headquarters of Easton Sports, the company's history as one of the dominant bat-makers in the business is unmistakable. Bats hang on the walls, with a collage commemorating college teams that have won national championships swinging Easton bats.
Easton, however, is more than just a maker of bats. After dipping its toe into glove-making, the company now has both feet in, with lofty goals for the future. And the key to that bright future is one man—one they call the Glove Cowboy.
Eric Walbridge, also known to some as Wally or Cowboy, strolls into the second floor office daily with a suitcase full of gloves. The glove collection is the first glimpse into his passion for the game. Walbridge pitched one season for Cal in 2013 before an injury ended his career.
"As my body started to fall part, after you stop playing and (you're) not quite in the same shape you used to be in, you can't do the things you used to do—you have to find some way to sty connected I think if you actually love the game and are passionate about it," Walbridge said. "I think of gloves as basically a metaphor for baseball in my eyes. They are the most sentimental thing you could possibly own in the sport. By collecting gloves, it's definitely my way of feeling like I'm still playing in a way."
Walbridge's love of gloves led to his next step—Easton's glove manager.
"This is a dream job," said Walbridge, whose title is category manager—ball gloves, helmets & accessories at Easton. "I'm getting paid to play baseball, basically. I get paid to play with gloves. I may as well be on the Yankees. I never would have guessed that I would have gone into this industry,"
Becoming The Glove Cowboy
"99.9 percent of the time I do," he said. "If I'm watching a game, even if I'm not watching a game. Even if I'm sitting down in traffic, it's all I do. I have a glove in my car. Every drive in and from work, that's when I'll put it on and start breaking it in because that is the only time I don't bother people. I do get some looks from time to time, but it's fine."
When you get a name like Glove Cowboy at just 26 years old, it means you love for leather began early. For Walbridge, it started in Little League.
"When I first started playing with travel ball, and Little League through Pony League before I got to high school—I was probably using one glove a year," he said.
He got his first glove when he was 10, he said.
"I would have gone through gloves more frequently if it wasn't on my parents' dime," Walbridge said. "Through high school, I had a outfield glove, a middle infield glove, a glove to play third and then a pitching glove. And of course I had my on-the-road pitching glove, which was different. I had my black glove for home games, a camel glove for away games. And then I had a first base glove and catcher's glove just in case I had to have it. That's probably where the obsession kicked in."
The glove collection went from a few to more than 50 at various times, with a few hundred gloves having been bought, sold and traded throughout the years.
"I'd say the biggest my collection has ever been at one time is probably 50 or 60 gloves," Walbridge said. "Something like that. Usually, if I sell one glove, I'll replace it like that. If I trade a glove, it's a one for one. It will get down to 30, it will get up to 60 and it will stay kind of in that realm. As far as gloves I've actually come through, I don't know—a couple hundred, 500 maybe. It's kind of slowed down now because I have a job now. It's harder to do the hobby, but luckily it's part of my job now too."
Fast-forward to 2014, and Walbridge's obsession for glove-collecting turned into a career, in part because of social media.
"I started the Instagram handle (instagram.com/glovecowboy) probably in 2014 or '15. . . . I've been collecting gloves, trying to buy gloves and trade gloves before that but I didn't have it really centralized. I kind of was really all over the place looking on the Internet, trying to meet people and buy gloves off of people. It wasn't until I saw an account that was also positing on eBay that I realized that Instagram was a legitimate source for collectors, not only finding gloves, but also positing that you have them to buy or for trade,"
Walbridge's Instagram account now has more than 16,000 followers and growing, and it's been a resource.
"For me, working in the industry, I feel like if I have a question, or if I don't know something or if I want to find something out, I can reach out to all of these people . . . that have been around gloves for 40 years or 30 years, longer than I have been alive. That is one of the best resources for me. If I want an opinion on something, I can get it very quickly from people who are very intelligent about the subject. That's how it's kind of connected me."
The question Walbridge gets most often is the meaning behind "Glove Cowboy."
"I think the Glove Cowboy is anybody who is passionate about anything really," he said. "Apart from gloves, apart from baseball, anybody who gets fired up about a product to me is a cowboy."
That passion and energy has given Walbridge an opportunity to make his mark.
Fits Like A Glove
Walbridge's road into the profession led him to Easton, and it's a natural fit. While at Cal, the program had a contract with Easton, providing four years of breaking in gloves and dissecting the product.
"Using Easton in college, I was able to sort of critique the glove even before I was working for the brand," he said. "I got the chance to see what I thought to be the pros and cons of the glove. I think even before I was working, I was developing patters for Easton in my mind. . . . It was a quick transition to take it over because I was kind of already doing before I was asked to do it."
Walbridge started as an intern and just completed his first year in July. Soon, the first product line he's overseen will hit the market.
"The first line that I sort of became a part of was the Legacy Elite," he said. "It's a high-end glove line. Easton's been a bat-focused company not only from the consumer side, but from the product side as well. So I really liked the challenge of creating a product that were really not known for, so I can show people out there that it's now a legitimate contender in your decision to buy your next glove. That was the first step we tried to achieve was getting us in the conversation then the product will speak for itself."
The product is the first step of a list of goals for Walbridge.
"I think my goal, just from my own competitive nature, is I want to be THE glove company," he said. "I want to do what Easton did in bats, but in gloves. . . . . But my personal goal is to make a product that I can go to a high school game, or a Little League game, a college game and I can see guys making diving plays with a glove that I helped develop. I think that to me is the coolest thing. I want to see a guy on SportsCenter make a Top 10 play with a glove that I helped develop with the team here."
Easton has already made strides in that direction, having signed more than 100 minor league players in the past year and having the Florida Gators wear Easton while winning the College World Series.
With The Glove Cowboy leading the charge, Easton has a chance to make its big play in the glove market.