Easton Small Batch Program Pushes Quality, Design
Easton’s glove guru Eric Walbridge—the Glove Cowboy—knows ball gloves. He has an extensive knowledge of patterns, designs and leathers. And as the leader of Easton’s glove program, he’s able to put that knowledge to use helping Easton enter the fray of the high-end glove market. But the company’s latest creation, small batch gloves, really accentuates that love of gloves and ability to experiment.
“We have not been in that high-end space very long and the small batch program was a way instead of just using the same glove patterns and materials and swapping out colors, we can take a chance on something new and different,” Walbridge said. “By keeping it small batch, we can take bigger risks and test the market on materials and patterns to showcase what we are capable of and get feedback.”
Launched in November, Easton has released a new model or two each month, selling the small batches either through strategic partners—right now they are working with Baseball Express and Softball Fans—or on their own small batch site.
The batches, made in the same factory as the mainline gloves, but in the custom shop that also handles the gloves for Easton’s pro players and top Division I colleges, has offered as few as 12 gloves or as many as 100 per batch. Along the way, Easton experiments with patterns and the finest materials.
Using leather from the Chicago Horween Leather Company tannery has offered the most unique twist for the small batch gloves. One of the few tanneries in the United States making ball glove leather, Rawlings once used Horween heavily but hasn’t for a while.
“I miss that era when Horween was predominantly used,” Walbridge says.
So, he reached out and made the Horween happen and, “people have responded overwhelmingly positive to it.”
The high-quality product offers nostalgia, but also a solid, stiff leather that goes against the current immediate gratification trend. Horween requires time to break in.
“People were starting to remember how great the process was and how sentimental it can be to break in something that starts like concrete and gets so molded to a player’s hand you can’t replicate it with any other leather,” Walbridge said. “It is amazing how it molds and how the leather is very responsive.”
Horween has played a crucial role in the small batch program, but has also made its way into MLB. When making a glove for Alex Bregman of the Astros, the top third baseman in the American League based on fielding percentage, Walbridge used a Japanese reserved leather—a thinner, tighter grain that plays light—but then put Horween on the palm liner for its ability to mold.
“It is something Trevor (Anderson, Easton product director) and I talked about, combining the best of these two materials to get the lightness and smooth finish of Japanese reserve and the really moldable and accommodating Horween palm," Walbridge said.
Anderson said they plan to continue the small batch program through 2018 and beyond, expanding the program to more accounts. Plus, now that Easton has started signing more MLB players, they want to offer the exact glove makeup the pros use—such as Bregman’s design—to those who want the same model. Small batch can make it happen.
In the immediate future, coming designs have Horween in harvest tan and caramel in differing infield and outfield options. Easton will also partner with West Coast Sporting Goods to create one glove in 12 different colorways, the same model, size and web, but with 12 different color options, showcasing another avenue possible with the small batch effort.
“Instead of one model each month and hoping people like the size, web and color, if you think of it more as a batch, you have the opportunity to release multiple colorways in the same model to extend the opportunity to many teams,” Walbridge said. “Releasing 12 colorways hits on every single player’s preference.”
For the Glove Cowboy, the Easton small batch program showcases the design range of the brand and highlights his ability to embrace materials, colors and glove design.
Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.