If you’re a longtime Uni Watch reader, you may recognize Jimmy Lonetti’s name. He contributes to the Ticker from time to time, plus he’s periodically appeared on the site because he’s the “J” in D&J Glove Repair, a father-and-son operation that he’s been running with his son, Dom, for over a decade now. Jimmy even guest-authored a Uni Watch post about how to re-lace a baseball glove way back in 2013.
In addition to being a skilled leatherworker, Jimmy has also put some uni-related flair into the D&J project, cranking out fun stuff like a D&J bobblehead and a clever Replacements-themed T-shirt design. At one point he and Dom even had matching jerseys with chain-stitched embroidery:
Jimmy has done all of this as a side project out of his garage, so I was surprised when he told me that he recently rented a storefront in Minneapolis, where he lives. When I heard that, I figured it was time to interview Jimmy about how D&J has grown and evolved over the years. Here’s a transcript of a recent Zoom call we had, edited for length and clarity.
Uni Watch: Let’s start with some basic info about you. How old are you, where do you live, and what do you do for a living when you’re not repairing baseball gloves?
Jimmy Lonetti: I’m 58 and I live in South Minneapolis. One reason I took the leap to opening the storefront is because I’m pretty close to retirement from my main job, which is working for the United States Postal Service as a letter carrier.
UW: Really? My brother is a retired letter carrier.
JL: We could do a whole talk on that, because I’m kind of quirky when it comes to my uniforms for the Postal Service. I’m the guy who finds the old patches on eBay, so I take the new patch off my shirt and put on the old one. Everything I have is vintage-looking.
UW: Wait — you’re saying you basically create a throwback Postal Service uniform for yourself?
UW: Are you even allowed to do that?
JL: Technically not. But no one’s gonna make a fuss about it. The Postal Service has bigger things to worry about.
UW: Wow — I think we may have to do a separate interview about that! But for today, let’s talk about gloves: How and when did you first get into baseball gloves? Is this an obsession that goes back to your childhood, or is it more recent?
JL: You know, I’ve always appreciated baseball gloves. I still have my original one from when I was a kid — my son used it on the playground when he was growing up. But once my son got to Little League age, around 2010, we started seeing kind of a need for just basic repairs among some of the kids. So just on a whim, a friend of mine at an advertising agency created a logo for us, and then an eighth grader I connected with through a dad built us our first website, and it’s just kind of gone from there.
UW: So you started doing this for your son’s fellow Little Leaguers. Did you think it would still be going a dozen years later?
JL: Not really, I just thought it would just be a little fun thing for me and my son to have between us.
UW: What was it like to have that first experience of taking a glove apart? I know it’s pretty intricate work and I can imagine someone doing it for the first time and feeling like, “Uh-oh, what did I get myself into here?”
JL: I wanted to make sure I was doing it right. I see lots of repairs where the glove is functional but whoever repaired it just tied things together and made it work, My goal is always to re-lace the glove to its original specifications. So in order to do that, at the beginning, you pull out the lace and then follow it with the new lace as you go. If you pull out every lace and just have a pile of leather sitting there, you’re not going to know what to do.
UW: Did you figure that out right from the start? Or did you have to go through some trial and error? Like, did you buy an older glove to practice on?
JL: That method kind of made sense to me from the start. And then once you get familiar with the patterns, then you can pretty much just snip every lace, pull it out, and re-lace it.
Another thing: The leather lace has a smooth-finish side and then a rough underside. And you always want to keep that smooth side facing out so it’s visible. Sometimes I’ll see other guys re-lacing gloves, and they don’t care whether the smooth or rough side is facing up. But to make it right, I want that smooth side facing up, or else it’s gonna look kind of crappy.
UW: How many gloves would you say you’ve repaired over the years?
JL: Hmmm, I’m not sure. Let me do some quick math…
UW: You don’t have a record of each one, like on a spreadsheet or something?
JL: You know, that’s something I’ve been contemplating, because I do keep really detailed records for credits and debits. But for the total number of gloves, I’d say at least 5,000.
UW [incredulous]: Five thousand? Where are all those gloves coming from?
JL It’s mainly local. My area of focus changes along with the level of play that my son is at. So first it was all Little Leaguers, and I still maintain some of those Little League contacts. Then I was getting all the high school dads and the high school players. Then my son went to college here in Minnesota, so I was focusing on his conference and connecting with coaches in that conference.
Now he plays amateur ball in Minnesota — town ball is kind of a big deal in Minnesota — so I’ve really made a big push into town ball. I’ll set up my table at the state tournament and visit ballparks, so I really got my name out there among the town ball community, which has really helped me.
UW: Are there certain glove models that you especially love to work on, or especially hate to work on?
JL: I love working on the Wilson A2000 from the 1970s, which was made in the USA. They had the split-hinge web. Their leather responds very well to the conditioning process, and they can look great again. So those are always nice ones to work on.
UW: What about one that you don’t like working on?
JL: There’s a girls’ fast pitch catcher’s mitt — I think it’s by Akadema — and that web pattern is just a pain in the butt. Sometimes they just want the laces tightened, and it’s like impossible to tighten. So most of the time, I end up just having to replace the whole thing. So yeah, those mitts aren’t my favorite. In general, girls’ fast pitch mitts tend to be the toughest, because they have these elaborate lacing patterns due to the way those pitches come into the glove.
UW: You mentioned a minute ago about how the leather in certain gloves responds really well to reconditioning. What does reconditioning entail?
JL: I’ll spend a good amount of time just working a conditioner into the leather, inside and outside, between the fingers, everywhere.
UW: And what is the conditioner?
JL: I use this stuff called Pecard. It’s like a paste. There’s a lot of other things I’ve tried, but this is the best stuff. You don’t want to use liquids or oils, because that stuff will soak in, soak through the leather and get into the padding. If you’ve ever felt a glove that’s all heavy and floppy, that’s because it was over-oiled and the oil got into the felt padding. Once that happens, you’re kind of screwed.
There’s all kinds of weird break-in methods for gloves, like the shaving cream thing, which is kind of a myth. Lanolin is good for leather, and yeah, some shaving creams have lanolin in them, but they’re such small amounts of lanolin that it doesn’t really matter. Basically all you’re doing with shaving cream — or saddle soap or lots of other things — is you’re clogging the pores of the leather. And that’s not good.
There are guys who swear by neatsfoot oil, because librarians used to apply that stuff to leather bindings, to keep them soft. But over time, they discovered that the leather got hard and cracked, because there’s something in neatsfoot oil that causes the fibers in the leather to crosslink. Sometimes you see an older glove that’s hard and shiny, and that’s probably because neatsfoot oil was applied.
So I’ve learned a lot of that stuff over the years. Also, my grandfather was a shoe repairman, and I visited his shop when I was a kid every Saturday. So I might have picked some stuff up by, you know, osmosis.
UW: At one point you were making wallets and other items from old gloves, right?
JL: Yeah. But it got to the point where I just started feeling really bad about cutting up perfectly good gloves, so I stopped. Like, “I could cut this glove up, have a wallet made, maybe make X amount, or I could clean it up and sell it to some kid and maybe make the same amount or a little more.” Then at least the glove is still a glove and somebody can still play baseball with it.
UW: Ah, so you have sort of a secondary market of used gloves or restored gloves. Where do those gloves come from?
JL: I’ve connected with a few local guys through Twitter who are really big in the estate sale, garage sale, thrift store game. So every once in a while I’ll just get a message from one of them: “Hey, Jimmy, I got a whole box of used gloves. You want to take a look?” So that works out well.
UW: How did you decide to move from a home operation to a retail storefront?
JL: I always kind of had this in mind as a retirement job, even though I’m still a couple of years away. And I’ve driven by this little storefront for years since I’ve lived in the neighborhood. It’s maybe 11 feet wide and goes back almost 40 feet — perfect size, perfect location. So I stopped in one day, because there’s a lady who runs a salon next door. She never advertises the space for rent, and it took a couple of visits, but she eventually said, “You know, I feel comfortable with you, I think we’re going to do this.” And it’s worked out great.
UW: What are your hours?
JL: On days when I’m delivering mail, usually about 3:30 to 6:00. I’ll just come here after my route with a change of clothes and open things up. And there’s always something to do, even if I don’t have any pressing jobs to get done. And then I’m usually here most of the day on my day off.
Everything I need is here — the sewing machine, everything. I moved everything out of the garage, so the wife has plenty of room for a car now.
UW: When you do retire from the post office, do you anticipate doing this full-time?
JL: Yeah. I’ve done the whole due diligence thing with my financial guy, and we’ve plotted out how this can work until I’m at least 80.
JL: At our grand opening, the Twins were nice enough to send an old retired player down, and also their curator, Clyde Doepner. He’s like one of the few official curators in MLB, and he was also my high school social studies teacher. One of my dream jobs, in addition to doing the gloves when I retired, is to be a tour guide at Target Field, so I mentioned that to Clyde he said, “Oh, that can happen. Don’t worry about that.”
UW: Sounds like everything’s falling into place for you. But what about Dom, your son? What does he think of all this?
JL: He’s done with college now and has a full-time job. But sometimes he just comes over and I’ll say, “Well, I’ve got these two gloves — do you want to make a quick 150 bucks, you know, knock these out?” So he can have a little bit of walking-around money that way, and I can turn some gloves around quicker.
UW: You mentioned your wife earlier — what does she think of all this, aside from having more room in the garage now? Like, is she surprised that this little side project has kept going and evolved and grown?
JL: I don’t think she’s surprised. One of the biggest compliments she’s ever given me is, “You’re really good at Twitter.” And yeah, I think I’ve cultivated kind of a persona on Twitter, “the glove guy.” There may be guys who are better with gloves than I am, but they’re not out there promoting themselves and getting their name out there.
Paul here. Was that great or what? And yes, we will definitely do a follow-up post about Jimmy’s Postal Service throwback attire — stay tuned for that in the near future.