NOCONA, Texas — Baseball. A sport as American as it gets. There’s nothing like the smell of the grass on a mild spring evening. The constant rumble of thousands of conversations going on during each and every pitch. But all eyes turn to the field when the batter makes contact with the ball and for a few fleeting seconds, we all wonder if that little ball ends up on the grass on in a glove.
Those gloves are essential to a game featuring a small hard ball and some of the best in the world are built right here in Texas. Rob Storey runs the baseball business in Nocona, Texas that his great grandfather started as a leather goods manufacturer in 1926.
“During the heights of the Great Depression in the ‘30s we were selling wallets and purses and as my granddad used to say at the time, to sell a wallet in the Great Depression for a dollar, you had to put a dollar bill inside of it,” Rob said.
Rob’s grandfather decided to change up the game and get involved in the popular sport of baseball.
“Took them three or four years but in ’34 we made our first glove,” Rob said.
Spelled with a K instead of C, the gloves became synonymous with the small Texas towns despite the small difference in spelling. Apparently, the town’s name couldn’t be trademarked.
“80 years down the line we found out that is one of the five accepted spellings for Nokona in the Comanche Indian language,” Rob said.
Named after a Comanche chief who happened to be the father of Quanah Parker, Nokana gloves are handmade and happen to be the only gloves, in the entire world, made in America.
“We’re the only glove company left in the United States,” Rob said. “Most everything else is made in China, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines. It’s crazy but that’s the way it’s been for 40 something years.”
Rob and his 35 employees meticulously meld together 26 pieces of leather to make one incredible, fine smelling, all American product.
“When the leather comes in to us, it’s probably Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas beef but it’s tanned in either Milwaukee or Chicago,” Rob said. “When it comes to us it comes in what’s called a side so it’s either the right side or the left side of that steer. Out of a side we are going to be able to cut out about five ball gloves.”
It all starts with a initial piece of leather. Then a long process of stamping, stitching, and sewing each glove by hand goes down the line. Quality control during construction consists of one main man, Martin.
“Martin is more or less quality control and realistically this is a part where he has to make sure all the seams are just right and the stitching,” Rob said. “He is not always the most popular guy in the factory because sometimes he has to take stuff back and say, ‘You know you can do better.’”
After everything is laced up, the glove gets it’s final goodbye from Nokona. A good beating.
“You can do that up to 60 times to get the gloves worked in so it’s almost ready to go the day you pull it off the shelf,” Rob said.
And then it’s ready for the big time. Kokona gloves have played in big role in American history. Not just in the sport of baseball but also during World War II, when soldiers on different sides of the world got to have a piece of home with them.
“Uncle Sam came to use and from ’42 to ’45 we were contracted by the U.S. Army to make ball gloves for the infantry,” Rob said. “We’ve had people through the years telling us exactly how that got their mind off things, reminded them of home, and from Okinawa to Germany, finding gloves or having gloves given to them.”
Despite it’s all American linage and reputation, Nokona gloves aren’t the most used gloves in the game for one reason, they can’t afford to be.
“That is not something we can do. It’s just literally because we’re a smaller company it’s always been out of our reach,” Rob said. “Nowadays we probably have 12 to 15 people at the major league level but we consider them authentic players because they want to wear Nokona instead of just worrying about how much we’re going to pay them.”
Tyler Saladino is one of those exceptions but he’s continuing a tradition of playing an all American game with something made right here in Lone Star State.
“We produce close to 30,000 a year,” Rob said. “Out of six and a half million gloves that are sold annually in the United State we represent only that one percent or less so we’re very small compared to the bigger guys but we like to think we’re the best.”
These 35 Texans continue to work hard, keeping baseball America’s game while continuing a Texas tradition that’s always been a homerun.
“It makes me so proud that we’ve been able to hang on through the years, keep people employed in Nocona and carry on the legacy hear in Nocona,” Rob said. “It’s kind of what I live for.”