GRAFTON, N.D. (AP) — Steve Larson was told to pack lightly before he and three friends went on a canoeing trip in the Boundary Waters of northeastern Minnesota last summer. The trip could include as many as seven miles of carrying the canoes, and the terrain could be difficult, so only essential gear should be brought.
For Larson, the necessities of the trip included a baseball and two gloves.
"I'd been up there before," Larson said. "I knew we were roughing it. But I don't go anywhere without my baseball glove and a ball, so I smuggled them into my backpack.
"On the first night, when I pulled them out, the guys were asking, 'Why carry that? Remember necessities only.' But before you knew it, Mike Steinfeldt and his brother, Don, had the gloves, were playing catch and talking about the old days. All four of us wound up playing some catch on the trip."
Larson is 60 years old. When it comes to a game of catch, however, he's still a kid at heart. Now he's working to share the enjoyment he gets from a baseball and a glove with others. Larson has begun collecting used baseball gloves, which he plans to distribute to underprivileged children who can't afford baseball equipment.
Currently, more than 20 used gloves have been donated to Larson.
"It's not giving away gloves," Larson said. "It's giving away a game of catch to kids."
Larson's idea sprung from an experience last summer.
He was with a church group doing volunteer work in poverty-stricken Chimbote, Peru. Larson had taken approximately 100 baseball caps to give away to people on the trip. He also had along two gloves and a baseball. One night, while he and Father Tim Schroeder were playing catch, a few youngsters were watching with curious looks.
"We gave them the gloves and let them try it," Larson said. "They didn't even know which hand to put them on. The first throw by one of the kids hit the other one in the nose. But, after a few minutes, they were making diving catches and having so much fun. It was such a warm feeling for us."
The gloves were used ones Larson had bought for the trip. When he left Peru, the gloves were left behind for the children. On another recent trip to Florida, he gave away used gloves that he'd purchased to underprivileged children.
Larson, however, has tried unsuccessfully to find a few used gloves at second-hand stores. So he contacted Dave Hanson, a longtime baseball coach at St. Thomas High School, about where he possibly could find a few used gloves.
"I asked Dave where old gloves go to die," Larson said. "He didn't know, but he told me to ask his son, Mike (the athletic director at Grafton High School) about it. Mike has contact with a lot of coaches."
Larson e-mailed his request to Mike Hanson, explaining that he was looking for a few used gloves to give away to needy children. Unbeknownst to Larson, the Grafton AD forwarded the request to all his contacts.
Within a few days, Larson received a box of used gloves from a person in Bozeman, Mont. While Larson was doing a radio play-by-play broadcast of a high school baseball game, Midway High School athletic director Sheila Korynta delivered a bunch of second-hand gloves to Larson. Mitts have come from others, as well.
"I didn't know Mike had forwarded my e-mail," Larson said. "I'm glad he did. I'm surprised I've been getting all this response. I'd have been happy to have gotten just a few gloves."
The gloves are now piling up in the garage at Larson's Grafton home.
The first order of business will be to recondition some of them, as the leather has hardened. Larson plans to share the task of lubricating the mitts with leather oil with his father-in-law, Virgil Burger, a longtime baseball fanatic. After that, he doesn't have an exact plan for them.
Larson is considering another trip to Chimbote, and he'll load up suitcases with used gloves for that trip. He also plans to check with churches and social services in the area for children who could use the sports equipment.
"I'll find a place for them," Larson said. "This has all happened so suddenly. I have to make a better plan. But these gloves definitely will go to somebody needy.
"I'm not trying to be the pied piper of baseball gloves. I was hoping for two; I never expected this kind of response. Now that it has started, though, I'll take all the gloves I can get. None of them will get tossed. They'll have a home. If there are gloves out there, why not spread the joy."
For Larson, it is a labor of love.
He takes daily walks around Grafton. His glove and ball accompany him; Larson flips the ball skyward with an underhand motion and catches the ball as it descends while he walks — a pastime usually associated with youngsters.
"Some people see me doing that and think it's a little odd," Larson said. "But what more can you ask for than a ball and a glove on your hand."
Information from: Grand Forks Herald, http://www.grandforksherald.com