As a lifelong fan of baseball, there are certain things I just love. The sharp crack of a bat as it hits the ball and echoes across the stadium. The smell of ballpark hot dogs and peanuts. The feel of the stitching on the ball in my palm as it sits perfectly cupped in my hand. And the smell of fresh leather? Well, nothing compares.
So, on our recent visit to Sanger, Texas, it was imperative that we visit the Nokona factory just an hour away. The Nokona company is located in Nocona, Texas. And yes, they’re spelled differently.
The Nokona company has been around since 1926, initially manufacturing leather wallets and purses. They slowly entered the sports equipment manufacturing business, but it wasn’t until 8 years later that they actually made their first ball glove.
For many, the name Nokona doesn’t carry the same cache that companies like Louisville Slugger or Rawlings do, but they’ve certainly had their share of well-known endorsers – most notably fireballer Nolan Ryan.
Nolan Ryan’s first glove was a Nokona, and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.
While they spend decades focusing on football equipment, they manufacture gloves exclusively these days. Their gloves are lifetime guaranteed, highly sought after, and simply the best quality.
In fact, if your glove needs repairs, they request that you send it to the factory, and they do the repairs by hand. They’ll take it apart, fix whatever needs fixing and put it all back together. They even suggest you mark your glove somehow because Nokona is the ball glove brand most often stolen. It’s just that good.
Call us crazy, but we drove an hour to get there. Because baseball. When we arrived, the kids immediately saw the large Nokona sign out front and wanted to take a picture. We hadn’t even stepped foot in the building yet and they were already buzzing with excitement.
Upon entering the building, you’re immediately ensconced in the smell of leather. It’s magnificent. Oh, also there’s a wall of gloves and samples of the hides used to make Nokona’s mitts.
Each hide is softer than the next, and all of us enjoyed hanging around, running our fingers over the supple material.
I tried on some gloves, my wife perused the leather purses, and the kids hugged the giant carved bear in the lobby.
We had a wonderful tour guide who took us through the factory, showing us the history of Nokona, memorabilia, and the production process.
Each glove starts as a large hide and is studied carefully for imperfections in the leather. Then it’s stamped and stitched inside out. We watched how employees gracefully weaved the webbing and patiently fed the laces through the glove.
The glove is then turned inside out and lined with more leather. Each glove gets the American flag stitched into it, along with the Nokona logo. That’s because at Nokona, having a reputation of making high-quality goods is more than just business.
Once the entire glove is complete, the pocket is meticulously pounded with a rounded hammer and then looked over carefully by quality control. The company stands by the time-honored tradition of a system of manufacturing that works for them. And that system is making every single glove, from start to finish, by hand.
Time to Leave
We loitered for quite some time because I don’t think any of us really wanted to go. Of course, once we were done, I got a ball cap and a keychain, Sarah got a coaster, and the kids got keychains in the shape of Texas. Everything still smells like leather a month later, and it’s heavenly.
So if you want to see how the “last American ball glove” is made, take a moment out of your day and head to Nocona. There you can go station to station as you learn the ins and outs of how baseball gloves lovingly come into being.
You can see, smell, and touch. In the true spirit of America’s pastime.