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GOLD GLOVE CATCH IN SPORTING GOODS STORE MAN SNAGS MITTS THOUGHT FROM A-ROD, OTHERS.

Byline: RAMONA SHELBURNE

Staff Writer

Even now, Mark Webb has a hard time explaining how it all happened.

He's retraced his steps, gone over it a million times in his head, even sought spiritual counsel on whether there was a higher meaning to it all. But at the end of every thread, the same answer keeps popping up.

Maybe he was just really, really lucky.

Webb's story starts off inauspiciously, like any good fish tale.

Two Saturdays ago, the truck driver from Santa Clarita walked into Play It Again Sports, a sporting goods store in Northridge, to buy some socks.

While he was looking around in the baseball equipment section of the store, a tan glove at the end of the used-glove rack caught his eye.

He stared hard at it. The name had been stitched into the thumb in cursive letters: Alex Rodriguez.

No, it couldn't be. Could it?

Webb had played a decade of minor league baseball, so he knew a professional player's glove when he saw it. The leather is the best quality; it's perfectly broken in with glove oil. Sometimes there's extra padding in the pocket. And the player's name is always perfectly stitched into the leather along one of the fingers.

But what the heck was A-Rod's glove doing here?

Couldn't be. Nah.

So he went back to the sock rack, picked out a pair and headed toward the register.

He made it about 5feet and stopped. He just had to know. So he went back, took the tan glove off the rack and saw two little words that made his jaw drop: "Pro Preferred."

It was real.

Another glove caught his eye, a first baseman's mitt with the name "Jason Giambi" stitched into it. Then he found a pitcher's glove with the name "Steve Karsay" and a long, black infielder's glove with "A-Rod" along the thumb.

He looked around the store, feeling a little guilty even though he had done nothing wrong. As baseball collectibles go, this was the proverbial Picasso at a garage sale.

Each glove cost about $100 to $150. Webb was no expert, but he guessed each glove would be worth at least triple that to a collector.

"I said to the guy at the register: 'You just sold a small fortune in gloves. You really should call the owner and let him know,'" Webb said.

It turns out Webb was wrong. Each glove wasn't worth triple what he paid for it. The tan "Alex Rodriguez" glove alone is up to $2,800 on eBay and could go as high as $5,000 to $7,000 by the end of the auction Friday.

Gloves are gems

"They're definitely real," said Dennis Esken, one of the nation's leading glove authenticators, who examined photos of Webb's gloves. "He definitely found himself some gems."

There are two ways of spotting a fraudulent A-Rod glove.

The first is to look for a period after his name along the thumb. The retail model would have a period after his name; a real Rodriguez glove wouldn't.

The second is to look at the "g" in his name. A few years ago, Upper Deck and Rawlings gave away A-Rod gloves as prizes. Esken consulted on the project and suggested inverting the "g" to a "q" in the giveaway gloves so they couldn't be passed off as originals later.

Webb tracked down Esken and several other glove experts almost as soon as he got home with the gloves.

He called the New York Yankees to see if anything had been stolen from their clubhouse, checked with Rawlings, the glove maker, to see if there was any way the gloves could be fakes, posted messages on baseball collectors' forums for tips and to spread the word about his find in case the gloves had been stolen from a collector.

He even tracked down Rodriguez's personal merchandise dealer to see if the player had noticed some gloves missing.

"I called Alex and his representatives about it after Mark called me, and they never gave me any indication the gloves had been stolen," said Mario Monteleone, a Florida-based baseball memorabilia dealer who has worked with Rodriguez for about four years.

"I don't know how the gloves got out there, but Mark definitely found himself a small fortune. ... I'm glad he's the one who found them. He's definitely taken the high road with them, trying to make sure they weren't stolen, and being very professional about the whole thing."

Webb said his first priority is to make sure the gloves weren't stolen. If they were, he said he would only ask for the $500 he paid to Play It Again Sports for the gloves back.

So far, no one has come forward to say the gloves were stolen. Neither Esken nor Monteleone think they were because they would've heard about it.

How they got there

So now that the word is out, it has become almost as fun to speculate about how the gloves landed so far from their original home.

The store employee who originally bought the gloves said a man in his mid-30s came into the store April13 with six gloves, the four Webb ended up purchasing about two weeks later and two catcher's mitts.

Any time a customer brings in high-end equipment like this, Play It Again Sports asks for identification and prefers they pay with a check so it can be traced later on if the goods end up being fraudulent.

The man didn't have his ID, the employee said, but went home and came back with it a few minutes later. The man left with a check for a couple of hundred dollars.

"I could tell by the leather the gloves were really high-quality gloves, but it never even occurred to me they might be the real (major league gloves)," said the employee, who did not want to be identified.

A couple of days later, someone bought the two catcher's mitts. But the other four gloves stayed on the racks for about two weeks.

"Who knows, maybe if I didn't buy them, some dad would've bought them for his son and a little kid would be playing Little League with A-Rod's glove right now," Webb joked.

After Webb bought the gloves, the employees contacted the store owner, Steve Zabarsky, to let him know.

"It is what it is. Cie la vie," Zabarsky said. "I don't feel sick about it. I guess it was just his lucky day. I would've rather it been one of my employees' lucky day, but that's OK. He got lucky. Someone had to."

Esken and Monteleone think the whole thing is pretty funny. Each has theories about how the gloves got from the players to the used sporting

goods store in Northridge.

"A-Rod was going through a lot of gloves last year because he was struggling," Monteleone said. "He was probably switching them in and out a lot, trying to find which one fit his hand the best so if ever there was a time a glove could go missing and someone not notice, it was last year."

Mystery in mitts

Still, how does one explain the black glove and the Giambi and Karsay mitts?

In August, Rodriguez switched to the longer black glove, a Robin Ventura model that was special-ordered to fit Rodriguez's hand, because he had been making so many errors at third base.

Esken thinks the gloves came from spring training, when they would have been easier to nab.

There are three problems with that. One, Rodriguez didn't wear the tan glove in spring training. Two, Karsay pitched for the Oakland A's last season, then retired. And three, Giambi has used the same glove for 15 years, and it's not missing.

"The gloves are not property of the Yankees. The players own their own equipment, and they're free to do what they want with it," Yankees spokesman Ben Tuliebitz said. "As far as the Yankees are concerned, the equipment wasn't stolen."

Still, tracing the providence makes for fun speculation.

"Maybe someone took them or found them but then felt guilty or thought they'd get in trouble and wanted to get rid of them," Esken said. "Either that, or it was some kid who had no idea what he had."

Monteleone thinks the person who sold them to Play It Again Sports probably got them from someone else and didn't know how valuable they were.

"If they were given to someone by Alex, they'd probably have a personal attachment to them. So why sell them for $25?" Monteleone said. "And, if it was stolen, whoever did it would know they are a lot more valuable than $25. So I don't know. It could be anything. What I want to know is how the store didn't realize what it had."

To be fair, Play It Again doesn't deal in memorabilia, and the employees are not trained to recognize the difference between high-end equipment and collectors' items.

Zabarsky said he might have noticed, but he only saw the Karsay glove and didn't think it was worth much anyway.

"If I would've seen the A-Rods, I would've pulled them," he said.

"But what are you going to do? Some of the guys in the shop feel bad, like, 'I could've paid for my tuition if I bought that glove,' but that's life.

"That guy (Webb) scored. He got lucky. Good for him."

ramona.shelburne(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3607

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) "Who knows, maybe if I didn't buy them, some dad would've bought them for his son and a little kid would be playing Little League with A-Rod's glove right now," jokes Mark Webb, holding the collector's baseball gloves he discovered.

(2) These gloves are thought to have belonged to professional baseball players Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Steve Karsay, photographed at Mark Webb's Canyon Country home.

Alex Collins/Special to the Daily News
COPYRIGHT 2007 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 10, 2007
Words:1654
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