Anyone who brings a baseball glove to The Mittmender for repair knows Dan and Linda Bouska don’t stand on formality. Customers have to traipse through Linda’s beauty salon—attached to the north side of the couple’s home on 60th Street near Center—to find the basement stairs that lead to Dan, aka The Mittmender, and his workshop. Linda’s loyal hair clients never bat an eyelash at the extra traffic. After 33 years of witnessing this happy, overlapping mom-and-pop operation, they get the picture.
Down in Dan’s dungeon, gloves lie scattered on the floor and on his workbench, each tagged with a small piece of scrap paper. “It’s not the most organized system,” Dan admits, his head down as he threads new laces. “I had enough organization when I was a teacher. I haven’t lost a glove yet.”
Re-lacing comprises a majority of Dan’s work, but he deals with a variety of mitt maladies: shredded, torn, chewed, ripped, slashed, discolored, de-fingered, moldy, burned—even one soaked in motor oil. “That thing had to weigh at least 10 pounds,” Dan recalls. “It was one of the very few gloves I couldn’t save. The guy asked me, ‘What am I supposed to do with it?’ I said, ‘Light it on fire.’”
Wearing a white T-shirt that matches the color of his scruffy beard, Dan Bouska (pronounced BO-shkah) projects a demeanor as calm as Mariano Rivera on the mound in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and no outs. Nothing gets to him, whether working on one glove, an entire team’s gloves, or fielding an emergency call from the College World Series.
“I was at Lake Okoboji [Iowa] on vacation when the trainer for South Carolina called me and said they needed a catcher’s mitt fixed by game time against Oklahoma.”
Dan hopped in his car, reached Omaha in three hours, fixed the glove by 5 p.m., “and then I watched my glove on TV at 7. Pretty cool.”
A week later, the Gamecocks closed out the Rosenblatt Stadium era by winning the CWS championship. Dan’s payment of choice? A ball autographed by the 2010 team.
Another kind of reward happens every spring, when Dan watches a few major leaguers and remembers when they were skinny kids whose fathers brought their ripped gloves to The Mittmender—kids like Pat Venditte, the ambidextrous pitcher traded to Toronto in the offseason.
“I don’t do this job to get rich. I do it because I love it,” he explains after declining to reveal his prices. Suffice to say he doesn’t charge much above the cost of materials. Recently retired after 42 years as a sixth grade teacher in South Omaha, where he was born to parents of Bohemian descent, Dan began his self-taught sideline because he couldn’t bear to part with his old mitt. He reveres the game that connects fathers to sons and daughters and he understands why some customers ask him to keep a ball in their glove when he sets it down for the night.
“When a person brings me an old glove, I know how much they love it. And I love it that much, too, so I always do what they ask and they’re happy.” Who would guess the base path to happiness crosses a beauty salon floor?
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