Although Liam Huddleston, 8, wrapped up his Mt. Pleasant Little League season only a few weeks ago, he is already anticipating next year when he will catch pop flies and grounders with a new glove made and fitted just for him.
Huddleston was born with a hand and arm deformity. While it’s never stopped him from going out for baseball — or anything else for that matter — it does make catching and throwing a baseball more challenging.
That’s why when MD Orthopaedics in Wayland learned about Huddleston, they got to work to create him a unique baseball glove — at no charge — to last for years to come.
“I bawled when they told me that (it was free),” said Bailey Starbuck, Huddleston’s mother. “I thought it was amazing.”
Starbuck said that although money isn’t an issue, the generosity of MD Orthopaedics to fit her son with a glove made just for him was a meaningful gift to her. She said she went into that initial consultation with skepticism.
“I didn’t want to get my hopes up, and I didn’t want to get his hopes up for them to be able to come up with something,” Starbuck said. “They started throwing out ideas I never would have thought of. I was excited.”
Huddleston wears a traditional glove on his left hand. When he catches a ball he has to take the glove off to throw the ball to his teammates with his left hand. That takes time and is an additional challenge of playing baseball Huddleston would like to have eliminated.
The reworked glove created by MD Orthopaedics will go on his right hand and will Velcro around his elbow for stability.
Marcus Powell, one of the engineers at MD Orthopaedics working with Huddleston to create the glove, said Huddleston is “a neat little dude.” He wants to make sure that when the project is finished, Huddleston walks away with a glove he feels confident playing baseball with.
While MD Orthopaedics is primarily a company that focuses on design, manufacture, assembly and distribution of Ponseti Method clubfoot products, every once in awhile engineers take on special cases like making Huddleston a glove.
The engineers began by talking with Huddleston and Starbuck about their ideas. The hard part is fitting a glove onto Huddleston’s right hand. He has 80 degrees of motion in his right arm to hold the glove open to catch a ball and pull it in tight.
“We listened to their ideas. We had some off-the-wall ideas ourselves, but we wanted to give them something they feel like they have some input in and take ownership of,” Powell said.
While Powell said MD Orthopaedics could have purchased the leather for the glove themselves and sewed it together, but making it from scratch would have been more costly than buying a glove off the shelf and reworking it.
So that’s what Powell did. He went to the store with a $60 glove in mind to buy, but when he got there and saw a nice, leather, $100 glove, he knew that was the one they needed to use for the project.
He called John Mitchell, founder of MD Orthopaedics, and got the go-ahead.
“Whatever it takes. Get it taken care of,” John said to Powell.
Powell and other engineers have been working with the glove, rethreading it and sewing it, using a leather sewing machine. They expect the glove to be finished in the next couple of weeks.
Powell said the leather glove should last for a long time, but it is the first design, so if it doesn’t work for Huddleston, they will go back to the drawing board to come up with a better idea.
Powell said that project’s like Huddleston’s glove are “neat” to be a part of, and he thinks it’s something he’s good at.
“It’s a gift the Lord has given me to do,” Powell said. “You have to see things backward. You see the end project and you have to get there.”
Joe Mitchell, whose father John Mitchell founded MD Orthopaedics in 2004, said that they are excited to do this project for Huddleston.
“That’s what the business is kind of built on, giving back to others,” Joe said. “This is nothing compared to what we do for kids every day around the world (with club feet).”
Huddleston, who has been playing baseball since he was five-years-old, said he is “getting good.”
His coaches work with him and his teammates, teaching them how to catch pop flies and grounders and throw the ball to each other. Next year, he will move from coach-pitch to kid-pitch Little League. He hopes to be on his brother’s team.
Huddleston is looking forward to getting his new glove and working with it until next Little League season to perfect his technique.
Starbuck said that the glove will help Huddleston play “more normal” and give him more independence while he’s playing.
“When I look at him, I don’t see a kid with a disability,” Starbuck said. “I think I’ve only told him once that he couldn’t do something (wrestling) because of his arms. We’ve always treated him as every other kid. He’s no different.”