TAMPA — Julius Pfau got the black Rawlings baseball glove three years ago, a gift from his aging grandfather on his sixth birthday.
Embroidered near the webbing was the flag of the Philippines, a nod to his grandfather Amador Esto's homeland.
Along the thumb, in crimson letters, read Julius' nickname, Pacman Pfau, because when he's on the field he eats the ball up.
"I was bouncing up and down," said Julius, now 9. "I couldn't wait to use it."
He remembers the first time he dipped the soft new leather into the dirt, snagged a ball in the glove's sweet spot.
"It was like magic," he said.
Soon after, Esto suffered a massive stroke, paralyzing the right side of his body. He moved to Virginia for round-the-clock care. Julius said goodbye more than once.
With his grandfather so far away, the glove became their tie.
Then on Nov. 15, a Sunday morning, the glove was gone.
Blake Pfau, Julius' father, walked outside the family's home on Knollwood Street in Seminole Heights and found the doors and trunk of his car all open. Julius' bright orange baseball bag was missing.
It contained nearly $1,000 worth of equipment: two bats, two hats, a helmet. But all Julius cared about was the glove.
So he pulled out a big blue marker and wrote on a white piece of paper "PLEASE HELP ME! Find My GLOVE."
On the side of the flier he penned the details.
"It was given to me by my grandfather who had a stroke," he wrote. "I pray every night for it to be returned to me."
He signed it: "From a 9 year old boy."
Then Julius tacked the posters on a couple of telephone poles near his home. He waited for the phone to ring. He checked the mailbox, just in case.
But nearly a month later, the glove is still at large.
The Pfaus filed a police report and learned someone had attempted to break into a different car that same night near their neighborhood. Tampa police checked at pawnshops but found no glove. Benevolent community members have called to offer money or donate new equipment.
"We're not looking for that," Blake Pfau said. "That's not what this story is about."
When Esto came to the United States 20 years ago, he could not read or write. He grew up so poor in the Philippines, he never had the chance to learn. He and his wife raised nine children before moving in with the Pfaus. Here, he spent 10 years washing dishes before he retired.
"He never had anything in his life," Blake Pfau said. "So for him to be able to give something to his grandchildren meant a lot."
They told Amador about the lost glove, but he can't speak much anymore. His health has declined. At times, he doesn't recognize his family when they visit.
When Julius wrote out his Christmas list this year and pinned it on the refrigerator, Pfau was surprised when he scanned his wishes. He asked if his son didn't want Santa to bring him a new glove.
"No, Dad," Julius said. "I'm going to find my glove."