World Baseball Classic players get artistic with custom slots

When Joc Pederson takes the field for Israel in the World Baseball Classic, he’ll be wearing shiny silver cleats with blue stars of David inside every Nike swoosh.

Edwin Díaz commissioned two different designs to wear for Puerto Rico: blue with a bronze trumpet in Adidas stripes and red with white and blue trumpets, a reference to the closer’s intro music.

The fancy footwear is the work of Stadium Custom Cleats, a company owned by Alex Katz, a pitcher for Israel at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and this year’s WBC.

“You can express yourself more,” Pederson said. “It’s pretty boring when it’s plain Jane shoes in black and white. I like to spice up my shoes a little bit, add a little extra shine.”

When Israel play their Group D opener against Nicaragua in Miami on Sunday, Katz’s nets will feature the Mensch on a mascot of Israel’s team bench, Western Wall, Haifa. The 28-year-old left-hander’s shoes even have colorful reflective soles.

Others in the sharp boots include Daniel Bard of the USA, Didi Gregorius and Jurickson Profar of the Netherlands and Robinson Canó of the Dominican Republic. In total, Katz’s company supplied 42 pairs of cleats to 36 players.

A 27th-round pick by the Chicago White Sox in the 2015 amateur draft, Katz came up with the idea in 2016 when he was at Class-A Kannapolis and was penalized by a minor league coordinator.

“The White Sox were kind of old school at the time,” Katz said. “I had black Nike cleats. The only white on them was a bit on the toe and the Nike swoosh. And he said, “Hey, Alex, like you’ve got to get over it Sharpie.” So they were very strict.

Peter Kurz, general manager of Israel’s national team, had contacted Katz when the pitcher played for St. John’s from 2013-15 and Katz was part of Israel’s match squad during the WBC qualifiers in 2016. He wore blue Nike spikes with some camouflage.

“They really didn’t get dirty from the qualifiers, so I used them again for the main tournament, cleaned them up a bit and just painted them. And the rest is history,” Katz said. “It wasn’t very big at the time. It was more popular in sneaker culture than shoe culture.”

By 2018, Major League Baseball’s collectively negotiated shoe standards looked more like a military dress code. At least 51% of the outer space of a grid had to be the team’s designated base shoe color and the rule stated “the color must be evenly distributed”. Teams set the design and players were forced to wear boots “consistent with their club’s design and color scheme”. The rule stated that “excessive and distracting flaps and laces on shoes, especially those on pitchers, are not allowed.”

As of 2019, players were allowed to wear any combination of black, grey, white along with uniform shades or any additional shades determined by the team. A player’s initials were allowed for the first time, color restrictions were lifted in 2020, and non-commercial writing, illustrations and messages were allowed as long as they did not contain offensive language. Teams retained endorsement rights and shoes had to be from an approved supplier.

Sometimes players have been misled by the rules.

Pitcher Trevor Bauer, then with Cincinnati, was threatened with discipline by MLB when he planned to wear “Free Joe Kelly” visors in 2020 after the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher was suspended for eight games. When Seattle’s Dee Strange-Gordon had “In-N-Out Burger” on his sites that same year, players were reminded that commercials were prohibited.

Katz started a company called KD Custom Kicks in 2017. He split with his partner in 2017 and started the new company in 2019. He has 43 people working for the company, including 30 artists, while trying to reach the big leagues as pitcher. Katz was with the Double-A Tennessee Smokies of the Chicago Cubs in 2021 and spent last season on Staten Island in the independent Atlantic League.

His company charges $300 to $600 per pair, with the biggest costs being shipping and laces. A player works with a designer and the shoe model the player chooses is sent to one of the artists. They use Jacquard Airbrush Color, which is available in 57 colors and can be mixed to create even more.

Andrew Uriata, a 22-year-old from Seattle who is a student at the University of Washington, reached out to the Mariners on Instagram offering design work when MLB held “Players Weekend” events from 2017-19, allowing for one-off shots. He works for Katz’s company and averages 5 to 10 hours per pair — it took 16 for the pair Mariners outfielder Jared Kelenic wore for his 2021 big league debut.

Uriata’s favorite was a pair he painted for Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom in September 2020 that included the No. 41 of Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, who had died the previous month. The screens, designed by Ari Solomon, were later auctioned off for $8,010 by and the money was donated to charity.

“A lot of our grills are special event grills,” Uriata said. “It can just be worn on Mother’s Day or Jackie Robinson Day.”

Katz said the company produced nearly 3,000 pairs last year.

“For me the best ideas are things that come naturally, that appear by chance,” he said.


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