World Baseball Classic players get artsy with custom cleats

AP Photo Custom cleats are shown March 1, in New York. Many players in this year’s World Baseball Classic—where Alex Katz is a pitcher on Israel’s team, will be wearing custom-designed cleats produced by his company Stadium Custom Kicks.

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

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

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

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

When Israel plays its Group D opener against Nicaragua at Miami on Sunday, Katz’s cleats will feature the Mensch on a Bench mascot of Israel’s team, the Western Wall, Haifa. The 28-year-old left-hander’s shoes even have multicolor reflective soles.

Others with the spiffy shoes include Daniel Bard of the U.S., Didi Gregorius and Jurickson Profar of the Netherlands, and Robinson Canó of the Dominican Republic. In all, 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 chastised 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 thing white on them was a little bit on the toe and the Nike swoosh. And he said, `Hey Alex, like you have to Sharpie it out.’ So they were very strict.”

Peter Kurz, general manager of Israel’s national team, had reached out to Katz when the pitcher played for St. John’s from 2013-15, and Katz was part of Israel’s pitching staff during WBC qualifying in 2016. He used blue Nike spikes with some camouflage.

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

Through 2018, Major League Baseball’s collectively bargained shoe standards were more akin to a military dress code. At least 51% of a cleat’s exterior had to be the team’s designated primary shoe color and the rule mandated “color must be evenly distributed.” Teams determined the design and players were forced to wear shoes “compatible with their club’s design and color scheme.” The rule stated “excessive and distracting flaps and laces on shoes, particularly those on pitchers, are not permitted.”

Starting in 2019, players were permitted to wear any combination of black, gray, white along with uniform hues or any additional team-designated shades. A player’s initials were allowed for the first time, Color restrictions were lifted in 2020, and noncommercial writings, illustrations and messages were allowed as long as they didn’t include offensive language. Teams retained a right of approval and the shoes had to be from an approved supplier.

Sometimes players have been, well, tripped up by the rules.

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


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