The Bay Bridge rivalry preseason series between the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants is under way. And in a year when both teams will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1989 World Series in which they met, fans may be expected to indulge in a greater-than-usual amount of smack-talking.
But there are also things the teams and their followers have in common, and one of them is an increasing amount of imaginative fan-designed T-shirts and other merchandise.
Years ago, your choices for fan apparel providers were the team store, or a guy on the street corner or BART bridge selling badly-printed knockoffs of the team store’s designs.
More recently, independent companies like Adapt Clothing (for the Giants) and Oaklandish (for the A’s) have expanded the spectrum. And now fans are becoming entrepreneurs, thanks to new technology that’s made it easy to work up a design on your computer, market it to other fans on social media, and outsource the printing and shipping to a company like Spreadshirt or Red Bubble.
I talked with several baseball-fans-turned-entrepreneurs for this story, but I know I’ve only scratched the surface, so please share your own favorites in the comments.
Mike Perillo doesn’t use one of the third-party companies for his A’s-related shirts at WeDoTheLean.com. That’s because he has an apparel printing business in Contra Costa County, so he does the work in-house. Nevertheless, he says the new print-on-demand system has revolutionized the industry.
“None of our shirts are printed until they’re ordered, which makes it quite economical. It’s made it possible for someone who had a design idea, but didn’t want to spend two or three hundred dollars on the setup, and then end up with a garage full of the wrong size shirts.”
Perillo started making A’s gear two years ago – when fans started doing a dance called the Bernie Lean to Oakland outfielder Coco Crisp’s walk-up music “Moving Like Bernie”. One of his most popular designs has a simple silhouette of a leaning figure with no text. But sales are not what it’s about for Purilo.
“I’m more about, if I see somebody wearing one of our shirts, it makes me happy. I want to go up and say hi, and talk about the A’s with them. It’s really an independent culture type of thing. We want to support the team, but we want to do it in an individual way. And it’s not either-or; I’ve got some of our shirts in my closet, I’ve got A’s jerseys and shirts that I bought at the team store, it’s mix and match.”
Designer Curtis Calhoun recently teamed up with Perillo to produce shirts from his brand Visualingo. “I saw a few other fans doing it, I’m a graphic designer by trade and I thought I could come up with some cool ideas.”
One of Calhoun’s favorites is a tribute to the 1989 World Series, playing on the Bay Bridge rivalry from an A’s fan’s point of view: “I’ve Got ’89 Problems, But SF Ain’t One.”
“It’s based off the Jay-Z song “99 Problems” of course, but I put in “SF” instead of a word I wouldn’t use on the radio. It came out in February, which is a month when people are not necessarily thinking about baseball, so I had no expectations about it, but it’s been my biggest seller yet.”
Another A’s fan, Jamey Van Dyke, started his Perfect Game Gear just a few months ago. Many of his shirts are tributes to a particular A’s player, such as his tribute to infielder Eric Sogard, one of the few major leaguers to wear glasses on the field.
“My shirt for Sogard was the first one that really took off. It’s a simple design, a baseball with gold seams and glasses on the front of it. It happened that I got it done at the exact same time as the “Face of MLB” thing started, and our fans showed how creative they are and carried him through that whole competition.”
For me, the enjoyment is seeing people happy when they get a shirt, but especially the players themselves. I went to spring training with, I think, 11 shirts which I gave to the players and their families. For (relief pitcher) Sean Doolittle I did one called “Headbangers’ Ball” from the old MTV show that played nothing but heavy metal music. I know that Doolittle’s into metal, so I did the metal hand sign with the hand in front of a baseball.”
Scott Lowrie is a cartographer and owner of Griffin Map Design in Petaluma. So it’s no surprise that the shirts he designed to honor the San Francisco Giants (and another design for the 49ers) involve geographical representations. “I was playing with ideas, and the concept of “It’s a Giant World” just stuck out in my head.”
Although Lowrie plans to sell his shirts alongside antique and reproduction maps when he opens a gallery and storefront in Petaluma this summer, it isn’t part of his business plan. “There isn’t really any money in it, when you take into consideration the time I spent working on it. I enjoy seeing people wear them more than anything.”
Sarah Wiener is a third-generation Giants fan and freelance illustrator who sells her shirts through Redbubble. A few years ago she was stuck for ideas for her design classes at the Academy of Art.
“It happened to be right about the time when (Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper) had bestowed the Baby Giraffe nickname on Brandon Belt. I already had a lot of Giants fan friends on Twitter, and I thought you know, there’s a good graphic in there. I thought I could make a good meme, and my friends could pass it around and we could all have a good laugh.”
She put it up on Redbubble and sold ten shirts in the first day. “I realized I had lucked into a career of sorts.”
Wiener thinks the playful nature of the T-shirt boom reflects the sensibilities of the Bay Area teams. “Both the Giants and the A’s have organizations that are mindful and respectful of traditions and legends, and the more serious parts of the game. But they also recognize that it’s a game. It’s fun. And the most important thing you can do with your brand, if you’re the Giants or the A’s, is to make sure your fans are having fun with you.”