Uni Watch: Play ball!
Prepare for baseball season by reviewing the changes you'll see on the diamond
The CEO of Uni Watch Enterprises generally has little sympathy or patience for those who whine about winter. Like, duh, it's cold. And duh, it snows. Come on, people, it's winter -- it's supposed to be cold and snowy!
But this past winter was nastier than most, which means we could all do with some signs of spring, right? And look, here's one now: the 16th annual Uni Watch MLB season preview, in which we run down all the uniform and logo changes for the upcoming baseball season.
Technically speaking, the season is already underway, because the Dodgers and Diamondbacks played two games in Australia over the weekend. There were several uni-notable aspects to those games:
• Both teams wore commemorative cap patches for the occasion. But there were no sleeve patches -- surprising.
• The Dodgers were the road team for both games. But in the second game, they wore their home whites, and the D-backs wore white pants, a bizarre uniform matchup.
But although those two games Down Under count in the standings, they didn't have that Opening Day feel. So with the rest of the teams set to kick off their seasons on Sunday and Monday, here's our annual team-by-team rundown of all the uni- and logo-related news for the coming year (if a team isn't listed, it has no announced changes for 2014):
• The A's have changed several of their gold elements to white, beginning with their road cap logo. The color shift is also reflected on their green alternate jersey, which has gone from a gold script to a white "A's" logo. Look on the back of that jersey and you'll once again see that gold has been scrapped in favor of white. (As an aside, the A's are once again giving away their "Throwback Thursday" buttons this season, and this year's designs cover all portions of the franchise's history, going all the way back to Kansas City and Philadelphia. Very cool stuff.)
• The Astros wore their BP jersey, with its rainbow side piping, for 11 regular-season games last year. Now they've officially designated it as an alternate jersey (although they might want to rethink that, because they went 2-9 in those 11 games last season). Also: The 'Stros are another team that has started using custom-designed bat knob decals.
• The Braves have transformed their garish red alternate jersey into a "military appreciation" design, which will be worn five times this season (the dates are listed at the end of this page). They've also added a sleeve patch to mark the 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron's record-breaking 715th home run. In a more subtle development, the Braves are now using direct-sewn lettering, instead of nameplates, for the players' names on the backs of their jerseys -- a major improvement, even if most fans won't even notice it. Finally, it's worth noting that Jason Heyward is poised to join a very exclusive club: Last season he was beaned by a pitch and began wearing a facemask on his batting helmet, as many players have done after being beaned. The unusual thing is that Heyward has continued wearing the mask during spring training. If he continues wearing it during the regular season, he'll become one of the very rare MLB players who've worn a batting helmet facemask over the course of two consecutive seasons. (Past examples include Terry Steinbach and Kevin Seitzer. Anyone know of any others?)
• The Brewers will be wearing their "Cerveceros" jerseys on Aug. 10. They haven't yet announced any other foreign-language jersey promotions for 2014, but they've worn Polish, German and Italian jerseys in recent years, so don't be surprised to see yet another language splashed across their chests this season. Meanwhile, in an innovative move, the Brewers have asked their fans to vote on the design for the little plates that go on the sides of the bases. Pretty sure that's the first time a team has gotten the fans involved in that element of the game.
• Several Cardinals players have started using bat knob decals honoring their alma maters or country of origin.
• Big year for the Cubs, who are celebrating Wrigley Field's 100th anniversary. Home uniforms will feature patches on the cap and sleeve, and there's also a new alternate road jersey (which comes with its own set of alternate road pants). But the real news is that the team is rolling out a season-long program of throwbacks, featuring an unprecedented nine different designs from the team's history. You can see all of them, and the dates on which they'll be worn, here. The nine throwbacks, when combined with the team's home, road, alternate road, and alternate blue uniforms, will almost certainly give the 2014 Cubs the all-time record for the most different uniforms worn in one season by an MLB team. For further details on the Wrigley centennial celebration -- which even includes retro-themed season ticket designs! -- look here. (Meanwhile, the Cubs also have a new mascot, which has gone over with a thud.)
• The Dodgers have taken the completely unnecessary step of adding an alternate road jersey, which they wore for the first of the two games in Australia (further info here). And just like with the Cubs, the alternate road jersey has its own alternate set of pants, which seems a bit ridiculous, no? Also: The team script has been added to the back of the helmets, just below the MLB logo. Seems like overkill, no? (And as an aside, kudos to the Dodgers for creating a very cool Twitter avatar, and here's hoping minor league pitcher Zach Lee gets promoted to the bigs soon, because the kid has the makings of a Uni Watch hosiery hero.)
• Great move by the Giants, who've changed the insignia on their orange alternate jersey to their old 1970s script. It's a much sharper look, plus it'll match that old BP cap that Willie Mays always likes to wear.
• No on-field changes for the Indians, but the team has officially redesignated its block "C" logo as the club's primary logo, with Chief Wahoo being relegated to secondary status. This is the latest step in the gradual but unmistakable de-emphasizing of Wahoo.
• The Mariners will be hosting the Astros for a 1979 throwback game on May 24. (And speaking of throwbacks, check out infielder Brad Miller, who says yes to stirrups and no to batting gloves! He was a September call-up in 2013 and is on the roster bubble this spring -- here's hoping he makes the team and sticks in the bigs.)
• The Marlins' wardrobe includes orange caps and undershirts, but they've worn them only twice in the past two seasons. That's slated to change in 2014, as the team plans to dial up the orange this year. Also: Did you know the Marlins had a ban on facial hair? They did! But now they've dropped it, as long as the players "don't look sloppy."
• Lots of adjustments for the Mets, beginning with a truly dreadful camouflage alternate uni, which will be worn for Monday-night home games (further info here). Also: Both of the blue alternate jerseys will now have a Mr. Met sleeve patch. Also-also: All Mets jerseys this season will carry a memorial patch for former broadcaster Ralph Kiner, who passed away in February. The patch design is recycled from a design used in 2007 for a Ralph Kiner Night promotion. Finally, there's this: The Mets' roster includes an unusual number of players with lowercase letters in their surnames. In the past, the team has simply used capital letters, and has also used an upside-down P for the first letter in catcher Travis d'Arnaud's surname. This year, however, equipment manager Kevin Kierst has worked with MLB's uniform supplier, Majestic, to procure lowercase letters for the players who need them. (If you have access to the Wall Street Journal's website, there's an excellent article about this here.)
• No uni changes for the Nationals, but fans may notice that Nats Park has been spruced up with "hot-looking" red concourses.
• The Padres have added a "JC" memorial patch for broadcaster Jerry Coleman. Also, the team will be wearing brown 1984 throwbacks for a series against the Cubs in late May. And as a footnote, the Padres have a Petco Park 10th-anniversary logo. As you can see there, it's being used on tickets and for other promotional applications, but it won't be appearing on the team's uniforms.
• The Pirates have added a Ralph Kiner memorial patch. Also, the team's gold "P" logo has replaced the Jolly Roger as the team's primary logo, although that won't have any effect on the team's on-field look. Further info here.
• The Rangers have made adjustments to the lettering on all their jerseys. For the home whites, they've removed the black drop-shadow and reversed the order of the white and red outlining, and they've made those same two changes to the road grays. This will have the very positive effect of making the names and numbers on the back look much less clunky. For the blue alternate jersey, they've removed the beveling from the letterforms. No more beveling for the red alternate either, plus they've added a layer of red outlining between the white and blue layers. Also the team has changed its squatchees -- those are the little buttons on top of the caps -- from contrast-colored to same-colored. Meanwhile: Newly acquired outfielder Shin-Soo Choo has worn a double-flapped batting helmet throughout his big league career, but he's been experimenting with a single-flapped model for some of his spring training at-bats. Remains to be seen what he'll be wearing when the bell rings for Opening Day.
• Huge upgrade for the Red Sox, who've changed their road jersey typography from navy to red. And in a corresponding move, the road pants, which had been solid gray, will now have thin red side piping. They're basically going back to the same road design they wore from 1990 through 2009, and not a moment too soon -- the navy numbers and letters looked too flat, too plain, too blah. (Meanwhile, for those who keep track of such things, the Sox also have shorter beards this season.)
• The Royals have updated their blue alternate jersey (further info here). Not bad, although the powder-blue detailing on every element seems like a bit much. Also: Royals players now have new personalized decals for the bottom of their bat knobs.
• The Twins have had two navy alternate jerseys in recent years -- one for home, one for the road -- but now they're scrapping the home version, along with their alternate "M" cap. Also: The Twins are hosting this season's MLB All-Star Game, so they'll be commemorating the event with two different patch designs -- one for the sleeve and one for the cap.
• Pitchers this season were supposed to have the option of wearing protective caps designed to reduce the threat posed by line drives, but it turns out the caps still aren't ready for prime time. It's not yet clear whether they'll be approved for game use at any time in 2014.
• All players will once again wear No. 42 on April 15, which is Jackie Robinson Day. Whatever else you can say about Bud Selig, the annual sea of 42s on the field is one of the unqualified successes of his commissionership.
• Last year all MLB teams wore camouflage-accented uniforms on Memorial Day. The MLB office hasn't yet announced any similar plans for 2014, but it's worth noting that the Diamondbacks are planning a Memorial Day camouflage jersey giveaway, so it seems like a pretty safe bet that we'll be seeing plenty of camo on the diamond that day.
That's it for now. Did we miss anything? If so, you know what to do. Now let's play ball.
Paul Lukas, a lifelong Mets fan, is in for yet another long season (which is the same thing he wrote in this space a year ago -- sigh). If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.
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