A Cubs minor leaguer may not compete in the World Series, but their shoes have

A few days before the World Series, Alex Katz’s phone turned on with a text message. It was Astros outfielder Jose Siri, who was vying for a spot in his first World Series roster. Siri needed his help.

Katz, a minor leaguer with the Cubs organization who threw the Double-A ball this year, is far from a World Series appearance himself. But Siri had a big request: Could Katz make her a custom pair of cleats to wear on baseball’s biggest stage?

Katz, 27, is the founder of Stadium Custom Kicks. He has created shoes for Astros players including Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Altuve, Framber Valdez, José Urquidy and Yimi Garcia. In these World Series, his work has been carried by Siri and Astros reliever Brooks Raley as well as Braves players Eddie Rosario, Tyler Matzek and William Contreras.

“It’s really cool, and I’m sure it gives guys a boost of confidence because they look good, feel good, play good,” Katz said. “I think it’s real, especially as a player myself. You look great and feel great there, you definitely pay better because baseball is a mental game so you need confidence.

During batting practice leading up to Game 5 in Atlanta, Siri circled the infield scoring goals and exclaiming aloud after every pitch he made on the diamond. His dazzling energy was matched only by the liveliness of his crampons, an orange traffic cone shank covered in yellow streaks of lightning, and a white sole with speckles of black paint.

Siri and Katz worked together to come up with the lightning theme to mirror Siri’s nickname El Rayo. On the inside heel of the left shoe just behind the Nike swoosh is a white “22”, which was Siri’s jersey number in minors and is also her date of birth (July 22, 1995). The right heel has “JR” in honor of Siri’s 2-year-old son, Jose Siri Jr.

Ahead of Tuesday’s Game 6 at Minute Maid Park, Siri paired the cleats with white calf-height socks adorned with the “100” emoji, his personal mantra, and a symbol he tattooed on the inside of his left forearm.

Raley requested a simpler design with colorful Astros accents for his cleats, which sport three orange stripes highlighted with silver on the sides and a navy zigzag pattern on the toes.

Katz said some clients come to her with fully formed design ideas and others with only a vague notion of colors or themes. Either way, Katz has a team of 21 artists located in the United States who work to bring a client’s vision to life.

Katz’s business has grown rapidly since he somewhat accidentally founded Stadium Custom Kicks in 2017. He was two years away from being drafted by the White Sox as a 27th round pick in 2015, and playing for the The Israel team at the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Back then, most MLB clubs had strict uniform rules that said spikes had to be solid colors, so the Classic was the first chance to win. Katz to get creative with her shoes.

Growing up on Long Island, Katz always had an artistic flair. He painted his cleats himself using the colors of Israel, silver and blue, then posted a photo on a new Instagram page he created. Suddenly friends and teammates wanted pairs for themselves, and Stadium Custom Kicks was born.

Today, the company works with some of baseball’s biggest stars as well as NFL and professional golf clients. Katz’s favorite creation is a pair of low-cut Nikes he made last year for Mets pitcher Jacob DeGrom to honor the late Hall of Famer Tom Seaver; DeGrom then donated the shoes to More Than Baseball, a nonprofit organization that provides financial aid and career advice to minor leaguers, who auctioned them off for $ 8,000. Katz also created a pair of cleats for a cause for McCullers, the Astros starter, to play sports in September to raise awareness about human trafficking.

Katz said her hand-painted customizations can take up to 25 hours to create, depending on the complexity of the design. Portraits, like the Tom Seaver pair made for DeGrom, take over 15 to 20 hours. Siri’s Flash Shoes took around 7-8 hours to paint.

Katz balances running her business with her minor league life. He often goes from long bus trips to playing games, making fun of new projects or communicating with artists, and meticulously. Katz said he makes more money painting shoes than he does baseball – “It’s not even close,” he adds – and believes he’s part of a wave of leaguers increasingly financially savvy miners who are forced by paltry wages to find additional income during the season.

“As the 27th round, I don’t think I would be able to pursue my dream if I didn’t have this side activity,” he said. “I am grateful because it allows me to pursue my dream. This is one of the first thoughts that came to my mind during the draft: I don’t want to retire because I can’t afford to play. I’ll grind it down for as long as I can.

Word of mouth and social media help Katz grow the business, as does his ability to leverage his personal connections as a professional baseball player himself who has played in four major league organizations. He’s no longer surprised when he gets unexpected DMs or texts from MLB guys like Siri or Raley.

“Some guys are superstitious or like to be very basic with their gear, but for guys who like to have little booty out there, I’m sure that helps,” Katz said. “In baseball, between minors and adults, every player has incredible abilities, and the biggest difference between the good and the great is that mental side. Any increase in confidence helps.

Raley, who has worn his custom crampons throughout the season and on the mound during the World Series, said he liked knowing he was sporting something unique. He found out about Katz’s work on Instagram during spring training and ordered a pair.

“The NikeiD and all that stuff, they don’t really do it anymore and it’s not really on time, so I thought it built a really good business model by making custom cleats and picking colors and is obviously very creative, ”said Raley. “Really satisfied with them and their quality.”

Katz wears custom studs every time he’s on the court. In May, he signed a minor league contract with the Cubs two days before he was due to show up; not 10 minutes later, he was in his basement, painting a few pairs of studs in Cubs colors.

While Katz is a savvy businessman when it comes to promoting Stadium Custom Kicks, there is no better publicity than the World Series. When he logs in to watch the Astros vs. the Braves and sees players wearing his handiwork, it gives him a haste that reminds him to keep pursuing his ultimate goal.

“My dream, all my life, is to reach the big leagues,” he said. “Working for all of those athletes and baseball players on the biggest stage I’d ever want to play is pretty surreal.”

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