Wood and leather brought them together, the four co-founders of Baseballism like to say. The love for a game that gave them a bond drives the four former teammates to share that same interest for baseball via Baseballism, an organically born baseball lifestyle brand that instead of celebrating your team celebrates a game.
Now at the forefront of baseball lifestyle with catchy t-shirt sayings and graphics and high-end baseball-leather handbags, Baseballism has grown from a Portland startup that ironed and shipped shirts one by one from a small garage into a recognizable online and retail presence, now with four retail locations—Portland, Cooperstown, Scottsdale and The Battery in Atlanta next to the new Braves park—and two more coming in 2018, including the new Texas Live! development adjacent to the upcoming ballpark for the Rangers and across the street from Wrigley Field in Chicago.
But whether the clever shirts or the ever-increasing line of baseball leather products—men now have a line to compliment the increasingly popular options for women—everything about Baseballism celebrates inspiration.
Playing club baseball together at Oregon, the four co-founders, Jonathan Jwayad, Travis Chock, Jonathan Loomis and Kalin Boodman, started a summer baseball camp for youth in Eugene, dubbed Baseballism.
"Baseball aside, we wanted to make a cool camp shirt," Jwayad said. "A lot of times camp shirts aren't awesome and we created a camp shirt with a really cool design and the kids love it."
The camp lasted two years before the four graduated and found real jobs, from marketing to teacher/baseball coach and JAG lawyer to finances. As the four friends wandered Portland's trendy NW 23rd district, even five years after the camp folks would stop them on the street to ask about their shirts.
The group decided to make a small run of the Baseballism shirts, void of any Eugene mention, and sold them out of a batting cage in a Beaverton training facility. They sold out in a week, so they created six new designs and launched a successful Kickstarter campaign.
The business got going in 2013 and somewhere along the way it started booming, forcing Baseballism to open its first retail office and warehouse in north Portland in October 2013. Soon after they opened a spot on Main Street in Cooperstown. Then came Scottsdale's old town, pop-up shops at Georgia's LakePoint facility and in Omaha during the College World Series. Baseballism added the Atlanta shop in 2017.
The concept began as shirts, hand-cut by Baseballism from individually selected fabric to ensure high quality. At $29.50 each, Chock says he knows they are asking for an investment, so source product to ensure years of softness that make a Baseballism shirt the first you reach for.
Chock remains the mastermind behind the designs, often picked from his coaching days. Everything has a bit of inside baseball to it, with a goal of creating designs that separate baseball people from non-baseball people. The most popular design, the 6+4+3=2 shirt does just that. "The 6-4-3-2 shirt, baseball people get it and nobody else gets it," Chock says. "It makes them feel special to be in a niche community."
Other classics include the "It's Not OK" (the 'K' is backwards) shirt and "Live Life Like a 3-1 Count," both life lessons Chock taught his players. "We try to challenge our audience and provoke thought," he says.
From there, as a way to connect with women, but still with a genuine inspiration from the game, they gathered glove leather—kip leather comes softer and thinner and is the same type used in the high-end Wilson gloves—and built a tote, last year's No. 1 product. The first run of 50 sold out in 30 seconds.
"We really want to create products that tell the best baseball story," Jwayad said.
Whether a tote or a wallet, the leather comes untreated, just like you get in a baseball glove. "You could take baseball oil and rub down our totes and treat it just like a baseball glove," Chock said.
The glove leather line will continue to expand beyond three purses and the wallet that recently released. Expect multiple backpacks, a leather coaching folder and potentially even an all-leather teddy bear, using leather in "creative ways" to tie to the game.
As Baseballism puts a focus on the game and not teams—being from Portland, a city without a team this was a natural fit—they do have one licensing deal, with the Babe Ruth estate, allowing their "flagman" logo to depict Ruth holding the American flag. "We want that to mean something when somebody sees it," Jwayad said. "We want people to know this is the perfect marriage of Americana and baseball."
The Flagman reigns supreme with an oversized statue in the Atlanta store. Expect to see him in Arlington. And near Wrigley. Whenever the Baseballism Flagman appears, know that he exists because wood and leather brought four guys together who want to continue to thrive from baseball-centric inspiration.
— Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.