SAN DIEGO — The 53 Perfect Game All-American Classic athletes knew they were receiving a fully custom hand-turned wood bat for the weekend. But that wasn't all they enjoyed in the festivities leading up to the Aug. 13 event, as they walked away with two customized bats--one in the Bryce Harper-preferred colorway and one color favored by Corey Seager--and then spent time with Rawlings staff to customize their own glove.
"I'm like a kid in the candy store," says Slade Cecconi of Florida. "This is super exciting to get to not only get the gear but pick out what you want."
Mark Kraemer, director of sports marketing and the man overseeing the event from a Rawlings perspective, says the "gloves are the biggest and coolest things the kids react to." The company brought in the same men that run the glove customization during Spring Training for MLB players to walk the Perfect Game athletes through the process.
Whether a position player, pitcher or catcher, the athletes first selected the style of glove and then had the opportunity to move through the customization steps, starting with selecting either the Pro Preferred or Hearts of the Hide leather choices. The Pro Preferred, worn by 53 percent of the Rawlings-sponsored MLB players, saw about a 75 percent select rate from the Perfect Game athletes. The calf leather comes softer than the Hearts of the Hide leather, which originates from an older cow.
Once they selected their leather, they had a variety of color options for it--seven for Pro Preferred and 20 for Hearts of the Hide--and then chose everything from lace color to webbing style to finger padding to custom wording. "Head to toe, they can do anything with the glove," Kraemer says.
"I was surprised I got a glove, but hearing I was getting one I was really happy," says Elijah Cabell of Florida. "It is pretty awesome."
Cecconi and Cabell both already play in Rawlings gloves, but they took the opportunity to experience something a bit new. Cecconi went with lighter colors than he has now and Cabell wanted to do something special with his, putting "Rady" on the side to commemorate the time the players spent at Rady Children's Hospital earlier in the day. "This glove is more about my experience here to show I came from the PG All-American game," he says. "Someday on TV I can show off my glove with Rady on the side."
Nick Decker of New Jersey says he had a bit of a hint the gloves were coming when he looked through the event schedule. "I saw that and it was pretty cool," he says, "pretty awesome." He stayed pretty traditional with his coloring because he plans to use it.
Jeremiah Jackson of Alabama says he is so particular with how his glove looks and feels he took time to really make sure his glove was spot-on. Having played mostly in all-black, Jackson lightened up the leather and went to camel. "I've always wanted one," he says.
While the gloves will take about four weeks to arrive to the players' homes--using the same process that customers can use on Rawlings.com--the bats were on site for them to pick up, based on their own customization that they filled out weeks before. Each player was able to pick out weight, length, profile and shape. They selected their preferred wood and the bats were made in the same fashion as for the Rawlings-sponsored MLB players.
Decker says he knew what he wanted in a bat, picking out one just like he has swung before. Loaded with the Diamond Kinetics sensor station inside the wood, Decker says he's excited to have the "pretty cool" aspect of having the swing tracker already loaded in. All the players also received a Diamond Kinetics Swing Tracker at the event.
Rawlings wasn't just handing out gear at the San Diego event, though, they were also learning from the players. "If we notice a lot of guys are going toward, say a camel (color) with a certain color lace, that could be part of our development for next year," Kraemer says. "If it was big with 53 kids we may move it to full application."
They had a handful of new batting helmet prototypes on display and asked players for feedback on everything from aesthetics to comfort. "Do you like this cosmetic look do you like this shape?" Kraemer says about the questions. "Do you like how it feels on your head or the inside design? They have different fits and feel."
Rawlings extended their time with the athletes, having them use BBCOR bats and prototype catchers gear for testing at the Friday evening practice.
"If you can get kids in small groups most will have an opinion and tell you what it is," Kraemer says. "It absolutely helps. We get to see what they like."
The athletes had plenty to like when it came time to customize their own Rawlings gear.