Alex Katz ’16CPS knew he wanted to pitch for St. John’s University after attending the first game ever played at Citi Field between the Red Storm Baseball team and Georgetown University in March of 2009.
“When I was 14 I always dreamt of playing college baseball and going on to the big leagues,” the New Hyde Park, NY, native recalled.
Today, Mr. Katz is part of the Kansas City Royals organization; he was playing for their AAA Spring Training team when the COVID-19 outbreak forced the cancellation of the minor league season. He is now assigned to the Royals AA team, and stays fit for his eventual return to play.
The Sport Management major also keeps busy with his other passion: customizing cleats for professional athletes through his company, Stadium Custom Kicks. A self-described “sneaker head,” he pitched for Team Israel during the 2017 World Baseball Classic and got the idea to make his cleats stand out while playing on the world stage. At the time, both Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball were strict about cleat colors; more than 90 percent had to be black with the Chicago White Sox organization, with whom he played for at the time.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to have some cool looking cleats,” Mr. Katz recalled, adding that the team’s colors were striking: gray, silver, and royal blue. “Customizing my own cleats was just one of those random ideas that came to me.”
Being artistically inclined since childhood, the idea gained traction as he began customizing cleats with a friend. Mr. Katz set up an Instagram account, which many of his teammates followed; before he knew it, he was receiving orders from the likes of Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and Robinson Cano.
Today, his company employs 12 artists and has worked with more than 250 major league players. He credits social media and positive word of mouth with spreading the word about his impressive designs.
“It has definitely been a hustle to get our name out there,” he explained. “But when a player sees his teammate wearing a pair of our cleats, that is the best advertising we can do.”
Another factor that has contributed to the growth of Stadium Custom Kicks is the loosening of restrictions on cleat colors by Major and Minor League Baseball. In 2017, cleats had to feature at least 50 percent of the team’s primary color. As of last month, nearly all color and design restrictions were lifted. “Players do not even have to include colors that are seen on their uniforms,” Mr. Katz said.
His company was the first of its kind to be authorized by Major League Baseball to customize cleats, and today it is one of only three.
He is quick to emphasize that his overriding goal is to become a major leaguer. The business, while important and satisfying, will always be secondary. He trains constantly, has Zoom calls with coaches and staff, and keeps his eyes focused squarely on the prize.
“There is really no pressure to succeed with the business,” he observed. “It is a nice distraction when I have some down time from baseball.”
A Red Storm pitcher for three seasons, Mr. Katz helped the team win the 2015 BIG EAST Conference regular-season and tournament. He thought it made sense to major in Sport Management to develop his knowledge of the business side of professional sports and help him “stay in the game” in some capacity once his professional career ends. He was drafted out of St. John’s by the White Sox in 2015 during his junior year. As his baseball career progressed, he continued his course work at St. John’s and earned his degree.
Since being drafted, Mr. Katz has played for the White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, and Royals organizations. Last season, he also pitched for the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, helping them advance to the 2019 Atlantic League Championship.
At present, no customizer is doing as much business in professional sports as Stadium Custom Kicks. The company is involved in every professional sport in the US and has even branched into the United Kingdom, doing work for a pro rugby player.
While he faced struggles climbing the ladder to the majors (he had nerve transposition surgery to repair a pinched nerve), Mr. Katz remains positive about getting to “the Show” one day. “I think everything happens for a reason,” he reflected. “I still believe in myself, and making it to the big leagues is what matters to me the most.”