The following was produced in partnership with our friends at Russell Athletic, who have developed performance gear for generations of great athletes for more than 100 years.
If clothes make the man, uniforms make the team. Come August, that will be especially true as the best 10-to-12-year-old baseball players from around the world descend on Williamsport, Pennsylvania for the Little League® World Series (and 6 other Divisional World Series sites for baseball and softball). Not only will players be making their debut on the biggest little diamonds in America, they’ll be debuting new high-tech jerseys from Russell Athletic.
The people behind the new jerseys are Russell Athletic apparel designer Cassie Wilson and merchandising director Mark Snyder. When they arrived at Russell, Little League World Series jerseys were getting a refresh about every four years. The duo decided every year’s jersey should be unique to commemorate the players’ achievements and provide them with an exclusive souvenir of their once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“A lot of kids have that one shot,” Wilson says. “They fight hard to get there and represent their whole region. That’s big. Not many teams go back twice!”
This year’s jersey mirrors those worn by college players in conference tournaments and minor leaguers grinding their way towards the bigs. But it’s not a replica —Little League World Series players will rock the same fabrics, designs, and pro-quality features as their heroes.
The process starts about 18 months before each season with a meeting between Russell and Little League. Concepts are reviewed and narrowed down to one or two finalists.
“The goal is always to create a design the kids will like. We look at what local teams are wearing — different fonts, bold numbers, tonal designs — and add on to last year’s jerseys with new elements or things only the kids will see,” Wilson says. “Little League likes classic looks so we end up with a really cool mix of current and retro.”
Once a design is finalized, the creation of each jersey starts with five to six pieces of stretchable, moisture-wicking mesh. The material is ventilated and lightweight, which makes playing in it far more enjoyable than circling the bases in old-school wool and polyester uniforms. Each piece also goes through a sublimation process during which dyes are directly infused into the white fibers. This makes the fabric, which is subsequently sewn together into full-button jerseys, eye-poppingly colorful.
But, no, it’s not that simple.
Technically, the uniform is a pullover — only the top and bottom button actually come undone. This is to prevent having multiple buttons open over the course of six innings of hustle. And there are patches as well, adding to the authenticity of the jersey and highlighting each player’s place as a member of a Little League team. Even the inside of the jerseys sport unexpected detail.
“For these kids, that jersey with the authentic tags will be even more special to them. Imagine showing off that shadow box.”
“We’ve got jerseys from all the years framed and hanging in a conference room,” Wilson explains, “and so we decided to put a Little League logo with the year stamped in the back neck of the jersey so that it’s visible only when framed. Plus, we added a drop tag at the bottom that says ‘Authentic’ on it.”
“I still have jerseys packed up somewhere from when I was 10 that I’ll never get rid of,” Snyder adds. “For these kids, that jersey with the authentic tags will be even more special to them. Imagine showing off that shadow box.”
To add to the fun, the kids don’t get to see, touch, feel, or wear their actual uniform until they arrive in Williamsport. That’s also where they learn they’ll be able to take their jersey home with them after the tournament ends.
“When they see that jersey and you tell them they get to keep it — it’s like Christmas in August,” Snyder says. “I’ve been to World Series and National Championship Games, but watching these kids is the purest thing in sports. For us and for Little League, that’s what it’s all about.”