Even before the Toronto Blue Jays clinched the American League East division title this week, ending a 22-year playoff drought, baseball fans have been supporting their team in droves this season. Attendance at the Rogers Centre hit 2,794,891 during the regular season – an 18 per cent increase from last year and their highest tally in two decades.
Another sign of the baseball mania sweeping the city: the boom in fan-made shirts. With technology making it easier than ever to create your own designs and have a company actually print and ship them, the most devoted of Jays fans not only wear official merchandise and jerseys – they’re more than likely to sport unofficial swag, too.
But these aren’t the lousy bootleg shirts familiar to anyone who’s ran into a hawker outside a rock concert. Most fan-made Jays shirts capture a sense of the unbridled creativity that comes with fervent enthusiasm for the team.
The Globe and Mail spoke to four different designers about their popular tees, then asked Derwyn Goodall, an assistant professor at OCAD University and a designer at Goodall Integrated Design, to cast a critical eye over each look. Mr. Goodall also looked at one official item from jaysshop.ca. How do the fan creations compare to the real thing?
In late March, Hamilton-based Julia Barac launched thejaywalk.com to sell Toronto-centric shirts. Soon, fans of her site were asking for tees featuring the Blue Jays.
“It’s been a good season. They’ve been working hard and doing really well,” the 24-year-old designer said. “It’s helped me in turn.”
Ms. Barac said one of her most popular shirts features a play on lyrics from the rapper Drake and pitcher Marcus Stroman’s jersey number: “Running thru the 6ix with my STRO.”
Ms. Barac said she has had 500 customers ordering from Canada, Britain and Mexico. Her shirts are made in Canada and screen-printed in Hamilton.
“I think it’s important to support fellow Canadians while wearing gear that really represents the only Canadian baseball team,” she said.
Price: $25 to $28.
Derwyn Goodall: “I would consider using the handwritten font style for STRO, maybe in blue, in the same size. By eliminating all unnecessary design elements and going for consistency, this design will be much stronger.
Big City Clothing Co.
A.J. Leitch used to play U.S. college baseball in St. Louis and has been a lifelong Jays fan. Now he shares his love of the team with his three daughters and wife in Alliston, Ont.
The creative director decided to create a Munenori Kawasaki shirt after the shortstop – also Mr. Leitch’s position in college – had a walk-off hit a few seasons earlier.
He’s sold less than 100 T-shirts, but for Mr. Leitch, making them is a hobby.
Depending on the idea, each of his shirts takes about six hours from experimenting to printing, he said.
Last year, Mr. Stroman commented on Mr. Leitch’s Instagram account: The player had seen a Big City T-shirt featuring himself and teammate Aaron Sanchez – and he wanted his own.
“It’s a different kind of world we live in where the players actually interact with their fans,” Mr. Leitch said. “It’s just cool.”
D.G.: “Typographically, a good try, but because of the inline font style’s varying character widths, inconsistent interletter spacing is created with this justified arrangement.”
Ryan Almeida still remembers the Joe Carter’s 1993 World Series-winning home run. His dad bought him a jersey that year. Now the 28-year-old graphic designer is producing his own shirt for other fans to enjoy.
Mr. Almeida started sketching designs in August when he realized the Jays would likely be in the playoffs. He went through a few iterations, playing around with the T and O in the word October (the month when playoff baseball is played).
“I had a SkyDome and a CN Tower as the T,” he said. “Then I realized the 6, that’s a popular thing that people equate to Toronto right now because of Drake.”
Mr. Almeida printed 100 shirts in early September. He gave some to his friends and sold the rest on social media. Since a local blog featured the shirt, he’s now sold 250 of them.
Price: $20 (with 10 per cent of sales going to Covenant House)
D.G.: “It is graphically appealing, because the number 6 is performing double duty as a cap O. To make it even stronger and more interesting, I would make the number 6 the same weight as the other letters. How about trying the arrangement vertical?”
Jason Portnoy is the founder of True Rivalry, an unlicensed sports and lifestyle clothing company in Montreal. The 33-year-old said when he first started the business, he saw a gap in apparel that failed to show the “true essence” of competitive sports.
“I got tired of buying just boring logo T-shirts. Or a T-shirt with a player’s name on it and then that player actually got traded,” Mr. Portnoy said. “We try to do the less gimmicky and bring style back into sports.”
A popular True Rivalry shirt, a collaboration with a Nova Scotia sports store, features a lewd innuendo about the Jays and the rival New York Yankees. Mr. Portnoy wouldn’t say how many shirts he’s sold, but said it has been reprinted many times and sold in 250 North American stores.
D.G.: “Graphically it is strong because it is balanced and does not have any glaring, empty spaces. Instead of introducing a third sans serif font style, why not continue with the inline font style?”
Official Jays Shop T-shirt
Although unlicensed fan shirts are not legally allowed to use any Major League Baseball logos, Mr. Goodall says having official elements such as the Blue Jay logo and fonts gives any product – legitimate or not – more credibility.
D.G.: “The larger number 20 graphically makes sense, contrasting nicely with Bringer of Rain. An issue I have is what appears to be red script close to the baseline of the second line of type. It completely disappears against the rich blue background.”