Ah, the start of baseball season. Is there anything better?
Actually, yeah, there is. Lots of things, in fact. But you can't afford most of them, and most of the others would have nasty effects on your cholesterol level, your liver, or some other aspect of your health. So let's just say that for practical purposes, the start of baseball season is as good as it gets. And hey, that's not too shabby.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying it's time for the 15th annual Uni Watch MLB season preview, in which we look at all the new uniforms, patches and equipment for the upcoming season. Most of the news is positive, as baseball's been on a pretty good uni-related roll for the past year or so. Granted, it would be nice if we could get rid of the accursed pajama pants, but for the most part this sport is now very easy on the eyes.
With the season set to open with Sunday night's Rangers-Astros game and then begin in earnest on Monday, here's Uni Watch's annual team-by-team breakdown of everything you can expect to see on the diamond this year:
• All teams will wear a Newtown memorial patch on Opening Day, in memory of the children and school employees killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December. The patch was originally slated to be worn by only the Yankees and Red Sox, but Commissioner Bud Selig successfully encouraged the other 28 teams to get on board.
• No uni changes this season for the A's, but it's worth noting that the team will be doing a series of "Throwback Thursday" promotions, featuring some really cool-looking throwback logo buttons.
• The Astros are marking their move to the American League with a complete visual overhaul. Uni Watch applauds the return of orange and loves the caps (including the solid-orange model that wasn't shown in that first photo). But the jerseys feel too generic. There's a fine line between old-school and plain, and this uni set feels like it's on the wrong side of it.
• The Braves' navy road alternate jersey, introduced in 2008, has always been worn with the team's standard gray road pants, which feature red piping on the belt tunnels and down the legs. But now the team has come up with a separate set of gray pants specifically for the navy jerseys, featuring plain belt tunnels and blue piping down the legs. Uni Watch admires the attention to detail but wonders if this was really necessary.
• The Brewers have added a gold alternate jersey. For those keeping score at home, that gives the Brew Crew six uni options: home white, road gray, navy home alternate, navy road alternate, gold alternate, and throwback -- and that's not counting the Spanish-language Cerveceros jersey they'll presumably wear at least once. Speaking of which, the Brewers are adding a new ethnic celebration to their promotional calendar this year: Polish Heritage Day, which will take place on June 23. No official word yet on what the jersey for that game will look like, but it's a safe bet that it will closely resemble the one being worn by this Polish racing sausage figurine, which will be given away at the game. ("Piwowarzy," of course, is Polish for "Brewers.") And here's one additional thing to keep in mind: The Brewers held a contest over the winter to have fans come up with yet another alternate uni for the team. The plan all along was for the winning design to be used in a spring training game, which took place on March 22, and it will be worn again for an exhibition game at Miller Park this Saturday. Would anyone be surprised to see this uni show up once or twice during the regular season? Uni Watch wouldn't.
• Several notable changes from the Cardinals. First and foremost, they've added a gorgeous new retro alternate jersey. In addition, there are lots of subtle changes to the team's jerseys: The birds on the bat are slightly larger; the chain-stitched embroidery for the birds has been enhanced, to make the design "pop" a bit more; the entire chest insignia is now positioned a bit higher on the jersey; and the front uni number is a bit smaller. (Cards president Bill DeWitt III, who's more uni-adept than most MLB team execs, had a big hand in all of these changes, as he discusses in this exclusive Uni Watch interview.) Also, the Cards will be wearing a Stan Musial memorial patch this season. Meanwhile, there's some confusion about the team's road cap. Back in November, it was announced that the Cards would switch to wearing red caps on the road, with the longstanding navy road caps relegated to alternate status. But just this week, with the season mere days from starting, the Cards asked fans to vote on the team's road cap protocol. As you can see on that page, one of the options is to stick with the navy cap for all road games -- which is precisely what the team had said it would no longer do. As of this writing, the final decision is still up in the air. Odd move, with even odder timing.
• When the Giants won the World Series in 2010, they celebrated their championship by wearing gold-trimmed jerseys for their second game of the season (which was the game when they received their World Series rings). They'll do something similar for this year's ring ceremony on April 7, when they'll be wearing this gold-lettered jersey. Sigh -- yet another missed opportunity to wear 1906 throwbacks. (It's also worth noting that the Giants are staying the course with two different sets of road grays. Uni Watch had expected them to keep the "SF" version this season and mothball the "San Francisco" version, but that's not happening -- at least not yet.)
• No uni changes this season for the Mariners, but shortstop Brendan Ryan has been wearing something in spring training that no other Mariner has ever worn: striped stirrups! Uni Watch has mixed feelings about this. For further details, look here.
• The Mets have added two blue alternate jerseys -- one for home games and one for the road. They will likely be paired with this new orange-brimmed alternate cap (although there's no strict protocol for that -- the team is free to mix and match all of its caps and jerseys). And as you can see in those photos, the Amazin's are also wearing a sleeve patch for this year's All-Star Game, which they'll be hosting. Meanwhile: The black alternate jersey, which was thought to be headed for the scrap heap this season, is still part of the team's wardrobe, although it will likely be worn very sparingly. Also: In past years, the Mets have kept track of their batting helmets with little Dymo tape labels on the brim. Those have now been replaced by rear-helmet decals showing the MLB logo and the players' uni numbers. Also-also: David Wright has been named the team's captain but will not be wearing a "C." MLB's two other captains -- Derek Jeter of the Yankees and Paul Konerko of the White Sox -- don't wear the "C" either, which means MLB will be "C"-free for the second straight season. (The last two "C"-clad captains were Jason Varitek of the Red Sox and Mike Sweeney of the Royals.)
• The Nationals have added a blue-brimmed alternate cap, which will be worn with the team's home red alternate jerseys. Note the navy vent holes around the crown -- an unusual touch.
• The Orioles have added a rather underwhelming memorial patch for Earl Weaver. Instead of a patch (or in addition to it), they should have sewn a little cigarette pack pocket into the inside of everyone's jersey, just like they used to do for Earl.
• The Pirates have added a 1971 throwback alternate to the mix, and they're doing it right: As you can see in that last link, the jersey is a pullover, not a button-front, and the pants will have the old ’70s-style sansabelt waistband.
• Remember last year when the Rays wore that 1970s-style fauxback uniform, throwing back to a past they never had? It must have been a hit, because that uni is now an official alternate option in the team's wardrobe.
• The Reds have changed their shade of red from Pantone 199 to Pantone 200, although the actual change will likely be more subtle than that graphic indicates, especially in certain lighting conditions. They've also added a Spanish-language alternate jersey and a navy-background throwback logo.
• The Rockies are celebrating their 20th anniversary with a very nice sleeve patch.
• No uni changes this season for the Tigers, but here's an intriguing equipment note: You know how football and basketball players sometimes wear those briefs with the built-in thigh padding? Looks like Prince Fielder has been wearing something like that during spring training. Never seen that before on a baseball diamond. It'll be interesting to see if Fielder keeps it up during the regular season, and if any other players follow his lead.
• The Twins will wear throwbacks based on this 1948 St. Paul Saints uni on May 30.
• Last year the White Sox wore 1972 throwbacks for Sunday home games. This season they're marking the 30th anniversary of their 1983 division title by wearing ’83 throwbacks on Sundays. Also: Have you ever seen a coach wearing No. 99 before? You'll see it this year, because pitching coach Don Cooper is wearing 99 in memory of former batting practice pitcher Kevin Hickey, who died last year.
• Uni Watch exclusively broke the news on all of this season's new BP caps back in December. The big news since then is that the outcry over the Braves' Indian head cap was so strong that the team scrapped the design and is going with a script "A" design instead.
• The BP jerseys and caps for the All-Star Game haven't yet been officially unveiled, but it seems pretty likely that they'll look like the ones shown in these video game screen shots.
• Bid farewell to the Coolflo batting helmet, with its reptilian-looking crown and space-age side vents. Thanks to a clause in the latest collective bargaining agreement, nearly all players will now be wearing Rawlings' latest anti-concussion helmet, the S100 Pro Comp, which is easily identifiable by its two rows of vent slits. (The only non-Pro Compers will be the handful of players who go with double-earflapped helmets, who'll continue to wear Rawlings' thinner, less protective model.) The Pro Comp, which was already test-driven by about 200 players last season, offers superior protection despite being virtually the same size and weight as a standard helmet, and is therefore a big improvement on the goofy-looking "Gazoo" version of the S100 that debuted back in 2009. Further info here.
• All uniformed personnel will once again wear No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day, which is April 15. But that date falls on a Monday this year -- usually an off day for many clubs -- and only 18 of the 30 MLB teams are slated to play. The remaining teams will wear 42 the following day. (Meanwhile, it's worth noting that April 15 is also Patriots' Day in Massachusetts, which means the Red Sox will have their traditional 11 a.m. game. That's always a bit surreal, but it'll be even weirder this year because everyone will be wearing 42.)
• In an unfortunate move, all 30 teams will wear camouflage caps on Memorial Day. Note that the tweet from MLB's PR office says the caps are meant to "honor vets." That's a nice thought, but Memorial Day isn't about honoring veterans (memo to MLB: The holiday you're thinking of is called Veterans Day, and it takes place in November). Memorial Day is for mourning the dead. An armband, or just a moment of silence, would be more appropriate.
• All teams will also wear "stars-and-stripes" caps on July 4. No visuals for those yet.
• A little-noted rule change for this season: Infielders can no longer wear tan gloves that match the color of the infield dirt. The idea is that darker or contrasting gloves will make it easier for umpires to tell if the glove is under a ball on a "catch or trap?" play.
• You know those football gloves with the composite logo on the palms? That concept is apparently coming to the world of batting gloves. Will we see players doing the open-palm salute after every home run? Uni Watch hopes not, but let's wait and see.
• MLB already has game caps, batting practice caps, earflapped cold-weather caps, green St. Patrick's Day caps, All-Star Game caps, World Series caps, throwback caps, camouflage caps, stars-and-stripes caps and more. Somebody in the MLB office (or, more likely, several somebodies) thought long and hard about this situation and came to only possible conclusion: "What we need around here is more caps." Those are being called "clubhouse caps," and they're supposed to be worn for pre- or postgame interviews. It's not clear why a special cap is needed for an interview, or why a player can't be interviewed while wearing his game cap, or BP cap, or no cap at all. Still, there must be a good reason. If only Uni Watch could think of what it might possibly be.
That's it for now. Did Uni Watch miss anything? If so, you know what to do. Now let's play ball.
Paul Lukas, a lifelong Mets fan, is in for yet another long season. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his daily Uni Watch web site, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.