When you’re a kid, you have all these ideas about how your adult life will look. Some are varying degrees of plausible: getting married, being a firefighter, owning too many dogs. Others are a little more fanciful, of the “I’m going to eat cereal for dinner whenever I want” variety. Once, after my grandmother told me that I couldn’t wear a baseball jersey to a family function, I told her that, when I grew up, I was going to wear baseball jerseys all the time. And while that wasn’t exactly a realistic proclamation, as an adult, I still find them basically perfect, whether you care about the game or not—and for all the reasons I wanted to wear them as a pre-teen.
I don’t watch as much baseball as I used to these days. I might catch the occasional Cubs or Mets game live, or fall asleep with a random matchup on a lazy weekend afternoon. But at this point, I’ve got no fewer than 15 jerseys in my rotation. They remind me of the joy the game brought me as a kid—and baseball is of course rooted in enjoying yourself during the hotter months of the year. Peanuts, Cracker Jack, the dog days, lovable losers, Bad News Bears, and all that stuff, but also the jerseys stand out. They’re created with the idea that the players will get them dirty during play, but then the next day they’ll come out for another matchup and they’re back in pristine, new uniforms. Hardly formalwear, but it reminds you that ballplayers do get dressed up to go to work.
It took me a while to get there, though. Not long ago, I was watching Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, and I couldn’t help but think about how incredible Lee’s Mookie, in his number-42 Jackie Robinson jersey, looked. So I started doing a little research to find one, before ultimately settling on a Sandy Koufax Dodgers jersey. And even though the three-time Cy Young winner (who famously didn’t pitch the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur) spent the bulk of his career with the Dodgers after they made the move to L.A., when I wear the thing, every few blocks in Brooklyn someone stops me to talk to me about the jersey, Koufax, the Dodgers, or the New York borough they played in “back in the day.”
That experience, more than anything, got me into baseball jerseys. They inspire something unique. You can wear a basketball or football jersey and people might start talking to you, but there’s something about baseball that brings out the die-hards. There’s also just the fact that, in the summertime, the baseball jersey is just downright fun to wear. You can do a lot with them. Again, I’m looking to Spike Lee for inspiration, specifically the scene in Mo’ Better Blues where Denzel Washington goes out to play catch with his father, played by Dick Allen Williams. Denzel is in the old New York Giants jersey with a matching hat, his dad is in a Pittsburgh Crawfords jersey which I have to believe wasn’t that easy to acquire in 1990 (since the Negro Leagues team was only around from 1933 to 1940). It shows a little bit of the obsessiveness people who buy and wear baseball jerseys usually have, but also a neat variation on how to wear one. Both Washington and Williams wear long-sleeve shirts under them, and pair them with jeans. Similarly, if you’re one of those people that has a habit of watching The Sandlot every year or so, you’ll know that Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez has a number of great fits throughout the film, like the old Levis cuffed above the ankle to show off his black PF Flyers. But my personal favorite is the oversized number 30 jersey, no team, worn oversized with a green ¾ sleeve ringer shirt underneath it. I have this one 1960s Cuban Cienfuegos Elefantes jersey that some guy was selling on his stoop. It was a little big for me, but I picked it up and started wearing it like The Jet, usually with a pair of chinos or even some sweatpants when I run to the farmers market.
But the thing the baseball jersey goes best with is a pair of shorts. You want loose and fun; a pair of mesh shorts from Rowing Blazers or a pair in boxy linen from Stüssy usually work great. But really the perfect shorts to pair with a baseball jersey are the trusty Patagonia Baggies. My late ‘90s Ken Griffey Jr. Seattle Mariners jersey goes great with my green Baggies. The grey Yomiuri (Tokyo) Giants jersey with the orange lining around the numbers and logo is fun to wear with the otherwise difficult-to-pair Tigerlilly Orange Baggies. A mesh, buttonless green and yellow Oakland A’s batting practice jersey with Reggie Jackson’s name and number on the back looks pretty good with black Baggies. I can’t think of much that says Chill Guy more than a pair of shorts and a baseball jersey. The trick, really, is just getting the combo right so you don’t look too chill.
What’s most beautiful about a baseball jersey in the summertime is how it connects us to the past. A while back, I was wearing my throwback Roberto Clemente Pittsburgh Pirates jersey that Mitchell and Ness did a few years back. An older guy struck up a conversation with me, telling me Clemente was his favorite ballplayer, even though he was born in upper Manhattan (near the Polo Grounds) to a father who rooted for the Giants and switched his allegiances over to the Yankees when the team moved to San Francisco. He told me about how he met Willie Mays a few times when he was a kid, and how the star would often hang out with kids that lived in his neighborhood. I’ve always liked Mays, always been fascinated the lore of the Hall of Famer. And because of that conversation, I dialed up a bunch of the Say-Hey Kid’s highlights I could find on YouTube, then proceeded to add his jersey to my growing collection.