Charles Noerenberg

Graphic Designer

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4

The Tampa Bay Rays *Inspiration board added*

The Tampa Bay Rays are a Major League Baseball team with an interesting history, and despite the fact that they’re currently enjoying a very successful run in perhaps the toughest division in the American League, they go highly unnoticed or dismissed by most casual fans. I assert this is due in no small part to their bland uniforms and overall weak brand.
The Rays are a quirky and fun-loving team who don’t take themselves too seriously, but their current uniforms try to ape the look of established division rivals the New York Yankees–lots of white and navy blue and not much else. These uniforms are not at all befitting a team from St. Petersburg, Florida, let alone a team with such a strong need to cultivate a young fan base (I know that last phrase usually tends to end badly, but my concepts will be tasteful, I promise). I want to create a new look for the Rays that is vibrant, original, and captures their spirit, while also embracing the Tampa/St. Pete area they call home.

Team Background

The Rays are a relatively new franchise (est. 1998 as the Devil Rays), and in that span they’ve already changed their identity twice. They began their history with a laughably bad design that featured a black and purple color scheme, as well as the first-ever gradient on a MLB uniform.

After just 3 seasons wearing those things, they finally came to their senses and updated their look. These forest green and blue uniforms maintained a similarly-sci-fi-esque font in the wordmarks, as well as the manta ray mascot. The team alternated between regular, sleeved jerseys and vest-style jerseys with green undersleeves throughout this period.

In 2008 the team rebranded again, dropping the ‘Devil’ prefix and the sci-fi-esque wordmarks in favor of a navy and light blue color scheme and a conservative, serifed wordmark (perhaps more befitting of a political campaign). The team name–now just 'Rays'– came more to represent the sunshine of the Florida climate than the manta ray mascot (although they kept the same manta ray logo as a secondary mark, worn as a sleeve patch). The first year the Rays wore this scheme, they won the American League pennant, losing in the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies.

This current scheme, while the most tasteful of anything they’ve worn, is also still quite bland. To me it looks like what a video game would spit out if asked to generate a made-up team, or what a new retirement home would put on a brochure–it feels very generic and sterile.

Despite their plain uniforms, the Rays have enjoyed quite an interesting run the last few seasons, not only on the field but off as well. The team, under eccentric manager Joe Maddon, has become notorious for adopting fun little gimmicks. In 2010 they created the “BRayser”, a plaid blazer in Rays’ colors that they wore before games. This look quickly caught on, spawning merchandise and even a plaid-billed cap the team wore on the field.

 

That same year, while enduring a prolonged losing streak, Maddon and several Rays players began wearing old fashioned-style striped stirrups in an effort to shake things up. The practice of wearing stirrups, let alone striped ones, has become all but extinct in MLB these days, and was quite a site on so many players.

 

My favorite fun Rays’ uniform “event” took place last season, when they wore 1979 throwbacks for one game–even though the team didn’t exist in 1979! The uniform was brilliant, and perfectly captured the feel of that era of baseball style–raglan sleeves, bright colors, sans serif fonts and a two-tone paneled cap. To be honest, this might be my favorite uniformt he Rays have ever worn, and it is proving to influence my designs more than anything else.

Some background on the baseball uniform

Over the years, the baseball uniform has gone from wool to polyester to new lighter, breathable fabrics; from button front & knickers to V-neck pullover & sans-a-belt and back again. MLB has been very unified in design and technology in the last 25 years or so–after the loud 70’s and 80’s, teams has settled back into a traditional look. Each team sports full button-front jerseys, wears white or cream at home & grey on the road (not counting alternate jerseys, which still maintain home/road protocol in the pants), and nobody has wandered much from those standards. Majestic Athletic makes the uniforms of all 30 teams, so there is almost no variation team-to-team in terms of uniform cut. All teams wear the Cool Base jersey, which was implemented a few years ago and features lighter-weight fabric and under-arm ventilation panels.

 

One area of the baseball uniform I believe is cumbersome and inefficient is the full-button front. It looks nice in a nostalgic way, but in many other ways it is a nuisance to players and designers alike–just look at the above photo. Even when the placket is fully buttoned, it billows and pulls apart in motion, creating disharmony in the jersey logo. As you can also see above, designers usually have to overlap the team's logo/wordmark as it crosses over the button placket, so as to avoid a gap. But this practice creates an equally silly-looking repetition effect, as in this case with the 'RA-AYS'.

Performance

As Stewart said in the lecture, the uniform should allow the player to forget he is wearing it so he can fully concentrate on the game. I imagine that is hard for MLB players to do while wearing a button-front jersey, given their knack for busting open on a dive or slide, billowing at the tuck point, getting in the way during a swing or pitch, and even on rare occasion allowing a ball to pass inside the jersey on a couple different freak plays. The answer would seem to be a pullover jersey, or at least a 2-button collar. Pullover jerseys were all the rage in the 70's and 80's, with every team at one time wearing them.

I'm not sure what made teams go back to buttons in the early 90's; perhaps it was just nostalgia and a feeling that buttons were more evocative of a 'baseball' look. At any rate, I'll be leaning in the pullover direction for my concepts, because I don't believe that the team should have to follow the unwritten button protocal just ebcause everyone else does, and the pullover is clearly a superior performance decision.

Inspiration

In drawing inspiration for the project, I looked in several different directons. First, I did some research on the Tampa Bay area the team calls home. They are actually based in St. Petersburg, but like the other pro teams that hail from there, they go by "Tampa Bay" to draw fans from the surrounding cities–Tampa and Clearwater. These 3 cities make up the "Tampa Bay area". The St. Petersburg city seal and flag both feature a pelican, which I may integrate into the design to sort of take the place of the manta ray, which I feel is a leftover element of the original Devil Rays brand that wouldn't be missed. Another unique icon of the region is the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which spans Tampa Bay and is one of the more recognizable bridges in the world.

Next I gathered some Floridian imagery to get a general sense of the Sunshine State. Obviously, the orange is the most instantly recognizable sybol of the state (the Rays play at Tropicana Field after all). Between that and the prominent sunshine, yellow/orange deserves to be a prominent color in the scheme. Given the long list of Florida teams that already use orange, I think I'll stick with the yellow the team currently uses as an accent (though I may make it a tad more to the orange side). I also found a couple logos from Florida businesses that featured sun graphics, which I liked the look of.

(The flag and seal above are from St. Petersburg and prominently feature the pelican)

Next, I gathered some images of various uniforms I like or think would be relevant here. The Braves pullovers from the 70's are one of my all-time favorite baseball uniforms, and I think I want to use the contrasting raglan sleeves look in my design. I also got a few Floridian uniforms which are fun and show the sort of 'funky' look that many teams from the region have used–Miami Floridians, Flint Tropics etc. (I realize they're a fake team but those unfiorms are a lot of fun.) Also included: a beer bottle I always oved the summery color scheme of, and some samples of Under Armor jerseys that use a sublimated wool texture look. I really love the added effect of the pattern–it gives a whole new angle to the uniform and adds some antique feel while maintaining modern performance. I may toy with adding similar texture in my designs. Also of note–the Texas Tech jersey shown features the false button placket, with only the top 2 buttons functional, for increased ease of performance.

Lastly, I gathered some sun imagery, because I want to increase the meaningfulness of the sun to the 'Rays' name to help redefine it. I've always loved art deco, and my designs may reflect that.

Next up, I start designing!

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