Steelo Sports, a baseball start-up company out of Los Angeles, became the first modern-day, black-owned baseball glove brand to be used in a Major League Baseball game.
Jonathan Davis, one of the Toronto Blue Jays’ most recent September call-ups, got the start in centerfield against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night in Toronto sporting his custom pro model Steelo glove.
“It’s our goal to not only become the first modern-day, African American-owned glove brand to be used in Major League Baseball, but to also bring long overdue awareness to minority players that consistently represent such a small percentage of the professional baseball population,” said Steve Friend, the founder of Steelo Sports. “It’s important to bring back the hip-hop flavor, style and energy of the ’80s and ’90s when baseball’s golden years produced players like Bo Jackson, Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Shawon Dunston, Deion Sanders, Kevin Mitchell, Darryl Strawberry, Eric Davis, Barry Larkin, Ozzie Smith, Frank Thomas, Andre Dawson, Gary Sheffield, the list goes on. That’s what “Steelo” means. That’s what it’s about. These are the guys that made me love the game. Bringing back that style and uniqueness that only hip-hop culture can bring just needs to happen. So I decided to stop waiting and to just do it.
“You’ve seen this with companies like Jay-Z and Roc Nation Sports now, with guys like Diddy and Ciroc and with Nas and his partners at Queensbridge. These guys get it, and are obviously leaders in their realms respectively. They see the value in supporting this culture, whether through sport, product, services, music, whatever. They’re working to change the story and dialog for the next generations just like we are. We want to partner with those types of leaders. We want to be great.”
While Major League Baseball does have youth development initiatives producing results on a grass roots level, there is still a huge opportunity for baseball to market and attract urban and minority players through creative product marketing and media, according to Friend.
He added, “This is an area that is extremely lacking and that needs help. The golden years had buzz, marketing, commercials and visual advertising presence for all of the superstar players of that generation,” said Friend. “The NFL and NBA do a great job of making visual messaging relevant to these communities, and it’s important for baseball and MLB to do the same by both investing in and partnering with urban brand building initiatives both physically and visually. We aim to bring that to the table.”
Steelo Sports has been quietly going about their business, signing a handful of pro players to equipment contracts across A-Ball, AA, AAA and now at the MLB level.
Said Friend, “Honestly, the best thing about the brand is that it’s authentic! I played college and pro baseball as a minority, know the grind, know the struggle and have now put my years in off of the field and learned the corporate sporting goods and digital commerce business side of things post playing career. All my Steelo players understand that, are into it, share the same grind, passion, flavor for the game and for the culture. They know what the plan is and have joined this movement to be a part of something different with some real purpose.
“At the end of the day, the product is top of the line dope. We are helping youth baseball programs, building a strong team of like minded people, and are all pushing for the same goal while having fun being a part of the game we all love. That’s what its about. We want to spread that love and open more doors.”