May 25, 2024

Behind Cleveland’s City Connect design: A vibrant nod to the Guardians of Traffic

CLEVELAND — A few weeks after the team officially changed its name in 2021, the Cleveland Guardians launched a new project, this time aimed at designing another uniform.

That summer, the organization officially chose Guardians to replace its Indians moniker, which had stood since 1915. They unveiled their Diamond C and Winged G logos, as well as new uniforms that didn’t stray too much from the previous set, aside from an altered font and a few different letters at the beginning of the name on the chest.

They transitioned to the new brand in mid-November of that year. In December, they initiated a conversation with Nike about their City Connect uniforms, moving from one pressure-packed branding effort to a freer kind of assignment.

Still, any unveiling like this can be polarizing. Fans either love new uniform designs or abhor them. Or, perhaps even worse, they’re apathetic. So, it was a relief to Guardians officials — the few granted access to the top-secret mission — when players walked into a private display area in spring training earlier this year and fawned over the uniforms.

First baseman Josh Naylor asked if they could wear them every game. Outfielder Steven Kwan used the word “fire” to describe them. Starter Triston McKenzie said they’re “tough.” (Those are compliments.)

The Guardians opted for a basic theme: Cleveland pride. Hence, the C-L-E, written in an art deco-themed font, on the front of the navy jersey.

“That’s the simplest way to let people know where you’re from and what you represent,” said Jason Wiedemann, the Guardians’ vice president of branding. When Travis Kelce tossed out a ceremonial first pitch before the club’s home opener last season, he unbuttoned his white Guardians jersey to reveal a T-shirt that read “I’m From Cleveland.”

As rapper Kid Cudi, a northeast Ohio native, details in the team’s unveiling video, “There’s something about Cleveland, a gravitational pull. Whether you were born here, raised here or came into your own here, this is home. Our love for The Land runs deep. We wear it on our hats. We wear it on our chests. We wear it like a badge of honor. No matter where life takes us, we always rep the C-L-E.”

The club’s marketing and branding bosses said they contemplated every design one could imagine (though they wouldn’t confirm whether a lime green ensemble was considered), but were adamant about keeping the team’s colors in line, just with what they deem to be bolder shades of blue and red. The franchise has used some variation of those colors since it became a charter member of the American League in 1901.

In the early 1930s, Cleveland built stone sculptures, dubbed the Guardians of Traffic, along the newly constructed Hope Memorial Bridge in the heart of downtown. Those monuments influenced the team’s name change three years ago and again inspired the organization’s City Connect theme.

The Guardians of Traffic are a part of Hope Memorial Bridge, which is located just outside of Progressive Field. (Jason Miller / Getty Images)

The Guardians wanted to pair Cleveland pride with the Guardians statues, but they also aimed to appeal to fans who would appreciate a nod to vintage designs. So, they added red, white and blue piping down the sleeves and sides of the pants, an element found on their jerseys in the ’80s and early ’90s.

The sandstone-colored pants resemble the cream jerseys they wore on Sunday afternoons from 2008-16, even if that wasn’t their motivation. Really, they just thought that color matched the navy top and connected to the Guardians statues.

A closer look reveals texturing in the navy jersey top, meant to look like sandstone. The same print is featured on the inside of the cap. The socks are red with a white Guardian figure atop a blue stone background. Scribbled on the inside of the collar is EST 1901, a salute to the franchise’s inception. “THE LAND” is printed just above the jock tag toward the bottom of the jersey.

The Guardians are one of nine teams this season to unveil City Connect uniforms, a program cultivated to create an alternate look that showcases each region. The jerseys have a three-year lifespan. The team will don them for the first time on Friday when they open a series against the Twins at Progressive Field. They’ll wear them again on Sunday and for every Friday home game. If the players choose — the starting pitcher typically determines which uniform the club will wear — they’ll be available for other home games, as well.

(Top photo courtesy of the Cleveland Guardians)