SEATTLE - Kirkland, Wash., native Andrew Urrutia realized he was on to something when his Lake Washington High School baseball teammates raved about the cleats he'd custom-designed for himself.
The pitcher would strip his cleats of paint and decals, then repaint them with personalized, colorful designs. Word spread to other schools, where baseball, football and soccer athletes asked him to design their footwear; enough for Urrutia, then 16, to launch a company, TrainKicks, that played off his "A-Train" baseball nickname.
Last summer, 18 years old and an incoming University of Washington freshman, he offered through Instagram to design footwear for several Seattle Mariners. Domingo Santana, Brandon Brennan and Matt Magill accepted, leading a New York-based company, Stadium Custom Kicks, to hire TrainKicks as a subcontractor to design for the game's bigger names and other professional athletes.
"I've worked with over 50 active players at this point," said Urrutia, now 19. He's designing cleats for former Mariners star Felix Hernandez and other major-leaguers such as Chris Archer, Adam Jones, Edwin Encarnacion and Craig Kimbrell. "It just keeps growing and growing."
Urrutia planned to meet more players at spring training in Arizona this spring, but the coronavirus pandemic shelved that. So he fills orders from his University District apartment between teleconferenced classes at UW's Foster School of Business.
He'll use acetone on shoes to remove the finisher that protects their paint, then a knife to carve off unwanted decals. From there he airbrushes designs using stencils and a special Angelus acrylic paint for shoes that stretches with foot movement.
Major League Baseball has rules about redesign; mandating team colors be respected and limiting additional features that distract. So Urrutia works around those, more businessman than artist.
"I was never that kid who was always doodling in class," Uruttia said. "I was never really into art, ever. But I knew there was a good way to apply art on to these cleats."
He's currently designing for longtime major league catcher Rene Rivera, now with the New York Mets; Kansas City Chiefs backup quarterback Shea Patterson; and Welsh rugby player Steffan Evans. This weekend he'll ship finished cleats to former Baltimore Orioles star Jones, a former Mariners prospect who is in South Korea playing.
And there's Hernandez, now with the Atlanta Braves. He just placed four orders through Stadium Custom Kicks that Urrutia's company is tasked with filling. The order involves two pairs of Air Jordan 1 baseball cleats and two pairs of sneakers Hernandez wants similarly designed so his footwear looks the same heading to the ballpark, or standing on the mound.