An Art and a Pastime

Brian Lindstrom's "Bases Loaded" series, baseball history, and the importance of visual tradition
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If you squint, the works in Brian Lindstrom’s “Bases Loaded” series almost look like religious iconography. If there was a real Church of Baseball, the stark shapes, intensely detailed hand-lettering, and warmth of these felt banners would make them perfect for hanging over the altar. Of course, there is a Church of Baseball—in fact, there are 30 franchise locations scattered around North America. But Lindstrom's traveling exhibition of unique pennants make for pretty great portable devotional art.

Designer and Cubs fan Lindstrom (owner of Newbaric Design) was kind enough to answer some questions from The Classical, and share digital versions of his work. The Bases Loaded series is currently on display at Big Ten conference headquarters in Chicago, but if you are located elsewhere in meatspace, you’ll have to settle for virtual felt. You can see the whole series here, and buy prints here.

The Classical: The Bases Loaded series tackles a lot of baseball history, but with a unified aesthetic. I have a suspicion you might be a Cubs fan, based on some of the selections and your being from Chicago, so that explains a few of the selections—but how did you choose the rest of the topics? Was it design-driven or theme-driven?

Brian Lindstrom: Guilty as charged, I'm definitely a Cubs fan and that bias shows through. I feel they are important events and characters in baseball's history, but definitely from my own skewed perspective.

Each event and character, even the Cubs ones, have a story to tell and something deeper than stats and records. I truly believe baseball is unique in that the players of the past are household names and cherished unlike any other sport. Each player in the series made a significant impact, not only on baseball as a game, but altered the course of society. From Jackie Robinson to Hank Greenberg breaking barriers to Lou Gehrig's speech that touched every American that watched that event live. I wanted the featured events to reflect our culture and the important role that baseball plays in our country's history.

TC: Tell me a little bit about assembling these—the web viewer might not immediately grasp that the exhibition versions are actually felt, and not prints of the cleaner digital versions. Did you hand cut each letter? How long did that take? A lot of the warmth and personality in the series is accomplished through the lettering. Were you inspired by a particular style/vintage in making these?

BL: Yes, the exhibition that's traveling around the country has a serious sense of nostalgia that you cannot always get from a digital print, as far as materials are concerned. The banners in the exhibition are screen-printed felt banners measuring 26" x 40" and each have a 1" felt border attached to the edge. All of the lettering is hand done and inspired from baseball's rich visual history and the traditional logos and uniforms. The script logos and monogram hats are quintessentially baseball and American and the Bases Loaded Series plays off that theme. Those images of old uniforms, past players and old advertising signs in the outfield conjure up memories and emotions that are different for everyone. I want that same experience to happen when someone walks through the Bases Loaded Exhibit or when they come across one of the posters on someone's wall.

As for design influences, I find Luba Lukova and James Victore's iconic design work to be extremely powerful in the way they deliver a message. The raw, simple and witty approach to their work was a big visual inspiration for the Bases Loaded Series. I wanted the Bases Loaded Series to be more educational and narrative and that's when I introduced the hand lettering within the shapes. After showing different versions to people I found they were more willing to read the hand-done text that weaved it's way through a bold image, than if it was typeset in a standard font in a perfectly kerned paragraph. That engagement with the viewer is what I was looking for, and I feel the hand generated designs takes the edge off and becomes a little more approachable to the audience.

TC: I love the Pete Rose "Charlie Hustle" image, but would it have killed you to include his shag and sideburns flowing out from under the batting helmet?

BL: Ha! I could have, and that hair of his definitely would have been iconic in itself. That piece has gotten a lot of reaction, more than I would have thought. He was one of those polarizing characters that a true baseball fan couldn't deny attention. I think that's why the reality hurts so much, that as of now, it doesn't appear he will be in the Hall of Fame. Even though his playing career warrants that induction as much as anyone who's ever stepped onto the diamond.

TC: Aesthetically speaking, which team is the prettiest? Best home unis? Best road? Best logo? Worst?

BL: Dang, here I go. Sorry in advance for the ramble, but I love this topic. As anyone that's brainwashed to a be fan of a team will tell you, there is absolutely nothing like watching your team run on to that field with their uniforms on that you've grown to love. So much history and so many memories go into a simple logo and the color of a uniform. For me that team is the Cubs and their white jerseys with royal blue pin stripes. The royal blue away pull-over jerseys they used to wear immediately bring up memories of Ryno, Andre Dawson, Shawn Dunston, Mark Grace, Greg Maddux, Damon Berryhill and Don Zimmer. Those are the golden years of baseball, as far as my personal memories and experiences are concerned.

I think that's why I believe the association with one logo and a consistent color theme is important to building a loyal fan base. It might sound silly, but the Padres, Rays, Diamondbacks, Brewers, Astros etc. don't have that long history of tradition to latch onto. That's not to say they don't have die-hard fans and/or memories, but I feel you rob the fans a bit when you change your colors every 5 years. Ask most Brewer fans and they would take the gold and royal blue 'mb' baseball mitt logo and unis in a second (although their current uniform and logo, I think, could be a keeper if they settle on it.) The Astros have some great uniform history, as do the Padres, but they refuse to stick to tradition always thinking the new fresh colors will sell jerseys and fill seats. I think the opposite is true.

My theory is the teams with the most fan pride also have the most tradition and sense of identity, as well as an iconic ballpark that is free of gimmicks. All of these elements together create the experiences baseball fans are looking for. Pirates and PNC park, Orioles and Camden Yards, Cubs and Wrigley, Dodgers and Chavez Ravine etc. etc. The train wreck down in Miami is everything baseball isn't. Bright flashy colors, fireworks after every swing, 'halftime' entertainment between each inning and sea world in the outfield are all gimmicks that assume baseball fans are braindead idiots. Baseball fans aren't stupid. Baseball isn't flashy, glitzy or high-octane entertainment. The game doesn't reward immediate gratification and it demands our attention. All of those theatrics are attracting fans that would rather be at a circus anyway, not a ballgame. Slow it down, bring back that sense of nostalgia. Remind people why the game is one of the greatest on Earth. Don't try and fool them into thinking it's a firework show when it's really a chess match. You will only let them down, especially when they turn on the TV and all their short attention span can take away from the game is that it was a low scoring, long, 12 inning game that ended in 1–0. They need to appreciate that 1–0 as much as if it were 19–18.

Now to finally answer your question, ha! I'll break it into NL and AL.

First off the NL, in my opinion the winner as far as tradition, logos and unis are concerned. I'm not including the Cubs in this since I'm biased. I have to single out the Dodgers, Giants, Reds and Pirates as being some of the most well designed and brand-aware teams, not just in baseball, but all of sports. They know their logo, they know their colors and they respect their history. They don't resort to cheap tricks when attendance is down or build theme parks for baseball stadiums. They fall back on the tradition that has made them great and the fans are ok with that. The ugly award goes to the Diamondbacks and Rockies. I see those teams and feel absolutely nothing. That goes for the Padres and Brewers as well, but they're on the right track now. The Nationals are a great example of a new team who instilled instant tradition and was aware of where they stand in baseball history. Granted, they had some history to pull from, but kudos to them for actually doing so.

Now the AL. I'll get the Yankees out of the way as being the most iconic, for obvious reasons. That being said my favorite AL unis and logo go to the Baltimore Orioles with the Detroit Tigers right with them. Since you asked specifically, I'll give the Tigers as best home unis and the Orioles orange alternate unis as the best 'away.' The worst, no contest, in all of MLB is the Rays. How does a team with that much success in a short amount of time, in arguably one of the toughest divisions during that time span, have so little brand equity and fan loyalty? Note to the owners, the new name, colors, and logo haven't helped. It only stripped what little history you had, and a successful history at that. That goes for the Miami Marlins of Florida as well.

TC: Can people buy prints? If so, where?

BL: All of the prints are available at Society 6. They offer many sizes, framed/unframed etc. I have been working out logistics to offer some of the felt banners for sale as well, but for now it's just the one series that's currently traveling.

TC: What does Newbaric Design specialize in?

BL: Newbaric Design specializes in human-centered design and experiences. Humans are the most important ingredient when designing and developing what many call a 'brand.' There is nothing I love more, from a creative standpoint, than to develop, implement and nurture an idea into a full-blown product or experience. To watch something come to life that can really have an impact is beyond rewarding. Many things are involved in the experience and the brand including the logo, brand guidelines, printed collateral, web design, and a host of intangibles, but those things are only the building blocks and foundation, not the whole. A brand is what the consumer tells you it is, not always what you want it to be. Creatively, we can try to control that direction, but it has to be authentic and it must treat the humans with respect who come into contact with your product, much like the baseball experience rant I went on earlier. Newbaric likes to think what we create is authentic and appropriate for each individual client. What works in the Bases Loaded Series, and that aesthetic, may work across the board for every client or project.

TC: Anything else we should know about you or the Bases Loaded series?

BL: I will be continuing on with the Bases Loaded Series with plans to expand and see where else the concept can go. You can look at basesloadedseries.com for photos of past exhibitions and for information on future exhibitions.

My new pet project, and what my life has revolved around for the last year, is 50 BUILT. I'm launching 50BUILT.com in August, and it is 100 percent focused on all things American made. There are daily features including interviews with industry figures, product reviews, company spotlights, factory tours, and manufacturing news. There will also be a store featuring some well-known designers that have created 'American-made' themed designs for tees and hats, etc. In the shop will also be posters I designed that are educational and also a narrative, much like Bases Loaded, and bring the realities of American manufacturing to life. I started 50 BUILT because I felt there was a need to connect the American public with the realities and stories that are happening right now in the manufacturing sector. We all know products have been getting outsourced for decades, but are never told why. I want 50 BUILT to be a tool so the American public can learn how to support companies making the effort to produce their goods in the USA.


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