Behind the Tigers’ City Connect jersey design: Paying homage to the Motor City

DETROIT — Members of the Detroit Tigers spent almost three hours on the day of a rainout filming the video that would accompany the release of their City Connect uniforms. 

The video was filmed in the former site of the Michigan Theatre, the same location as the famed parking lot rap battle scene in the movie “8 Mile.”

That was one of the many Detroit-themed Easter eggs that came with the release of Nike’s 24th City Connect uniform.

“The meaning behind it, I think, is really cool,” outfielder Riley Greene said. “There’s the tire tracks and the numbers on the side. Just different things that mean something, and I think that’s pretty cool.”

Beginning in 2021, Nike’s City Connect series prompted teams to design new uniforms that tell a story about their home city. Although the uniforms are bound to elicit strong reactions from traditionalists everywhere, only the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics have declined to add City Connect uniforms.

For the Tigers, designing the City Connect was a multiyear process. Especially being a team known for its simple, iconic Olde English D uniforms, Tigers executives wanted to find a middle ground between creating something new and honoring tradition. Although the team has worn alternate uniforms honoring the Detroit Stars of the Negro Leagues and their “Tigres” jerseys honoring Latin American heritage, the Tigers have worn non-white jerseys at home only once in their entire existence. That came on May 7, 1995, when the Tigers wore their now-infamous blue alternates for the first and only time. Even during MLB’s Turn Ahead the Clock night in 1999, the Tigers merely shortened the sleeves and adopted a more futuristic font but otherwise hardly altered their existing look.  

Early on in the City Connect process, the Motor City theme was picked as both the obvious and appropriate idea to build the new uniform around — an ode to both a storied past and a spirit of future-minded innovation.

The small details on the uniform are numerous. There are electric blue tire treads down the middle of the jersey, designed to represent wheels “keeping the Motor City and the Tigers accelerating toward the future.”

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(Courtesy of the Detroit Tigers)

The reflective patch on the jersey’s left sleeve is one of the most distinct features, paying homage to Detroit’s famous 313 area code as well as a bolded No. 1 that emulates the classic M-1 road sign, a nod toward the city’s central vein of Woodward Avenue.

The sleeves of the jersey feature racing stripes in honor of both the racing industry and “the Tigers’ youthful speed and energy.”

The uniforms, hats and batting helmets also have their own VIN number in yet another automotive homage. The VIN numbers in 190135456884, representing the team’s status as a 1901 charter member of the American League, as well as the Tigers’ world championship seasons in 1935, 1945, 1968 and 1984. 

The underside of the cap bill features “Tiger Eyes” intended to symbolize the “passion, energy, and tenacity of Detroiters.” The Tiger eyes also appear near the beltline of the jerseys. The uniforms almost appear black but are actually made with Nike’s darkest possible shade of blue.

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(Courtesy of the Detroit Tigers)

“I’m glad that it was our turn,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “There’s been a lot of anticipation and curiosity. There’s gonna be the reaction there is with every City Connect uniform. But it’s fun. The players enjoy it. I’m sure the fans will like it. It’s a cool, different look that a lot of people have put time and energy into it.”

The Tigers unveiled the uniforms and debuted new merchandise Monday morning. The Tigers will wear the uniforms for the first time Friday and Saturday at Comerica Park against the Houston Astros and will continue to wear the City Connects during Friday home games for the remainder of the season. 

And if the Tigers start winning in these jerseys, might they wear them more often?

“I have never been the most superstitious guy, but I will 100 percent buy into the City Connect momentum,” Hinch joked. “If it creates any sort of opportunity to capitalize on wins, we’re going to do it.”

(Top photo: Courtesy of the Detroit Tigers)

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