Behind Mookie Betts’ viral T-shirt, a message for Black L.A.

Spray-sprayed in Dodger blue and white, it was fresh on a black t-shirt when fashion designer Kacey Lynch whipped out his phone to snap photos of his new creation.

About a week later, Los Angeles outfielder Mookie Betts took to the field at Dodger Stadium for batting practice at the MLB All-Star Game, taking swings and conducting interviews while wearing Lynch’s shirt, which carried a bold message: “We need more black people in the Stadion.”

A black t-shirt with the words "We need more black people in the stadium" Airbrushed in blue and white

The original airbrushed version of the t-shirt worn by Mookie Betts to the All-Star Game can be seen on the floor of the Bricks & Wood office.

(Kacey Lynch)

Lynch, owner and founder of Bricks & Wood, a streetwear brand founded in his hometown of South-Central Los Angeles, grew up watching Dodgers games with his grandfather. Lynch’s colleague Malik Coney, who was once interned for the Dodgers, also grew up in LA as a baseball fan

The pair wanted to draw attention to what they saw as a lack of black fans at Dodger Stadium, but also a lack of black representation in a sport that remains predominantly white.

“We really want to highlight and create comfort for the people who are feeling, ‘You know what? I can’t play that sport, or I can’t go into that space, or I can’t be that type of person because there’s no representation there of people who look like me in it,'” Lynch said. “You can still be your true self in spaces that are unfamiliar to you or that don’t always have the same representation as you do.”

Major League Baseball officials have sought to get more black Americans to watch and play the sport by investing in youth baseball programs over the past decade. Despite efforts this season, 7.2% of players on opening day were Black Americans, down from 7.6% last year.

Lynch said such differences in representation are reflected in LA as a whole, who gets credit and whose voices are included. When Bricks & Wood and the Dodgers partnered up last year to design a new line of team apparel, Lynch wanted to make sure his south-central roots shine through.

“I think we just don’t get lost in what’s really a big part of the culture here,” Lynch said. “The conversation between black and brown is an undeniable thing that you can’t really overlook — Latino culture, black culture.”

And for Lynch, Dodgers culture has always been black and Hispanic.

In historically black and Hispanic neighborhoods like South-Central LA, East LA, Echo Park and Highland Park, Dodger Blue and the team’s “LA” logo are ubiquitous, Lynch said, from murals to fashion to local business branding.

“The LA logo itself is bigger than the Dodgers,” Lynch said.

For the airbrush art on the t-shirt, painted by Los Angeles-based Guava LA, Lynch was inspired by childhood visits to the Slauson Super Mall, also known as the Slauson swap meet, where he sold local Shops saw airbrushed scripts and designs for T-shirts and trucker hats.

In the days leading up to the All-Star Game, Lynch attempted to get his new line of caps in front of the Dodgers’ players. But what caught Betts’ eye, a six-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion and now one of the few black American MLB stars, wasn’t Lynch’s official team gear, it was the airbrushed T-shirt that was released separately.

The jersey wasn’t supposed to show up at the All-Star Game, but during the home run derby the night before, Lynch said. A shipping delay meant the jersey was delivered just hours before the All-Star game’s opening pitch.

After seeing Betts wear a different outfit during the derby, Lynch wasn’t sure if the Dodgers superstar would wear it at all.

“I was like, ‘Well, if he’s not wearing it at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised,'” Lynch said. “That didn’t bother me. But then my phone started flooding and I was like, ‘Oh, there you have it.'”

It wasn’t the first time a public figure had worn Lynch’s clothes. In 2018, music artist Tyler the Creator wore several of Lynch’s hats during a GQ photo shoot. In the months that followed, Bricks & Wood grew in popularity.

But ahead of Tuesday’s game, as Lynch saw the messages, tweets and Instagram posts about the jersey springing up on social media, he knew this moment with Betts was different.

“I was very glad that Mookie was inclined to stand on such a large platform for this message,” Lynch said. “The idea wasn’t to go viral, but the idea was to get reactions … and start the conversation.” Behind Mookie Betts’ viral T-shirt, a message for Black L.A.

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