Fernando Tatis Jr. has 50 custom cleats planned this year, including odes to Gwynn, Curry and more

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Fernando Tatis Jr. had Tony Gwynn with him when he rounded the bases after a dramatic, go-ahead home run against the Chicago Cubs last week.

The San Diego Padres star stutter-stepped into third base with his right cleat, designed with the look of the team's home white pinstriped jerseys from 1998, when Gwynn led the Padres to their most recent World Series.

Tatis’ left cleat was in the brown and yellow color scheme from the 1980s. Both cleats had “Mr. Padre” on the back to honor the late Hall of Famer.

Perhaps divine providence led Tatis to unveil those custom cleats on the 20th anniversary of the first Padres game at Petco Park, where a statue of Gwynn stands beyond the center field fence.

Or maybe it’s just the swagger and flair that sets Tatis apart from most other ballplayers.

“Definitely the shoes,” Tatis said after helping turn an 8-0 deficit into a 9-8 win. "The power came from above. Always grateful. Definitely a little bit inspired today. Just happy I was wearing those shoes today.”

He's hoping to pull more inspiration from the ground up this season. Tatis plans to unveil 50 pairs of custom cleats in conjunction with his branding company, Xample, and Los Angeles-based Shoe Surgeon. The cleats will honor people, events and whatever strikes the 25-year-old Tatis’ fancy.

“It’s a crazy idea,” Tatis said. “We’re definitely having fun with them.”

Tatis previously had a shoe deal with Adidas, but the company ended that days after MLB suspended him for 80 games for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs in August 2022. Being a shoe free agent has allowed the dreadlocked Dominican to be creative and use different brands, although he favors Jordan 1 Mid cleats by Nike.

“I think that really made him more expressive in terms of really showing the world who he is,” Xample founder and CEO Nick Drbal said. “Never judge a book by its cover or else we’ll just write our own book.”

In 2019, MLB began allowing more colorful cleats. Tatis, along with Bryce Harper and a handful of others, have been at the vanguard of creativity.

Tatis unveiled his first custom pair during a two-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Seoul, South Korea.

For the home opener, he honored late Padres owner Peter Seidler with cleats that included images of Seidler, who died Nov. 14 at age 63, and palm trees. Seidler stood by Tatis during the PED suspension and was at the star’s first game back. Tatis put Seidler’s quote, “I believe in him,” on the back of the cleats. Tatis plans to give them to Seidler’s family.

The next night, Tatis wore “ Tatis & Co. ” shoes in stylish Tiffany Blue to match the Padres’ colorful City Connect uniforms. He homered twice.

A pair called “Platino” honored his 2023 NL Platinum Glove Award and featured the silhouette of Tatis leaping to make a home run-robbing catch last season.

On Military Appreciation Day, he wore cleats made from the camouflage uniform Army veteran Mark Bartlett wore while deployed in Afghanistan and a uniform worn by Navy veteran Jared Kenney, including their name tags. That project came about after Tatis asked fans on Instagram what they’d like to see.

A longtime Padres fan, Bartlett, 41, said he was “speechless and emotional” when he found out at game time that Tatis was wearing the cleats. “I was celebrating Easter with my family and I had to go in the garage to let it out. Started bawling when I first set eyes on them.”

Raised in a military family, Bartlett applauded Tatis for supporting San Diego's military community. He said his father, a 24-year Navy veteran who died during the pandemic, “would be so proud to see his family name on one of his favorite player’s cleats.”

Tatis opened a series in San Francisco by wearing a pair of Stephen Curry’s Under Armour basketball shoes that had been modified into cleats. The Golden State Warriors superstar personalized them with his favorite Bible verse, “I can do all things.”

Curry said he and Tatis connected through a mutual friend.

“It’s kind of cool to see him wear it. One of one,” said Curry, a four-time NBA champion and two-time MVP. “The love and respect from fellow athletes, guys that are — how old is he? — the fact that he felt a certain type of connection to me and my story knowing where he is and the profile he has now, I know his intention is good so that’s pretty dope that he wanted to rock them with pride.”

Tatis honored his father with cleats named “In The Blood” for the opener of a series at Dodger Stadium, where Tatis Sr. hit two grand slams in the same inning on April 23, 1999.

For Jackie Robinson Day, he wore “Never Let Them Know It” cleats with beautiful laser-etched images of Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier.

“Every one of them have a different type of value, but I feel they’re coming out really nice so far,” Tatis said.

“When you look good, you play good.”

Tatis and Drbal began dabbling with custom cleats last season and decided to go all out this year.

“He is the most swaggy player in baseball. His fashion is unmatched. He’s very different in that regard,” Drbal said. “I’ve never really met someone who takes such pride in the details in every part of his life, let alone his wardrobe. He’s 100% the right guy for this.

“It’s completely collaborative. It’s beautiful,” said Drbal, who also works with Ronald Acuna Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Oneil Cruz on their shoe designs.


AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this story.