The West Akron Baseball League has friends in rock star places.
Akron’s reigning music royalty, the Black Keys, are continuing their relationship with the Orioles, the baseball team they sponsored in 2013. And as of Monday morning, they will be helping out the entire WABL through sales of specially designed baseball jerseys.
The shirts feature the WABL logo on the front and the Black Keys emblazoned on the back, and were designed by Michael Carney, the band’s creative director and drummer Pat Carney’s brother. They will be available on www.theblackkeys.com Monday morning, and both the band and its label, Nonesuch Records, are donating their cut of the sales directly to the WABL. The idea was floated during the 2013 season but is now coming to fruition, and is poised to be a big money-maker for the league.
“[The Black Keys’] manager said they sell thousands of shirts of each design and they want to make a major push for this to be their top-selling shirt,” WABL board member and vice president of T-ball Steve Milkovich said.
It was Milkovich — a neighbor of the Carney family whose younger brother Nick, now a major in the Army Special Forces, has been friends with Pat Carney since childhood — who first reached out to the band to sponsor a team. The band cut a $300 check and requested their logo be featured on the back of the shirt. When Pat Carney posted a photo on Instagram of the shirt last year, suddenly the Orioles became a trending topic on Yahoo and the photos appeared on TMZ, the Huffington Post and MTV’s website.
“Dan [Auerbach, the Keys’ lead singer and guitarist] and I played little league when we were kids before we got into music,” Carney said in a written statement.
“It was a really positive hobby that kept us from sitting around watching TV. We are proud to be sponsoring WABL to hopefully offset some of the league’s expenses and get more kids outside having fun,” he wrote.
Carney had thrown out a hint of what was coming by posting a photo Thursday of himself as a young ballplayer in his WABL jersey.
The newly minted shirts had their premiere Saturday night at the WABL Night at the Races Fundraiser in Zwisler Hall at St. Sebastian Church. The event is the league’s biggest fundraiser and the Keys donated about 70 shirts to sell, so local supporters had the opportunity to be among the first in the world to have the specially designed jerseys.
The Black Keys will continue to sponsor the Orioles, who will receive their own jerseys, and beginning Monday morning, fans around the world will be able to help out the local league.
“This is awesome. We have quite a nice little chunk saved up for a local little league team that survives on T-shirt and pizza sales,” Milkovich said. “We’ve been saving for a decade now, but this will double what we have, hopefully.”
He added that “if we’re dreaming,” he hopes the shirt sales will reach six figures, allowing the league to fulfill a long-standing wish of purchasing its own baseball complex.
“We’re so pumped,” Milkovich said. Along with his son, he got to hang out a bit with his former neighbor and rock star benefactor while Carney was visiting last summer during a band break.
“We have no idea what this could be. But we’ve been saving to buy our own fields coming up, and there is going to be a Black Keys Fields without a doubt.”