From a young age, Marcus Rivero has always had an appreciation for art and a love for sneakers. What he didn’t know was that his fascination and passion would later turn into a full-time career.
What began as a one-time project for a girl he was dating has since turned into several hundred projects spanning multiple sports.
Now, Rivero is helping professional athletes across the world express themselves through custom-designed footwear. In particular, Rivero is helping provide Latino ballplayers throughout Major League Baseball a voice that extends past the limitations of the English language.
Rivero, 35, who is more commonly known as “Soles by Sir,” designs custom cleats and footwear for athletes throughout the NBA, NFL, NCAA and MLB. He prides himself on never missing a deadline and “1:1 designs.”
“Since I started, I have never duplicated a project,” Rivero told La Vida Baseball. “When I look at a shoe, I don’t see it like the average person. I look at a shoe and I’m like ‘Alright, I can do this here and if I change this I can do that there’ and I go to town.”
The process by which Rivero operates is simple. Athletes typically reach out to him via social media or through mutual clientele. From there, the two discuss the shoe’s design.
The cost ranges anywhere from $300 to $1,500 and Rivero estimates that each pair can take him anywhere between four hours to over 20 to complete.
When it comes to the design, some athletes let Rivero go wild while others provide him with specific instructions. In some cases, Rivero and the athlete go back and forth via Skype and FaceTime until the shoe is complete.
“To me, the ‘go wild’ part is the hardest one,” Rivero said. “You don’t know somebody’s style and you have to basically guess. At the end of the day, I can do some crazy stuff and it may or may not work for them.”
He added, “My favorite is definitely bouncing ideas back and forth. Sometimes, these guys have such crazy ideas. The funny thing is, the quietest of players, the more reserved players, are the wildest when it comes to their shoes. Sometimes, the wildest of players want the simplest of things on their shoes. I don’t get it!”
It’s important to note that Rivero’s custom cleat designs make up one of two jobs. He also owns a wholesale tire distribution company.
Lending a helping hand
While Rivero enjoys the collaborative process, it’s the ability to help peloteros express themselves in a unique way that is particularly special to him.
Rivero, who is the son of Cuban immigrants, enjoys getting to work with fellow Latinos, especially those who hail from Cuba, like Yasiel Puig.
“You get starstruck not realizing you’re talking to a great baseball player,” Rivero said. “And by the way (Puig is) from your native land. It’s a pretty cool feeling, but it doesn’t hit me until way after.”
Because Rivero shares a common heritage and language with many of these players, he’s able to develop deeper and more personal relationships with them. In turn, they trust him to help bridge the gap between themselves, the media and their fans.
“It’s such a great feeling,” Rivero said. “At the end of the day, some of these guys don’t talk. Some of these guys are very shy and they don’t want to get in front of a camera and say ‘Hey, you know, what Puerto Rico is going through is rough.’ But they have no problem telling me to do it for them, which is really cool because it takes a lot of the pressure off of them.”
Having developed a relationship with many of these players, Rivero understands the struggles many of them go through particularly with having their voice heard as it was intended.
“These guys are athletes. They’re baseball players,” Rivero said. “They’re not politicians. They’re not going to say the perfect thing. They may say something, and it gets misconstrued.”
He believes his cleats allow peloteros to express exactly what is on their minds without the need for a translator or fear of misconstruction, which, in turn, opens up their identity to local media and national audiences.
“It’s one of those things where the art makes it easier for them to get their message across without a misunderstanding.”
Rivero’s increase in MLB clientele comes as a result of the league and the Players’ Association coming to an agreement to relax the game’s shoe rules. Following the World Series, the league announced that players would no longer have to abide by the “51 percent rule” which dictated that 51 percent of the cleat be of a player’s team’s primary color along with no added alterations or illustrations.
Its decision follows recent action in the NBA and NFL in providing players with more creative freedom. As a result, more and more peloteros in MLB are turning to Rivero to help turn their game cleats into living art.
While not every pair of cleats necessarily make a statement, they do, however, feature messages and themes prevalent in Latino culture such as the importance of God and pride in one’s home country.
“These guys, they’re not doing anything wrong,” Rivero said. “They’re not trying to put a derogatory thing on their sneakers. It’s not a rap song [or] nothing like that. It’s typically positive messages. It’s messages that while they may not relate to everyone, they relate to them and certain types of people.”
Rivero cites a pair of cleats that he worked on for Diamondbacks All-Star Ketel Marte. The cleats feature the words “El Niño de Nizao,” a reference to Marte’s birthplace in the Dominican Republic.
“He’s not trying to tell somebody something bad,” Rivero said in reference to the cleats. “He’s trying to give that little village where he’s from all the recognition in the world. I’m sure to that village it means the world. To him, it’s his way of being prideful of where he came from.”
Rivero also cites his work with Nationals rookie Victor Robles, who requests that all of his cleats feature the phrase “God is First.”
“It may not be for everybody, but it’s a very symbolic message to him and a lot of people take appreciation to that.”
Rivero contends that the ability for players to express themselves opens up a level of humanism not typically realized.
“They’re not just players anymore, they’re actually human beings,’ Rivero said. “They come from where I came from, they do the things I care about. He believes in God. It makes them more human, in my opinion.”
The ability for peloteros to express themselves on the field and the relief of pressure that comes with it is often matched with success on the mound or in the batter’s box.
For instance, this season, Marte was named to his first All-Star game, while newly welcomed client Fernando Tatís Jr. is enjoying an incredible rookie season with the Padres. Earlier in July, Yankees pitcher Domingo Germán tossed six innings of one-run ball in his return off the injured list. All of these feats and more achieved in Rivero’s cleats.
“There’s a saying back in the day that [said] ‘Look good, feel good, play good,’” Rivero said. “These guys when they go out there with something custom on their feet, they feel different. They have a little oomph.”
With many of his clients experiencing great success, Rivero can’t help but feel like he is part of it.
“When I see them out there in my stuff, it’s almost like I pitched those six scoreless innings and heck I play for the Yankees,” Rivero said. “For any kid, that’s a dream come true.”
Nonetheless, as his business continues to grow by the day and the number of orders stretching well into the several hundreds, being able to express himself and, in turn, others through artwork has and always will be at the forefront of all that Rivero does.
“Art to me means, in a world full of copycats and a world full of everybody blending in, it’s a way to stand out,” Rivero said, “Art lets me express sides of people’s stories that they don’t normally get to talk about, whether it be because you’re a shy person or whether it be you don’t really speak English well so you’re embarrassed to tell the media. Art to me is an extra way to express who you are in the most unique of ways.”
More so, Rivero understands the importance of his work in helping bridge the gap for the game’s many Latino players and the responsibility he carries. It’s a large reason why he has and will continue to stay on this journey.
“I’m glad that I’m able to be the outlet that lets them say certain things and feel certain types of ways. To me it’s a form of expression that normally these players don’t get to do verbally, so it lets them express stuff through my hands and my art.”
Featured Image: Marcus Rivero via Facebook