The Made in USA manufacturer creates baseball caps and other goods with a retro flair – along with its popular Yardball.
Soon after baseball took hold in the nineteenth century, sandlots began to take root in American cities. They provided a place where children could gather with friends and play the popular new game, building camaraderie and transforming otherwise dirty, empty lots into something magical.
Most of the old sandlots are long gone, although the term has lived on thanks to the 1993 movie The Sandlot, a nostalgic tale following the adventures of a group of young baseball loving friends in the 1960s.
But sandlot days are not yet extinct.
Chad Hickman is trying to capture some of the magic with his company, Sandlot Goods. At a 6,000 square-foot factory in Kansas City, Missouri, Hickman and his team of 45 employees are manufacturing throwback products that instill memories popular at the height of the sandlot.
Sandlot baseball is more than just a sport. Many experts believe that kids can learn more than just baseball when they are encouraged to play among themselves without adult supervision, rigid structure or fixed rules.
And that sense of fun is what inspired the Sandlot Goods team to create the Yardball. The idea originated from tape left behind by a painting crew that was formed into a ball and tossed around for fun by the company’s employees.
Similar in appearance to a baseball, the Yardball is made from American tanned leather with an all-natural wool and cotton core. It’s bigger than a baseball but smaller than a softball and isn’t super hard, so you can use it to play catch without using a glove.
Every Yardball is Made in the USA, sewn by hand at the company’s factory in Kansas City.
“We call it the ‘ball for all’ because anybody can be involved in it,” said Garret Prather, vice president of strategic partnerships at Sandlot Goods. “We intentionally note that any rules that establish a game for it that it gets engrained in the fun parts of your life.
“Our favorite thing is we want people to find their sandlot. That’s where the company name comes from. [The Yardball] can be thrown around in the backyard during a barbecue, playing catch on the beach or when you are sitting in the office just sitting on an idea. It can be used just anywhere.”
Although the Yardball can be enjoyed by folks of all ages, it’s a good starter ball for children who are beginning to play baseball or just want to have fun in the backyard.
“We have a lot of people talk about how the Yardball is super forgiving for kids that are learning to play catch or getting to the point in baseball where is you get hit in the face, it’s not going to be a super hard injury like a baseball with a harder core,” Prather said.
Along with the Yardball, Sandlot Goods also makes a line of retro-inspired baseball caps – and says it is the only company that manufactures hats in Kansas City.
“There are many companies claiming they have American-made hats, but they are simply importing hats and decorating them,” Prather said. “There is no American manufacturing from most of these companies but what seperates us is we have people here in Kansas City cutting the material, sewing it, decorating it and shipping it. We have one mill based out of Missouri, Carr Textiles, where we source a lot of our materials.”
Sandlot Goods baseball hats are generic and do not carry the logos of the Major League Baseball teams since the company does not have a licensing agreement with Major League Baseball (MLB). So, if you are looking for a Kansas City Royals hat, the logo is the large letters KC above the brim. A New York fan can find a hat with NY featured or a Detroit Tigers fans will find a hat with DET displayed instead of the traditional old English D.
“We are a small company, and all of this licensing is expensive, so we are just trying to meet the everyday challenges of a small business,” Prather said. “No one here had prior manufacturing experience, but we are growing every day and offering the type of hat people may not find elsewhere.”
Hickman founded the company in his garage in 2014, and it gained market share when he was approached to make journals, durable wallets, backpacks and bags. That was the core business before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The company closed for a few days because it was not an essential business, but quickly pivoted to make face masks in 2020 and has managed to not only survive but thrive through the uncertain times.
“We had about nine employees at that time, but we realized there was a potential way to pivot, to keep people’s jobs, keep going and start making masks,” Prather said. “We made 600,000 pieces of PPE and at the time realized there were really a lot of great sewers in Kansas City.
“Chad realized this was not going to be a forever thing and that’s when he started planning our next chapter, which was to make soft goods and baseball caps.”
Today, in addition to a wide variety of baseball-style caps, Sandlot Goods produces pennants, drink sweaters (like the brand name Koozie that keeps beverages cold), banners and wallets. Sandlot Goods also offers T-shirts that are printed and emblazoned in Kansas City, but the actual shirts are manufactured overseas.
Sandlot Goods makes hats out of wool, canvas, twill, hemp and even made a custom hat out of old army blankets.
“The fun part is we can test the waters and be agile,” Prather said. “Like now, corduroy is a super big fabric and I think we were on top of that a lot sooner than a lot of the hat companies. That is a very big pivot for them to do, and now you see the MLB hats that are corduroy coming out this season.
“We would love to make Kansas City Chief logos hats, but we don’t have a license with the National Football League, even though we have the greatest quarterback in the NFL playing for the Chiefs right now. But folks here are happy to have a quality hat with the KC on the front. It represents the city as well as all the teams.”
Whatever the future holds, Sandlot Goods is dedicated to keeping it local.
“We are very much a Made in USA company and we intend to keep it that way,” said Prather.