When did you start Custom Cleats?
Anthony Ambrosini: In 2004. I started it when I was a minor league baseball player.
What made you think of doing that?
Ambrosini: I always had a passion for baseball growing up, but I always did want to start my own business and pave my own way. I was the kind of kid who would go into the PennySavers and order… I don’t know if I’m dating myself, but there were always ads about making money by stuffing envelopes for companies.
So it would be, like, send $35 in, we’ll send you the equipment. At 12 or 13, I would send $35 in, expecting to make money stuffing envelopes for these companies. I always wanted to make my own money and create my own business, so I think that was definitely a passion at a young age.
When you started the company, what were you thinking? How did you come up with the idea to work with cleats and with sneakers?
Ambrosini: I’ve always had a background with construction, working with my hands. So I always had a know-how of how to work with machinery. But the reason why I started or came up with the idea was I played in the minor leagues with my younger brother Dominick.
We were both in low A ball out in the Midwest League one year, and he ended up suffering a stress fracture in his foot. He would wear sneakers and turf shoes through batting practice and infield and outfield all the way through to game time because regular cleats would just kill his feet.
Obviously, once the game started he would have to wear the cleats because there was no other option. Being an older brother and having a general know-how of how to do things, I said that I could try to incorporate the shoe that he wants to wear and try to put some type of traction on the bottom.
It started as a really low-level kind of concoction. I would run at the field where we were playing and the cleat would fly off, and I’d be like “Wow, that doesn’t work.” It took about a year and a half to get a reliable cleat that I could give him to wear. So once he wore the cleats that I felt comfortable with him wearing, five guys in the clubhouse wanted them. And at the time when I came up with a cleat that worked, we were in high A ball in the Florida State League.
That process of testing the models took a year. A lot of people don’t have the patience to deal with failure when something doesn’t work out early on. What kept you moving through the process, and what was it like seeing it work out in the end?
Ambrosini: I’m a very determined person, so once I set my mind to something, I’m going to do it. I didn’t care if it took me one year or 20 years. I didn’t care, I wanted to figure out how to do it, I was on a mission. The failures of the prototypes that didn’t work didn’t slow me down at all.
Once I had a cleat that he wore, that sense of accomplishment when he came off the field and said “My feet feel so much better wearing these cleats than the other ones I’ve had” made me feel good.
You built a pretty big following recently. Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier is someone who comes to mind. What was your first big break in terms of a client or athlete who helped bring more exposure or attention early on?
Ambrosini: Sure, that’s an easy one. The guy who always was vocal about what I was doing and was in the big leagues was Russell Martin.