By Drew Hammell
The month of April is always a special time of year for baseball players young and old. The days are getting longer, the temperatures are getting warmer, and the smell of freshly cut grass is in the air. There’s nothing like the sound of a baseball popping crisply into a soft mitt or cracking sharply off a new bat. Every player has hope and excitement for what the upcoming season will bring. Every team has the opportunity to gel together for a championship run. Every kid has a hero (or two) that they want to emulate. Back in 1998, aspiring players wanted to throw heat like Hideo Nomo, fly around the base paths like Kenny Lofton, and crush the ball like Ken Griffey Jr. Of course, they wanted their shoes, too.
Here’s a look back at three Nike athletes featured in the April 1998 Eastbay catalog, and the footwear those stars were wearing.
Hideo Nomo – Nike Air Nomo Max II
With his tornado-style windup that both confounded batters and wowed fans, Japanese pitcher Hideo Nomo took the league by storm in 1995. Nomo’s baseball cards skyrocketed in value during his first major league season with the LA Dodgers. Japanese fans came out in droves and often flew over from Nomo’s homeland to see him pitch in the USA. As a rookie, Nomo led the league in strikeouts and was second in the league with a 2.54 ERA. He even started in the All-Star Game and struck out 3 of the 6 batters he faced. He would continue his success the next two seasons, but would not fare as well in ’98. Overall, Nomo had a stellar 12-year major league career, leading the league in strikeouts twice and tossing three no-hitters.
Though Nomo had a rough ’98 season, his shoes were still noteworthy. On the field, Nomo wore the Nike Air Nomo Metal. The model featured an abrasion-resistant synthetic leather upper, and a two-color Phylon midsole wedge. The Air Nomo cleat had low-profile forefoot and heel Zoom Air cushioning units – Nike’s latest cushioning advancement that kept the athlete’s foot low to the ground for extra speed and comfort.
The coinciding Air Nomo Max II was touted as Nike’s best-cushioned trainer. The Nomo Max had a synthetic leather and mesh three-quarter height upper, but ditched the Zoom Air in exchange for a dual-pressure, Max-Volume heel Air-Sole unit and a large-volume forefoot Air-Sole unit.
Kenny Lofton – Nike Air K-Lo
Back in the ‘90s, Kenny Lofton was heralded as one of the speediest players in the league. Lofton was a two-sport athlete in college, excelling in both baseball and basketball with the Arizona Wildcats. He’d stick with baseball after that and would go on to play 17 years in the Big Leagues. He was a 6-time All Star, a 4-time Gold Glove winner, and a 5-time stolen base leader (including 75 in 1996 with the Cleveland Indians).
His footwear in 1998 wasn’t too shabby, either. On the field, Lofton rocked the Air Zoom K-Lo. This metal cleat was built on a track and field last, with an ultra-lightweight, synthetic leather-and-mesh upper specifically designed for players like Lofton who craved speed. The model had a full-length internal polyurethane innersole cover. The K-Lo also had a low-profile forefoot Zoom Air cushioning unit (no Zoom Air in the heel, though). The finishing touch was a jewel Swoosh on the side, which has become popular again in 2018.
Sneaker-wise, Nike designed the Air K-Lo for Lofton: a minimalistic cross trainer with a track spike for artificial turf. The model featured a lightweight leather-and-mesh upper and a full-length Phylon midsole. The K-Lo had a forefoot Zoom Air unit and an aggressive sprint/speed outsole. With a price point of only $74.99 and a weight of only 10.5 ounces, it was one of the lightest and best-valued trainers available.
Ken Griffey – Nike Air Griffey Max III
One of the greatest baseball players of all time was at the peak of his powers entering the 1998 season with the Seattle Mariners. In 1998 alone, the Swingman would hit 56 homeruns and knock in 146 RBI. In his storied 22-year career, he was a 13-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove Award winner. In 2016, The Kid was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame receiving 99.32 percent of the vote.
On the field in ‘98, Junior sported the Air Griffey Metal. This top-of-the-line cleat featured a deer-tan and full-grain leather upper, and a cubic-dipped Pebax plate which provided excellent flexibility and added cushioning. There were also low-profile forefoot and heel Zoom-Air units for superior cushioning.
The Air Griffey Max 3 trainer model also had a supple deer-tan leather upper with an asymmetric lacing system and medial to lateral upper strap. Like the Nomo Max, the Griffey Max swapped out the Zoom Air for forefoot and heel Max Air cushioning units. The Griffey Max 3 was available in both black/silver/white and grey/black/red in the April catalog.
These three baseball trainers and their respective cleat versions formed an impressive body of work for Nike in 1998. There were plenty of other training models available as well, but Nomo, Lofton, and Griffey Jr. were the primary spokesmen that year. All three players will be remembered for their very different talents on the field, but they definitely had one thing in common: fire footwear.