COPLEY — As they tuned in to this year’s Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game on July 19, a Copley family paid close attention to one specific part of players’ uniforms — their cleats.
Copley High School graduate Zach Heckendorn, 18, of Copley, was commissioned by Adidas to create custom All-Star Game shoes for a number of players this year, including Cleveland Guardians stars Jose Ramirez and Emmanuel Clase.
“There’s just tremendous pride in knowing that something you’ve worked on has paid off,” Heckendorn said. “Not many people may have noticed, but [it was great] just knowing they were wearing them.
The road to having his work featured in the MLB All-Star Game started like a skylark, Heckendorn said. During the early days of COVID-19, with “nothing happening,” he said he started painting. The shoes found around her house became her canvas.
“Actually, I never took an art class,” he said. “It started as a hobby and expanded through trial and error.”
When he entered his freshman year, Heckendorn became involved with Junior Leadership Akron, a nomination-based program that provides community awareness and leadership skills to high school students in Summit County, according to his website. Part of the Junior Leadership Akron program is selecting a nonprofit community to partner with on a project, Heckendorn explained.
“I found [Akron-based] Project outdated, [which makes] personalized shoes for kids with cancer,” Heckendorn said. “I thought ‘this is perfect.’ I contacted them and asked if they had anything coming up and if there was a way to help them.
Through Project Outrun, Heckendorn was introduced to Collin Nemet, an 11-year-old Brunswick resident who suffered from medulloblastoma, a form of brain cancer. Collin became the first recipient of a pair of custom shoe designs from Heckendorn.
“He wasn’t well at the time and wouldn’t get out of bed,” Heckendorn said. “When he got the shoes he got up and started dancing. A week later he passed away.
Heckendorn couldn’t see Collin receive his custom shoes in person, but he saw the event on video.
“It was like a last resort [moment] of happiness,” Heckendorn said. “I was so grateful to have the opportunity to give this to a child who is struggling in life – to make their day a little better.”
While attending Project Outrun founder Andy Sheppard’s 5K Run fundraiser in June, Heckendorn was introduced to Lakewood-based shoe customizer Jonathan Hrusovsky of Hrusovsky’s Custom Kicks. Heckendorn and Hrusovsky were soon working together on a pair of cleats for San Diego Padres outfielder Trent Grisham, using the special Padres green, pink and yellow “City Connect Series” jersey.
Two weeks before this year’s All-Star Game, Hrusovsky’s Custom Kicks received an order from Adidas for 18 pairs of custom All-Star Game-themed cleats for Major League All-Star players and All-Stars. Minor League stars at the Futures Game on July 16.
“I went there every day for a week, working on the taping, finishing and painting. It usually takes about eight to 10 hours [for each pair of shoes]“said Heckendorn. “We had a basic design and added [elements] for each player, such as their number.
Heckendorn said he may have the opportunity to attend next year’s game in Seattle.
“I really want to keep the MLB connection and it’s a cool hobby,” he said.
This fall, Heckendorn will attend Mount Union University to study pre-med and play for the Purple Raiders baseball team. Whether or not he will take to the court with a pair of his own custom cleats remains to be seen.
Heckendorn and Hrusovsky can be found on Instagram @zheck_14 and @jhru04.
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