Texas Rangers claw and antlers gestures become hit apparel

Rangers-branded merchandise, unsurprisingly, is selling wildly at sporting good chains and at the ballclub's retail outlets in Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, off-site ticket offices and online.

What is surprising is that the players' in-house sign language -- hand gestures forming antlers and a claw -- would translate into the ballclub's bestseller when screened onto a T-shirt.

"We're approaching 30,000 sold. I was stunned," said Rob Matwick, the team's executive vice president for Ballpark operations. "We sold 7,000 during two home games against Tampa."

Through this past week, the team had a monopoly on the shirt, although Academy Sports and Outdoors, which paid good money to be called the "official sporting goods retailer for the Texas Rangers," has the shirt on order, said George Beaudry, an Academy store manager in Arlington.

Several versions of the genesis of the antler and claw gestures have emerged. But whatever the true origins, Texas Rangers equipment manager Richard "Hoggy" Price spotted some of the Latino players using the fingers-over-the-head "antler" gesture to denote speed "like a deer," and the "claw," a sort of long-distance high-five to signal a strong offensive play.

Price asked Nelson Cruz and Vladimir Guerrero for permission to have antler/claw T-shirts made up for the entire team.

With their go-ahead, Price took some blank white Nike shirts to an Arlington firm, Visual Impact, whose in-house artist, William Early, created the now-ubiquitous design, said owner Ronnie Cruz, 51.

Visual Impact screened just 60 shirts.

"This thing has really blown up," said Cruz, who sold the rights for an undisclosed but "fair" price, part of what he called a "friendship deal" with Price.

Although he could have made a healthy chunk of change, the Arlington businessman said: "To be part of where they're going and where they're at means more to me than money. This was never intended to be a money-maker for me.

"I don't tell every Joe Blow that we are the original creator of that shirt. But I do enjoy telling people. That can never be taken from me."

Emily Jones of Fox Sports did a TV spot about the players' new shirt, creating a buzz that translated into more media coverage and demand from the fan universe, Price recalled.

The entrepreneurial Price secured rights to the shirt from Cruz, then negotiated a deal with the ballclub. Terms were not disclosed, but money apparently did pass into his hands. Married to a former stadium usherette, he had worked part-time 33 years, mainly looking after the umpires' room after his former day job with Delta Air Lines. He got his full-time gig as equipment manager this season.

The claw/antler T-shirt, what Price called "one more piece of framework that holds the team together," took weeks to gain approval from the bureaucratic machinery at Major League Baseball.

The first order, placed in August, was a modest 1,800. But when retail pre-orders reached 1,200, the organization knew it had a winner, Matwick said.

"It's taken on a life of its own," he said. "We have kid sizes and a Dri-FIT version now, and we're thinking about women's sizes."

At the downtown Fort Worth ticket office on Thursday, James Weylen Clary wanted his own. Clary, who needed an XL, was disappointed that all that was left was a single small and several XXLs.

"I've got to get my 'claw,'" said Clary, 33, an insurance inspector who pitched for Indiana State University.

Instead, he left with a foam set of antlers and a Rangers cap for his 3-year-old. Today, he and his wife plan to head to the ballpark to outfit the entire family in antler/claw shirts.

Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718

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