Joe Ryan rolls out collaboration involving Grateful Dead

June 29th, 2023

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The way tells the story, his connection to the Grateful Dead is an existential one -- that is, he’s linked to an incident via which the legendary band might not have been able to establish its current legacy.

That goes through his dad, who almost ran over principal songwriter and lead guitarist Jerry Garcia once on a hilly road when Garcia had stepped out of a broken-down car onto the highway. It’s a good thing Ryan’s father swerved out of the way, then, because -- in addition to the obvious reason -- Ryan himself might never have gotten the shot for one of the more unique collaborations by an athlete in recent memory.

On Tuesday, Ryan and apparel company HOMAGE officially launched a new line of three T-shirts, marking the first athlete collaboration involving Grateful Dead imagery -- and the most involved collaboration HOMAGE has ever done with an athlete. Ryan himself designed two of the shirts.

“It was awesome, a surprise,” Ryan said. “It's kind of cool that it lines up with the last tour for them, and just excited to be a part of that in some small way.”

Ryan, of course, warms up to “Fire on the Mountain” by the Grateful Dead whenever he takes the mound at Target Field, chosen when listening to stacks of albums with a friend, finding the track that “hit home” with the references in the lyrics. He wishes that he could use the 10-minute live version -- but, well, MLB doesn’t give pitchers that much time to warm up on the mound.

Ryan is a bit of an old soul, from the classic music and cars he enjoys to the vintage bike he rides to work when at home. HOMAGE, which owns the licensing to the Dead imagery, was thrilled to work with Ryan on this line -- directly with designer Adam Karstens, the company’s biggest Deadhead -- since the Twins were already planning to do another Grateful Dead night, anyway.

So, even after the end of the ongoing concert series billed as the final tour of Dead & Company -- the band formed by some surviving members of the Grateful Dead -- Ryan will be able to stake claim to a spin on the band’s famous iconography through the three shirt designs.

“We wanted to create a way for Joe to pay homage to, of course, his love for the Grateful Dead,” said Matt Schultz, the director of brand partnerships and social media at HOMAGE. “But it's also a way for him to pay homage to his family, to where he comes from, and really what makes him who he is, as a player.”

There’s a light gray shirt, a favorite of many Twins players around the clubhouse, which features a skeleton wearing Ryan’s Twins uniform -- with the iconic lightning bolt on the left leg -- throwing a baseball shrouded in flames.

Then, there are the two that Ryan designed with his friend from home in Marin County, Corey Mano, and Mano’s girlfriend, Mary.

The first thing that came to Ryan’s mind was to pay tribute to his love for surfing, and to his home in Northern California, where the Dead originated. So, there’s a skeleton on a surfboard -- goofy-footed, with the feet switched, like Ryan -- with the Bay Area’s iconic Mt. Tamalpais in the background. That turned into a light blue shirt with “Joe Ryan” stamped across the top.

“I wrote out this long text to my buddy, who's a huge Dead fan,” Ryan said. “His girlfriend took what I wrote and she drew it on a piece of paper. I'm like, 'Yeah, that's exactly what we just said.' I just sent that picture over to the team, and they threw it together, and it looked exactly how we designed it.”

Finally, there’s another that pays tribute to Minnesota, his home as a pitcher for the foreseeable future, with one of the dancing bears ice fishing with a baseball bat through a hole in the ice that looks like the “Steal Your Face” skull, which adorns another light gray shirt option.

And no, all of this isn’t just a way to pander to the club’s manager (Rocco Baldelli notably enjoys the Dead and has bobbleheads of Garcia on his desk in his office at Target Field). Ryan figures to be a fixture at Target Field for the years to come -- especially as his pitching continues to develop polish, evidenced by his complete-game shutout against the Red Sox last Thursday, the first by a Twins starter in a half-decade.

So, what better way to pay tribute to his roots in Northern California, his growth in Minnesota, and his love for one of the all-time classic bands?

“Everyone involved has really embraced the creative nature of this,” Schultz said. “We don't want this to be like your normal fan apparel. This is really, you know, more of an approach of a personal tribute to Joe's game, to his life, and of course, to Minnesota Twins fans.”