BY KEVIN CZERWINSKI
Fernando Tatis, Jr. a Luchador?
Ricky Vaughn a Cleveland Guardian?
Tom Brady a Montreal Expo?
This isn’t part of some Bizarro World that you might find in an episode of Seinfeld. Rather, they are creations that sprang from the mind of Daniel Kearsey, an Ohio-based graphic designer and artist who also doubles as a professor at Kent State University’s School of Visual Communication and Design. Kearsey, 39, is one of the hottest new artists on the burgeoning card art scene, having created a niche that includes doing work for The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum [NLBM], Major League Baseball [MLB], The Society for American Baseball Research [SABR], and The Sporting News.
The cards he creates are sharp and clean and are presented through his prism, one that makes the hobby just a bit more entertaining. Consider Brady, who is thought by many to be the greatest quarterback to ever play in the NFL. He was selected in the 18th round of the First Year Player Draft by the Montreal Expos in 1995, number 507 overall.
Brady never played for the Expos, opting to head to Michigan to play football. While not much would have been expected of an 18th-round pick, you never know what Brady would have done on the diamond. After all, he was a sixth-round pick in the NFL and look how that turned out. That’s the beauty of Kearsey’s approach.
“Sometimes I like to see who’s hot, but even that isn’t fun for me,” said Kearsey about deciding which cards he will create. “It might be a big player, but not necessarily someone I follow. Like the Tom Brady [card]. He was getting some traction and [there] was supposed to be a card of him, or hypothetically a card of him being made so I decided I’m going to do a rookie card. I have different ideas and if someone pops out, I’ll say I want to do this or that.
“I try to mix in movie stuff, too, like A League of Their Own. Then I’ll throw in some pop culture stuff like Back to the Future or wrestling. It’s fun switching things up a lot.”
One of Kearsey’s favorite creations is the Charlie Sheen character of Ricky Vaughn from the movie Major League. The movie is about the Cleveland Indians’ rise one season and is a beloved baseball flick, particularly amongst fans in northeast Ohio. Some consider it sacrilege to take Vaughn out of the Indians uniform and put him in a Guardians uniform; but Kearsey did just that.
“I really like the Ricky Vaughn,” Kearsey said. “I also did a Marty McFly [Michael J. Fox’s character in Back to the Future] as a T206 both in a normal version and a zombie version. There was no reason to do a zombie Marty McFly, I just did it. So those are two of my favorites.
“With the Guardians, I think I was one of the people that didn’t care they changed their name. I get it and I understand why people were upset. I’ll always be an Indians fan and have lots of Indians memorabilia. But when I did it [the card], I drew it to be funny. What if they were never the Indians and they were the Guardians all along and the Major League movies were based on the Guardians? I’ve gotten a lot of comments on it. A lot of people say I need to make one of him that says Indians. I do like how it came [out], though.”
Kearsey, who lives with Shala, his wife of 12 years, and their 7-year-old son, does all of his work digitally. He says he always has his iPad with him and whenever the opportunity presents itself, he’ll do some drawing. Prior to the pandemic, most of his work was all done with pen and ink but that has changed. Now, he rarely strays from the digital.
He posted some of his creations on social media during the pandemic and that’s when things started to take off. The card art community is very tightly knit and it didn’t take long before he got noticed and began working for NLBM, which led to gigs with MLB and SABR.
“I just started out drawing and I wasn’t trying to do anything,” Kearsey said. “I was just doing it to pass the time.”
Kearsey has gone from just passing the time to having created nearly 100 cards [not including commissions] with nearly 90 percent of them focusing on baseball. It usually takes him between five and eight hours to complete a card; but that varies depending on the picture’s complexity. He charges $30 for a card and most are limited to a 10-card run. His cards also come with a sticker and a magnetic case.
“Some of them, for whatever reason, I can knock out in a night; others I dabble with for a week,” Kearsey said. “I’ve started a lot, too, but haven’t finished them. A lot of the stuff I keep in the archive on my website [sixtyfirststreet.com]. I like what I’m doing now with a lot of the trading cards. It was right when Covid started and I was off work [from Kent State]. I was working from home and I had a lot more free time so I just kind of started drawing. I was literally just drawing old baseball cards and not thinking much of it. I was bored and it was something to do.
“But I found there is a whole [card art] community out there. I started drawing more and different styles, hand crafting them. I was doing actual baseball players and then I threw in pop culture and movies to mix it up a bit.”
His love of art and creating was sparked by his grandfather, who worked in a print shop as a typesetter. Kearsey’s father was also an artist and woodworker, so as a youngster he was always exposed to many creative endeavors.
“I really can’t think of a time when I wasn’t doing something [artistic],” said Kearsey, who grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland. “I’ve always been interested in art, just to different degrees or levels with different styles.”
Kearsey now lives southeast of Cleveland near Kent State; but his love of the Indians, which began as a child, hasn’t diminished. However, once Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco were traded to New York, he also became a big Mets fan.
“I was always an Indians fan growing up and I remember going to Municipal Stadium a bit before they opened the new park,” he said. “My aunt and uncle had season tickets, so that was always birthday and Christmas presents. You knew you were going to get some Indians games. I grew up around the time of Kenny Lofton and Albert Belle. I’d say a lot of players from the ’95 and ’97 World Series teams, that era, are my favorites.
“I was 11 or 12 or something like that when I started paying attention to what each player was doing. I probably followed that stuff closer then than I do now – but there were so many good players then.”
Kearsey doesn’t know where this adventure will take him, but he has some ideas about cards he could possibly do in the future.
“I’d like to do some cards that are Cleveland based, team sets of all their World Series teams, that would be fun,” he said. “If there was something like that, I’d take the time to do it. I’d probably have fun doing a ’48 or ’54 series – but it’d be hard to find reference photos prior to that. That would be my grail project, a Cleveland set.”
Is there a Larry Doby or Lou Boudreau zombie card waiting in the wings? Who knows… But if there is, it will likely come from the mind of one of the genre’s most creative new artists.