The San Francisco Giants' face masks have an interesting backstory

August 23, 2020

This is a story about pandemic baseball and the surprisingly difficult task of identifying a specific piece of equipment used by multiple coaches and players on the field this season.

As a San Francisco Giants fan, I noticed that multiple members of the on-field personnel have been wearing a distinctive face mask. Manager Gabe Kapler, coach Alyssa Nakken, infielder Pablo Sandoval, and others wear a mask with straps that go around the back of the wearer’s neck and over their head, rather than looping around the ears. On Kapler, in particular, since he does mid-game interviews, I could see the fabric pulled tight against his face, showing the outline of his lips and nose.

There’s also a logo on the mask that I couldn’t identify, and initially thought looked like a stylized bell, or that it might have a connection to Barry Bonds and his number 25. You can see plenty of good shots of the mask in this video the Giants published to their YouTube channel in July.

I looked through major athletic apparel companies’ sites, thinking it might belong to a sub-brand, with no luck. I tried searching MLB’s websites and announcements, but most of their mask announcements had to do with team-branded products. Knowing Kapler is a process-oriented guy, I looked for stories about how he chose his mask, but couldn’t find anything. I chalked it up to something that would remain a mystery and set it aside as something I’d look up again later in the season.

Weeks passed. I looked again and still couldn’t find anything about these masks, which is unusual. Generally, every piece of equipment or apparel worn by top-level pros has enough marketing attached to it so that it takes a trivial amount of effort to track down. While these masks were showing a logo, there was no wordmark. The mystery of it all fed my curiosity.

Last weekend, I was flipping through games when I saw Ehire Adrianza of the Minnesota Twins with a mask around his neck that had the logo. Adrianza is a former San Francisco Giant, so there might be a connection there, but he was last on the team four years ago. That he had one suggested this brand of mask wasn’t just a San Francisco thing.

At this point, it occurred to me there was one more thing I hadn’t tried. I downloaded a few pictures of Giants coaches wearing their masks in such a way that the logo was clearly visible and ran the images through Google Lens on my phone. One image, a screenshot posted by Bay Area television station KTVU, had just the right angle and clarity for Lens to identify the logo as a stylized Z and S combined together. That wasn’t enough to identify the brand, but searching for “ZS mask” hit paydirt.

The mask is made by a small company based in Florida called Zensah. As of this writing, their Twitter account has a few more than 9,000 followers, and while they’ve retweeted other people figuring out that Giants are wearing their masks, and they’re prominent enough that the New York Museum of Modern Art has featured their masks in the MoMA design store, I suspect I’m not alone in struggling to find them.

Given that this company didn’t seem to be trying to keep a low profile, I asked to speak with someone at Zensah about their masks. Soon after sending an email, I found myself on the phone with the company founder and CEO, Ze’ev Feig.

Feig told me he founded Zensah in Israel, in 2004. He thought there was a market for compression athletic apparel using innovations developed in Israel and Italy for fashion brands.

Shortly after moving the company to Florida the next year, he gave compression shorts samples to some key people, and one of those samples made its way to Dwyane Wade, then early in his career with the Miami Heat. Wade reportedly liked them and started wearing Zensah products, Feig said. Ever since, he added, the company has had relationships of varying degrees with professional sports teams, but he’s been cautious about promoting top pros’ use of Zensah products for fear of stepping on anyone’s toes.

“Our core customer base is everyday athletes,” Feig told me. “When it comes to [pro] players, I think they hear about us, and we’ve had those relationships, because many of the teams use our sports medicine products.”

After the pandemic started, Zensah began making masks with their athletic performance materials, Feig said, adding that the company isn’t paying any on-field personnel to use its masks and didn’t do much of anything to get its products to athletes. From his perspective, the masks’ spread in Major League Baseball has been mostly organic.

“We do our best on a shoestring budget,” he said. “For marketing, we definitely don’t have the budget to pay big leaguers. We’re happy to find innovative ways to work with anybody out there.”

Today, Zensah has about 30 employees, Feig said, and remains totally bootstrapped. While he wouldn’t disclose annual sales, he said the mask business kept them from being down the first few months of the pandemic. Overall, he said, the company is profitable.

“We’ve always been profitable, and that’s something we’re very focused on. I see today, with a lot of direct-to-consumer companies, a ‘growth at all costs, don’t worry about profitability’ [mentality], and then they implode. That’s something we’ve shied away from,” Feig said.

So that's the origin of the Giants’ face masks. It turns out not to have been all that mysterious, but I’m certainly happy I figured it out.

(Top photo: Screenshot from Giants YouTube.)