accidental cap collector
my autobiography written in baseball cap logos
by dirk cotton
I love going to college baseball games. I'll attend my 37th game of the season this afternoon. I occasionally attend minor league games and even a high school game now and then, but I rarely even watch Major League baseball on TV.
I took my two sons to a Yankees-Orioles game in Baltimore in 1997. I paid $300 for three tickets that turned out to be under an upper deck behind home plate. Well back under the concrete upper deck, we could see the ball leave Darryl Strawberry’s bat, but unless it was a grounder (it never was), it immediately disappeared from view. It was like watching TV with a blanket covering the top half of the screen.
Parking cost $50 and I spent an equal amount on souvenirs and concessions. That was the day my enthusiasm for the “Bigs” died.
I'm a baseball fan, more specifically a fan of baseball games whose tickets rarely cost more than about six bucks.
At the age of eight, I began playing baseball in my neighbor’s backyard in the tiny town of Dawson Springs, Kentucky. Every kid in the neighborhood, except me initially (I was the youngest), wore a baseball cap. I began a parental-begging campaign and one day in 1959 my mom gave me money to buy one.
I walked downtown to the clothing store at Main and Water Streets, Haye’s Dry Goods, and marched to the mens department at the back of the store. I told the salesman I wanted a baseball cap. He walked over to a wall covered with large, dark-stained wood drawers and pulled one open near the bottom. Inside were several rows of baseball caps in various sizes—no snapbacks or elastic-banded one-size-fits-all’s—in three colors, red, navy and green. I wanted navy because I was a New York Yankees and Mickey Mantle fan, though caps didn’t come with team logos then, at least not the ones you could buy in Dawson Springs.
The caps had the backs folded inside and the bills perfectly flat so they would stack. Back then you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a cap with a flat bill, though in some circles today they are all the rage. I’ve even seen some of UNC’s players wear flat bills, though it will always look strange to me. In my youth that would have been a self-hung dork sign.
The salesman handed me several sizes to try on until we found one that fit just right. I bought it and headed home. I seem to recall it cost a dollar, though maybe it was less. It was solid navy, made of wool, and had a paperboard bill.
I had seen older kids wear the bill folded in half like a little pup tent and they would sometimes stick the doubled bill flat into the hip pocket of their jeans with the beanie part hanging out. I put a crease down the center of my cap’s bill, pulled it over my crew cut and walked back up Meadows Hill to my neighborhood.
The first person I ran into was Jed Dillingham. I smiled and said, “I got a baseball cap!”
“You broke the bill,” he informed me. “You shouldn’t have done that.” Then I noticed the nice, gentle round curve of Jed’s bill. I had committed a baseball fashion faux pas. I had unknowingly ruined my brand new baseball cap and I was heartbroken.
Fortunately, I got my second cap just a few weeks later from our little league team. The first thing I did was run to Jed and ask him how to shape the bill. I still use his technique.
You can put a rubber band around the bill and let it set for a few days. Some people just keep shaping the bill with their hands until it eventually holds the desired curve. Some roll the bill and stuff it into a coffee mug for a few days.
Jed used none of these techniques. He placed a baseball under the bill of my cap and used a rubber band to shape the bill around the ball and I impatiently let it sit for a few days. I still use this method because it infuses the cap with baseball-y-ness.
Many baseball caps today have plastic in the bills and they are quite difficult to add more curve or to make flatter. Fortunately, I like the shape of most plastic-billed caps.
Major League teams get their caps exclusively from a company called New Era. They still use paperboard in the bills, just like my first baseball cap. Paperboard is less durable but more easily shaped. My first baseball cap was made of wool, as many still are, but most are made of synthetic material now, or cotton.
Who wears baseball caps? Nearly everyone in America, and because we are fashion trendsetters, they’re worn all over the world. Hollywood types have worn them ever since Steven Spielberg showed up on the set of Jaws wearing a cap. Spike Lee wears them. Football players wear them on the sidelines and basketball players wear them to post-game interviews. Hard to find a fisherman wearing anything but a baseball cap, at least east of the Mississippi.
I have a few baseball caps. I wasn't sure how many so I decided to count them. I display 15 of my favorites atop an armoire in my bedroom. These are my dress caps.
Then I remembered I had stacked the overflow in my closet. I counted 17. So, there are 32 currently in my bedroom, but only because a few months back I culled about a dozen that had seen far better days.
Oh, and by the backdoor I have a hat rack with seven or eight more that I wear fishing or to work in the yard. And, wait, three were in the wash today.
Why, you might well ask, does anyone need 43 baseball caps? I don’t need them, of course, but they’re more than baseball caps. They’re snapshots.
The Redskins cap is from my early days in Washington when the Skins ruled. I have a cap from Infoseek, a former employer and one of the first search engine companies, and I have one from Proxicom, an early dotcom. Raul Fernandez gave me that cap just before his company went public and he was able to become co-owner of the NHL Washington Capitals, the NBA Washington Wizards, and the WNBA Washington Mystics.
Ah, the dotcom era. Those were the days. Every company had a baseball cap with their logo.
I have a few from America Online, where I worked for nearly a decade and even one from AOL Time Warner after the ill-fated merger. One was a souvenir from a trip to the Everglades and I have a couple from Bethany Beach, Delaware, where we used to spend summer vacations when our kids were small. I have a couple of Tar Heel Baseball caps I wear to UNC games.
I have an Atlanta Braves cap I wore when my son played for the Little League Atlanta Braves and I have a Marmot baseball cap made of Gore-Tex that serves as a rain hat. I have a cap with The Headstones logo, a rock band from my high school that is still playing together, and several that were given to me by fly fishing guides. I have several caps from my alma mater.
My favorite, at least for now, is the one I’m wearing in my photo above.
I photographed my caps and added captions in this Tumblr and noticed it’s pretty much my autobiography written in baseball cap logos.
There are several ways to wear a baseball cap, though I typically wear them in the “normal” bill-in-front style. I also like the bill-in-back style in certain circumstances, though that used to be more fashionable than it is nowadays. There is the bill-to-the-side fashion preferred by hip-hoppers and if you get two caps as gifts on your 94th birthday as my father-in-law did last week, you can even go for the two-fer look in the photo, though I don’t expect that style to go viral.
So, basically, you can wear them any way they fit on your head. In fact, there is a baseball tradition known as the “rally cap” for times when you find your favorite baseball team behind in the score. You simply wear the cap in any unusual way you can: inside out, upside down, folded in half, there are no rules.
It doesn’t matter what you wear to a baseball game as long as you’re wearing a baseball cap. You can wear a business suit and a cap, or a tank top, jorts and a cap (a look also known as the "Full Florida") and you’ll still look like a real fan. At last night’s UNC-Virginia Tech game I counted 58 fans in my section and 27 wore baseball caps. That’s way too few in my opinion.
There are over 200 NCAA Division One baseball teams and more than 240 Division Two teams, meaning there is a good chance you can find a college game nearby. So, go to a baseball game. Be a fan.
But first, buy a baseball cap or two.
Dirk Cotton is a retired executive of a Fortune 500 Internet company who loves to spend time with his family, fly fish, shoot sporting clays, attend college baseball games, sail, follow the Wildcats, and write. Everything else he does is just for fun. A computer programmer-cum-marketing executive-cum-financial planner who now wants to be a writer, he apparently can't decide what he wants to be when he grows up. He and his family moved to The Southern Part of Heaven in 2005 and couldn't be happier with that decision.
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