I had ninth-grade Spanish with James, an Asian kid with straight black hair who wore a New York Rangers Starter jacket. He never wore a hat. I always wore a fitted baseball cap (unless a teacher implored me to take my hat off). For reasons unbeknownst to me, James decided one day that it would be a good idea flip my hat off my head, causing it to fall softly to the ground behind me. James thought this was funny. I didn’t. After several occurrences of James hitting the bill of my hat with the palm of his right hand and me frantically trying to catch the hat before it hit the ground, I decided enough was enough. I let James know that, the next time he touched my hat, I was going to not-so-gently touch him, a warning that seemed to get his attention.
After my threat, James left me alone for a few days. I thought my problem was solved. I was wrong. While leaving homeroom and on my way to Computer Literacy class, I heard a voice behind me just as I was about to descend the stairs.
“Hey Robert, what’s up?”
I turned. It was James. Before I could answer, my hat was flipped off my head. Again. It hit the third step from the top and rolled awkwardly down to the next landing. I frowned as I stomped down the steps and retrieved my hat, but not before a couple of my fellow hormonally imbalanced classmates inadvertently stepped on it, making me angrier. I spun around. James was just starting to make his way down the stairs. I quickly went back up the stairs, two at a time, until we were face to face. I punched him in the nose. James didn’t fall backward, but I could tell he was hurt, which was good enough for me. Instead of retaliating, James cupped his hand around his nose. As I went down the stairs, I could hear James whining in pain between sniffles. My punch bloodied his nose. James never touched my hat again. I haven’t punched anyone since. No one’s tried to flip my hat off my head since, either.
I take my hats very seriously. For one, they have to be fitted baseball caps; I wear a size 7 ¾, often the largest size you can find, so I stretch adjustable hats to the limits of their fibers, which isn’t a good look. I’m also not a fan of the hats with the elastic sweatbands; I once bought a New York Giants hat with one of those and got a headache because the band was so tight, it reduced the blood flow to my head. I spend the first few days with a new hat bending the bill until it fits perfectly around the contours of my forehead. I never wear my hats backward; I’m too old for that. I’ll never buy a hat with a logo I don’t know or recognize and the more obscure the logo, the better. I love hats with logos of defunct teams or logos that are no longer used; I have hats with the logos of the Montreal Expos, Quebec Nordiques and the early 1960s Baltimore Orioles (a dark blue hat adorned with a block orange B), just to name a few. I own about 15 hats, all with old-school logos, logos of defunct teams, logos of minor league teams or logos of teams I root for.
The baseball-cap logos that catch my eye are the simple ones, which is probably part of the reason I’m a fan of the old-school hats and logos. You can’t beat the simplicity of logos like that of the Hartford Whalers, with a W topped by a whale’s fin that forms the upper contours of an H. Or the Montreal Expos, with a red, lowercase E connected to a blue, lowercase B, which stand for “Expos Baseball.” The best logos are abstract, yet require only a quick glance or explanation to understand. Logos with too many colors, shapes or words never look good on a baseball cap. That’s why I was never a fan of the old Winnipeg Jets logo; it was way too busy. I love the logo of the current incarnation of the NHL’s Jets, which is much simpler.
I’ve always worn baseball caps. Initially, the hats were for practical reasons. I burn easily in the sun, so my parents got in the habit of outfitting me in baseball caps on hot, sunny days. I had all sorts of baseball caps in my early years, ranging from striped train-conductor style caps that matched my overalls to caps with baseball-team logos. I grew up in a family of New York Mets fans, so I had more than a few Mets hats in my youth. I also had a New York Yankees hat or two and, when I was six, a Cincinnati Reds hat. Most of the hats of my childhood had the mesh panels in the back. All of them had adjustable snaps in the back as well.
I was in the fourth grade when I got my first fitted baseball cap. It was late in the baseball season and a talented Mets team was about to fall short in their quest for a division title. So, my dad, tired of supporting underachievers, gave me his Mets hat. It was a size 7 ½ and a little big on me. It also had a black quarter-sized stain on the bill from when Dad accidentally dropped the hat onto a patch of wet tar. The white sweatband was a light brown, the result of Dad’s summer perspiration. To me, the hat was perfect. I wore Dad’s already-worn hat until it was nearly falling apart and replaced by a brand-new New York Mets fitted hat the following spring.
That second Mets hat started a trend that would last well into my teenage years: get a brand-new fitted hat, wear it every second of the day (except when my teachers or my mother told me to take it off) until the logo, sweatband and bill were absolutely filthy, replace with another brand-new hat. My most frequent hat of choice was a royal blue New York Mets hat, since the Mets were my favorite team; at various times I also wore fitted hats bearing the logos of the Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians, Capital City Bombers (a long-gone Mets minor league affiliate), Norfolk Tides (the Mets’ former Triple-A affiliate) and Kansas City Royals (I loved the gray hats they used to wear with their road uniforms). Since the Mets played in the National League and these were the days before interleague play, any American League team’s hat – except for the New York Yankees, of course – was fair game. I also grew to love hats of minor league teams; they were unique and unlikely to be worn by anyone else I knew.
My dream was to one day own several fitted baseball caps at once; that way, I wouldn’t have to wear one cap all the time and I could wear a different hat every day. That dream became a reality late in my teenage years, when I started using some of my summer- and after school-job money to buy more hats. I got my hands on a catalogue for a company that sold the fitted hats for every Major League and minor league baseball team; that company got a lot of my business. Whenever I saw a store selling fitted hats, I had to stop by and see if they had anything in my size that caught my eye – the former being a lot harder to achieve than the latter. Once I got out of college and began working as a minor league baseball play-by-play broadcaster, I started acquiring even more minor league hats. Picking up a hat bearing the logo of the team I worked for was a must and, on the road, if I noticed a team had a hat design I liked, I made sure I got one for my collection. That’s how I picked up hats with logos of the now-defunct Queens Kings, Kalamazoo Kings and Richmond Roosters, among others.
I no longer wear hats all day or even every day; much of the year, I’m covering baseball and a baseball cap isn’t proper work attire. Nowadays, my hats spend more time on a shelf in the closet, folded neatly into one another, than they do on my head. And yet, I still like to acquire hats for my collection whenever possible. When I am wearing a hat, my 21-month-old daughter likes to tug on the bill until she pulls the hat off my head, which I don’t mind. Hopefully, she never tries to flip a hat off my head.Follow @raford3