[Editor’s Note: Paul is on his annual August break from site (although he’s still writing his weekly Bulletin column and may pop up here on the blog occasionally). Deputy editor Phil Hecken is in charge from now through the end of the month.]
A good Tuesday morning, readers. I hope your week has gotten off to a good start!
Once again, we’ve hit a lull in uniform news (although that should change today, when the Suns are expected to unveil a new uni), but I’ve got another fun article for you from original UW card carrying member Dan Skantar today. I’m sure many of our readers are cap collectors — a category into which Dan squarely fits, although his collection has grown smaller over the years, as he’ll explain below. I myself probably have over 200 caps, about 90% of which I have purchased, and there isn’t a cap I own that I haven’t worn at least a few times. So, I wouldn’t say I’m a collector so much as I’m an aggregator. And with two exceptions, I tend not to spend a lot on my caps. In fact, the most expensive cap I ever purchased was the original green fitted Uni Watch cap from Ebbets Field Flannels. Dan has his own cap story, which I’m pleased to have him impart to you all. Here’s Dan:
Off the Top of My Head: A Sports Fan’s Life in Ballcaps
By Dan Skantar
We Uni Watchers love our ballcaps. We wear our favorite teams’ colors with pride. We accumulate caps as fashion statements, souvenirs, and perhaps just because we couldn’t resist the clearance rack. Whether kept neatly organized or loosely tossed onto a closet shelf, our hats say something about us as fans.
My own stash once numbered close to 200 hats before I made the conscious decision to put a lid on the lids. Only 60 remain today, stored in a laundry basket. That is, when not on my head or strewn randomly around the house. Once every summer I take a headwear inventory, wash them as needed and discard one or two beyond hope. This year for the first time I asked myself why do I have all these hats?
I had never stopped to really think about any of my hats. Some are more than 20 years old. Each one has a story from a vacation, a business trip, a ballgame or irresistible urge. The common denominator is that I bought them to wear, not to collect. To me they are like my sock drawer. An assortment.
My hat story is of a guy who roots faithfully for his two favorite teams, who has been around a little and has a hat or six to show for those experiences.
The beginning: A Pirate cap
I’m 63 and have worn a ballcap pretty much everywhere since my twenties. There’s no vanity involved; I have a full head of (graying) hair. I just feel comfortable wearing one, even to church.
Being a Pittsburgh kid, I had a black Pirates cap at age four and a couple of replacements up through my teens. The first ballcap I actually wanted was the Pirates’ old gold crown/black visor model that debuted with Three Rivers Stadium in July 1970. (Unlike today’s carefully plotted rebrand rollouts, you couldn’t find the new style cap in stores until the following spring.)
In high school I didn’t wear caps much at all. Christmas 1976, my freshman year of college, wakened a sleeping mad hatter when I received a striped, mesh-backed cap emblazoned “Pitt Panthers”. Those trucker style caps made by AJD started the hat craze in the late 1970s. I wore that cap to Pitt football games for six years until the snaps broke. At this point I was inclined to limit my fanwear to the teams I followed regularly, so I added Steelers and Pirates cap in the same style. AJD caps kept your head cool, but the polyester faded quickly, and one good rain ruined the cardboard visor forever.
When I started working, a new cap was a guilty pleasure. In those days before specialty stores and online sales, the best place to find out-of-town MLB ballcaps was Three Rivers Stadium on gamedays.
Concession stands stocked a nice variety of twill caps as well as plastic batting practice helmets. That’s how I ended up with helmets for the Cardinals and Padres (rain protection), although I recall my yellow Pirates BP helmet was a giveaway.
On business trips, I’d bring home ballcaps and pennants as souvenirs. From Ohio through the Carolinas to Louisiana, to Tennessee and Texas, I’d hunt for hats. Hello, UNC, NC State, Wake, Duke, Clemson, and South Carolina. Geaux Tigers. Go Bucks. Go Vols. Hook ‘em Horns. If a ballgame fit into the schedule, I’d work it in. Heads up, Winston-Salem Spirits and Boston Red Sox.
Sometimes my burgeoning hat obsession was problematic. Like the time I had to sprint through the New Orleans airport to catch a flight home because I had lingered too long in the LSU team store in Baton Rouge.
In the 80s, other brands such as The Game and Sports Specialties had pushed AJD aside. Styles changed. Fitted hats. Navy peaks. Authentics. Corduroys. New Era seduced millions of fans like me with their splendid Minor League Baseball collection, which led me to the Chattanooga Lookouts, Buffalo Bisons, Charleston RiverDogs and Carolina Mudcats, among others.
My buddies and I made many a baseball road trip in the 80s and 90s. “Away” cities were fertile capping grounds. If we were lucky, we’d catch a cap day (Angels, White Sox, Tigers). On one such excursion to Detroit, we discovered a fantastic hole-in-the-wall next to Tiger Stadium called The Designated Hatter. Hat heaven, I tell you. No subsequent trip to Motown was complete without dropping coin at The Hatter. My pals still talk about the afternoon our friend Kirk and I battled to a $91 tie buying hats there.
Family members rarely buy me hats because they know I’m fussy. That didn’t stop my brother-in-law Charlie from punking me in 2003 with a Notre Dame cap to remind me that the Irish had beaten Pitt near my birthday. So thoughtful.
As the years rolled on, my travels waned, and I became less inclined to buy caps. I didn’t replace the ones that wore out. I donated so many to a homeless shelter. Today if I buy a new cover, it is probably something off the sale rack, like my Rams hat that I got for $4 the day before the last Super Bowl.
As I look over my hats today, two things are clear to me. One is that I prefer simple, unstructured twill caps. They are stylish, functional, tuck in a jacket pocket and can shrug off Pittsburgh’s many rainy days. Twins and 47 are my favorite brands.
The second fact is that I own more hats for the two teams whose games I attend regularly — Pitt and the Pirates — than I do for the ones I follow on radio or TV (Penguins and Steelers). I guess that’s no surprise.
Here’s a look at some of my hats.
The Oldies. Original Pittsburgh Maulers (1984 Lucky Stripe by AJD) and Pitt Panthers authentic baseball cap (circa 1988, ProLine). That Maulers cap outlasted the woebegone USFL franchise. I attended all nine Maulers’ home games. Pitt abandoned the bright blue and gold in 1997 but reinstated them a few years ago. These are my only two “display” hats, never worn outside.
Pitt Panthers. I’m a lifelong fan and 40-year season ticket holder for football and basketball. A Pitt cap is my “default” headwear on most days. I prefer the darker royal to Pitt’s current electric blue. But knowing Pitt, they will change colors again before next Thursday.
Pirates. It surprised me how few Bucco caps I own, considering that I’ve seen the Pirates play more than 1800 times. I could use one that reads “Hodgepodge of Nothingness”.
The other locals. Steelers and Penguins flanked by three caps for Carnegie Mellon, my alma mater. The Tartan “Scottie” dog is an underrated logo.
Road trip hats. Phillies, Giants, Providence, Orioles, Portland Sea Dogs, Paw Sox and Red Sox came from their respective ballparks. These logos are favorites of mine. The New England triplet (Bosox, Paw Sox and Portland Sea Dogs) are from vacations with my wife Susan, who is a Boston native.
No doubt there are Uni Watchers with far more extensive and organized hat collections than mine. As I said earlier, I buy them to wear. This essay allowed me to reflect on my journey as a fan, and it brought back a lot of great memories. Maybe your hats tell a similar story.
Dan Skantar is a free-lance writer living in Pittsburgh with his wife and cats.
Thanks, Dan! Fun and interesting cap story. I’m sure many of you have your own — love to hear some of them in the comments, especially if you’re one of those hard-core collectors who won’t even wear many of the caps they buy. Or even if you’re not. Do you have a favorite cap? Do your caps tell a story? Fire away below!