The first time I remember seeking out actual caps was in my senior year of high school. Because you wanted to represent your future college, or at least that’s what I was thinking of at the time. I had a white cap from The Game, with their standardized circle-logo, for Vanderbilt – which got tossed to the back of the closet and replaced with the bar-style logo for my undergrad. Then, after I discovered sports, the floodgates opened. I accumulated four or five Redskins caps, at least two of which I still have. I bought a Braves hat, my first foray into fitted hats. An Alabama cap or two.
Then things really jumped off and I started buying stuff like a teal Florida Marlins hat or a red and black Atlanta Falcons hat, teams I didn’t even like. I had to have the latest Barons hat every year. I bought a 1938 Hollywood Stars cap from Ebbets Field Flannels. I finally got my mitts on an actual fitted undergrad baseball team hat and thought “this is the final hat”…until I got to Vanderbilt and hit reset. And they just piled up and up and up.
Then in my second year at Vanderbilt, I got a decent haircut for the first time. Cheri at SalonFX was able to use the scissors in such a way that people would stop me to tell me how good it looked. And that was mostly it for caps, not least because once I hit the real world and had to work for a living, the ball cap was no longer a viable item of clothing. The heat and humidity of Washington DC seven months a year was enough to keep me away from them for a long time, even as I occasionally picked up a Boston Red Sox batting-practice hat that became the de facto lid for softball or a cheap $3 replica Washington Senators cap that barely fit.
And then, like a harbinger of things to come, I bought a black-on-black Cal cap at Pier 39 in San Francisco to cover a sunburnt scalp. A couple of years later, whilst dating the inspiration for the purchase of said cap, I bought a Giants batting practice hat. And then, in 2005, when I finally gave in and chopped all my hair off, a cap suddenly went from a style choice to a functional necessity in the nine months of sun in NorCal. A year later, with the full embrace of Vanderbilt, a Vandy hat of some kind became the go-to, with occasional allowances for Cal or something to pay tribute to DC. And then…
The rise of Vanderbilt baseball meant a rise in Vanderbilt alums going to the bigs. And a rise in the amount of attention I paid to baseball. And suddenly I needed a new Giants hat. I needed an Oakland A’s hat. I needed a San Jose Giants hat. I needed to avoid orange in two of those three, and obtain black and gold where I could. And then the A’s had a retro throwback that was just a plain solid gray 5950, low profile, size 7 5/8, and I bought a box of them for future use. And then Vandy switched to a Nike Dri-Fit cap suitable for warm weather. And then it became possible to easily get a St Patricks Day themed cap, or a 4th of July themed cap. And then, and then, and then.
We joke about my wife’s accumulation of scarves, but it’s nothing compared to my hat collection starting to resemble Tony Stark’s wine cellar at the climax of Iron Man 3. There’s a Chicago White Sox BP cap, suitable for hot weather, a salute to Carson Fulmer and Barack Obama and thirty-plus years of Barons who went on to the bigs. There’s a gray Yankees cap, for Sonny Gray’s inevitable rise to glory in New York. There’s a Brooklyn Dodgers cap, because the farm system is chockablock with Vandy boys and there’s the legacy of Jackie Robinson but I’ll be damned if I put an LA on my dome. There’s a Boston Red Sox BP hat, both as a salute to David Price and a memento of those days in the late 90s when I had a shelf full of books about the Sox and identified with the hard-luck tradition. And also because Vanderbilt baseball is Fenway South, from the Green Monster in left to “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” and “Sweet Caroline” during the same and a Yaz patrolling the outfield.
There’s my 1960 Vanderbilt cap by Ebbets Field, too warm for summer but the final triumphant Vanderbilt hat for good. There are Irish and American-flag Giants caps, and a red-white-and-blue Barons cap against the day I want to be from Birmingham again, and there are so many Vanderbilt caps I can’t keep them straight. There are at least a couple boxes worth of caps with sentimental value that I’m unlikely ever to wear but will never get rid of, like the Tired Texan BBQ gimme cap or the one from my dad’s old hunting club or the 2014 College World Series hat or the 2012 SEC Champions hat or…
I think it’s starting to become apparent that in addition to the horses-for-courses hat for every occasion, the drive for the One True Hat is of a piece with my eternal quest for identity. Magnum had the Tigers cap. Indy had the brown fedora. The Bear, of course, had the houndstooth. I think the parade of hats is a trail of breadcrumbs toward being content with who I am and needing a signifier that yeah, I arrived, I made it.
It’s good to hope.