These things do make for easy blog fodder, after all.
Anyway, National Hat Day works especially well because sports and hats go together like peanut butter and ladies (Talladega Nights reference, lest you think I'm some kind of deviant). I'm willing to bet that ALL of us sports fans/card bloggers have at least one sports-themed hat in their possession.
Even if it's just one worn in support of your favorite team:
Yuck - that is one gross, grody hat. I suppose that's what happens when you wear the same Cubs hat for 9 years.
Above, you see my "gamer" - MY Cubs hat. Given to me as a Christmas gift from my next door neighbor in 2007, this otherwise normal Northside cap has been worn in to the ground ever since. You can kind of see the original blue on either side of the "C," but otherwise it's damn near black with grime.
Look at those sweat stains; truly disgusting to everyone who isn't me - this is how I prove my loyalty, dammit! I don't think keeping it in the state it's in is good luck or anything, I just kind of want to see how bad it will get when I hit 50.
That is, if it even makes it that far; it's actually starting to fall apart, as you can see by the snapped off snap on the snap back. Try and say that phrase five times fast.
Now, I must admit - this isn't the only Cubs hat that I have in my possession. This may be my favorite and my go-to, but I'm a sucker for throwback caps:
That design hails from the early 20th century - I can't recall exactly what year and I honestly just don't feel like looking it up. Sorry.
It was a last minute gift for my birthday given to me by my girlfriend in the very early stages of our relationship. At that awkward stage, she knew I loved the Cubs, so it seemed like a pretty safe bet. I think the fact that I still have it several years later is indicative that she won that bet.
Another throwback! This design is a home cap from the mid-50's (maybe 1955?), when the Cubs decided to go incognito and camouflage themselves as the Reds. Not really, but I know I can't be the only one who has to look twice when I see that stylized, red "C" on a Cubs hat.
Honestly though, I couldn't blame the Cubs if they were trying to mask their true identities... those Cubs teams of the 50's and 60's were just god-awful.
This had hold some special sentimental value to me as well, seeing as I purchased it at my first Cubs game (excluding one with my grandfather that occurred when I was so young that I have only fleeting memories):
The day was June 2, 2004 - Cubs vs. Astros. Matt Clement started for the Cubs that day (as you might be able to make out with a microscope above) against Roger Clemens - I thought I was getting to see a certain Hall of Famer (whomp whomp). Of course, the Cubs put up no fight and lost 5-1; unfortunately, that was far from the last time that the '04 squad disappointed me (and Chicago).
But back to head gear; I have one more Cubs hat at my disposal:
Seems like your average, run of the mill Cubs hat, no? Well, let me flip this bad boy over and show you why you're wrong:
That's right, that's Ernie Banks' John Hancock right there on the underside of the brim. This was a Christmas gift from my parents way back in my high school days.
Unfortunately, I have no idea how to display this since the signature is in such an odd spot - I guess whoever the autograph hound was didn't have a bright color ink. Nevertheless, this is obviously still a treasured part of my sports memorabilia stash.
However, I am a man of much depth - not all of the hats I have are Cubs hats:
Gotta support the local club; we have a hat for my hometown's indy minor league team, the Windy City Thunderbolts of the Frontier League. This was the original design for their home caps after they were rechristened from the Cook County Cheetahs (big downgrade in moniker, in my humble opinion).
Do not adjust your monitor folks; I have not switched switched allegiances over to the dark side. Rather, this is one of my Little League hats from way back in the day... and I had no choice in what team I was drafted to. To be honest though, I have nothing but love for the Southside club and I wear this hat whenever I make it to New Comiskey.
I know I have still have a full run of my LL hats too; however, I'm pretty sure their in my storage unit, so you are spared from my nostalgic ramblings.
At this point of the post, I should probably mention that though baseball is by far and away my favorite sport, it was not my first love when it came to my hat collection. No, no, that was motorsport:
In my days as an autograph hound (much more socially acceptable when you're a kid) - I was able to gather up a fair amount of hats autographed by famous race car drivers. Though I still quite enjoy auto racing, it was exponentially more central to my life in my awkward tween/teen years.
Michael Andretti is definitely one of the crown jewels in this segment of my collection. I think pretty much everyone on the planet has at least heard of the Andretti name.
Darrell Waltrip isn't a bad get either - he did win 84 races and 3 NASCAR championships, after all. Although, the time for honesty has come again, I have no recollection of ever meeting either of these two men; so, I'm pretty sure I "cheated" and bought these two hats with the 'graph already inked.
Can't say the same about this one - I definitely remember when I was standing in front of the legendary Gasoline Alley (the garage area), circa 2006, at Indianapolis as Vitor Meira and his crew were walking his car back from a qualifying session. He graciously stopped and signed for a few fans, including me, as I'm sure he had much more important things on his mind.
He might not be a very big name, but it still made for a treasured, personal experience.
I was even able to snap a picture of his sweet ride as it rolled by - therefore, this memory is pretty well documented.
Since 2003, I've made an annual pilgrimage to Indianapolis to see the time trials for the Indy 500 and I've also been to several other races/events in my life, which has lead to many opportunities for autographs. racers truly seem to be the most willing to sign out of all of the professional athletes, or maybe that's just me. Another race that I recall attending was the second running of the 400-miler (2003) held at Chicagoland Speedway.
In attending that event (eventually won by Ryan Newman), I was lucky enough to find time to attend signings held by Robby Gordon and Christian Fittipaldi. Robby has won a handful of NASCAR races and had some success in open wheel racing. Christian's greatest success was basically being the son of an Indy 500 champ (Emerson Fittipaldi), but did some racing of his own.
There's that damn lack of forethought when it comes to Sharpie color again...
More photographic proof!
I also remember buying a couple of other signed hats that day because I was unable to make it to their signing sessions:
I really though J.J. Yeley was going to be the next big thing when he succeeded Bobby Labonte at Joe Gibbs Racing - definitely got that one wrong - in 254 races at the Cup level, he's only finished in the top 10 eight times...
Jeremy Mayfield is a guy who snuck through and won some races throughout his career, but never really seemed to be able to put it all together. Eventually, he stopped getting big-ticket rides and had to make it as an independent, a turn of events that was actually the focus of a music video by Saving Abel:
Shortly after this video was released, he was busted for drug abuse and hasn't been back in the sport since. Shame.
I really called my investments well there, didn't I?
Chicagoland Speedway isn't exclusive to NASCAR though, they host events for several different racing series, including the Indy Car set. A couple of years after the race detailed above, I made it to the open wheel race and was treated to a great show and some more IP autos:
Some of the faces you see above in my dusty, old photo album include Robbie Buhl, Sarah Fisher, Scott Dixon and Sam Hornish. I know I also landed A.J. Foyt IV (nowhere near as good as his grandfather) and Darren Manning.
Another track that I used to frequent was the old, local dirt track - Crown Point Speedway.
Once located just down the road in Crown Point, IN, the track has long since been demolished (about 10 years or so). However, it used to make for some really exciting racing and cheap entertainment.
It also led me to acquire this purple abomination:
Yea, I was just a kid, so I didn't really realize that the guys racing at this track every Saturday were just your regular average Joe's and their autograph was equivalent to having your local mechanic sign a hat for you. To me, they got to drive race cars and thus special; so, I got every single driver to sign a Hoosier hat.
It may be worthless monetarily (and kind of hideous aesthetically), this hat definitely makes for a treasured relic; it harkens back to a treasured hangout and child-like wonder. Thus, it's definitely not worthless to me.
Sidebar - since this is a card blog, I feel compelled to share the custom trading cards that some of these drivers created to hand out to little kids:
At this point in the post, I can see that it's starting to run a little long. Thus, it's time wrap this thing up with a nice bookend. We started off this hat-centric post with my "gamer" Cub hat, so let's end it with my grandfather's "gamer' Bears hat:
My grandpa Al inspired my love of sports. A skilled athlete in his younger days, he took to all forms of sport and rabidly cheered for all of the Chicago teams. Fun fact, he missed his own wedding reception to watch the Go-Go White Sox play in the 1959 World Series... and stayed married!
He and my grandmother served as a second set of parents for me, watching me as both of my parents worked 5 days a week. Thus, it was inevitable that his passion would be passed down to me. When he passed away in 1999, I inherited this cap and have treasured it ever since.
In conclusion, I have way too many hats; though they are all special and mean something to me. Do you have a "go-to" hat like my grandfather and I? If so, is it even half as beat to hell as mine is? Do you also find hats to be a great medium for autographs when cards aren't handy? Please comment your thoughts below.
I mean, it is National Hat Day after all - get in the holiday spirit!