The Canada Day Cap

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I am about to make a confession on the internet: I am a Phillies fan who still loves Scott Rolen. According to my friend Ben, I am in fact, the last Phillies fan who still loves Scott Rolen.

I wish I had a reason for exactly why he was my favorite player, but I was 7 at the time so I am not sure I needed one. I am old enough to remember Rolen as number 17 on my beloved Phillies (I’m relatively certain I still have his jersey somewhere), but at the time I was too young to understand exactly why he left (he demanded a trade), and why the fans so quickly turned on him. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1997. Even as a member of different teams, I always cheered him on during the 2003 All-Star Game in Chicago that I attended. I vividly remember my dad telling me at the time how wrong it was to cheer for him since we are Phillies fans, but I didn’t care; Rolen was my favorite player, regardless of what team he was on, and nothing was going to make me change my opinion.

After winning NL Rookie of the Year with the Phillies in 1997, Rolen was played with the team for five more seasons, winning three gold gloves before being traded along with Doug Nickle to the St. Louis Cardinals for Plácido Polanco, Mike Timlin, and Bud Smith. Polanco was decent after being traded (which would end up being the first of two tenures with the Phillies), but nothing extraordinary. Timlin played all of half a season, compiling a 3.79 ERA in 30 appearances. Bud Smith never threw a pitch for Philadelphia and was out of baseball entirely by 2004. In comparison, Rolen was outstanding for the Cardinals. During his first season with the team, he won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards for third base, and was selected to his first of five consecutive All-Star Games. Eventually, the Cardinals won the 2006 World Series with Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen as their core.

Scott Rolen

Rolen was eventually traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, where in his first of two seasons with the team he posted some of the worst stats of his career. Luckily for him, he was able to wear this awesome cap. Like every years Stars & Stripes cap, this version is only worn for one season, and since it would be a little bit inappropriate to throw the good old red, white and blue on Canada’s only team, the red and white maple leaf was used instead. I actually had no idea this cap existed until there was a traveling sports outlet vendor who came to Seton Hall selling a bunch of closeout merchandise including this gem; I sorted through mostly non New Era caps for close to an hour before I found this, and despite being a little big (I generally wear a 7 1/2), it was one I knew I immediately needed for my collection.

Cincinnati Reds third baseman Scott Rolen (27)

During his second year with the Jays, batting .320 through 88 games, Rolen was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart, where his career had a resurgence, being selected to two All-Star games and winning a Gold Glove in four years as a (nearly) everyday starter and is credited as a major reason the Reds won their first NL Central Division title in 15 years. While he unofficially retired after the 2012 season, Scott Rolen will always be my all time favorite player. No matter which of his many caps he wore throughout his career, that was always true.

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The Lakewood Blueclaws Cap

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Recently, my roommate Sean’s younger sister Megan was honored for her academic achievement at a Lakewood Blueclaws game, and with his parents being the wonderful people they are, got me a ticket to tag along, well aware of my love of baseball and the Phillies (with whom the Blueclaws are the A affiliate). Imagine my excitement when I realized it was a doubleheader against none other the Mets minor league affiliate the Savannah Sand Gnats. Even if it’s their minor league players, I always appreciate an opportunity to see my beloved Phillies get a win against the Mets, the team Sean and his family support. Sadly that wasn’t the outcome, with the Blueclaws losing both games by a combined score of 14-3.

But it isn’t an entirely unexpected result; the Blueclaws are dead last in the South Atlantic League Northern standings with a measly 6 wins, while the Sand Gnats are leading the Southern Atlantic League Southern with 14 wins. One bright spot for the Blueclaws is catcher Willians Astudillo, who is currently has the highest batting average in all of the South Atlantic League a stellar .400. While it’s more than likely just be an early season anomaly, it can’t hurt to lift the spirits of the struggling team. Considering he isn’t even on the Phillies top 20 prospect list, it’s pretty safe to assume something that won’t continue, but I’m glad I got to enjoy the hot streak in the moment.

JP Crawford Doing His Thing

JP Crawford Doing His Thing

One of the many reasons I was excited to go to a minor league game was the fact that’s number of top Phillies (and Mets) prospects would be playing, including the Phillies 2013 first round draft pick JP Crawford. Hailed as the second coming of Jimmy Rollins, one of the all time great Phillies, having Crawford reach anywhere near that production would be a huge to the franchise. Expected to reach the majors in 2017, he is currently ranked as the #3 prospect in the Phillies organization. He had a decent night, going 3 for 5 between the two games with 1 run scored. I was recently reading an article that says Crawford is well on his way to becoming the Phillies shortstop of the future, and at only 19 years old, he has plenty of time to make an impact.

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Connor and I

As far as stadiums go, FirstEnergy Park (not to be confused with FirstEngery Stadium, home of the AA Fightin Phils), the Blueclaws home-field, was more than impressive. One thing the Blueclaws try to play into is the fact they are the team of the Jersey Shore, so they placed iconic lifeguard stands in the outfield of the stadium (pictured above). I even got a picture with their mascot (pictured below). Sadly, the regularly scheduled Friday night fireworks had to be canceled due to the weather that was moving in around 10, but they more than made up for it giving us a pair of free tickets to any game later this season; classy move on their part.

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Couldn’t Pass Up an Opportunity with a New Era Sign

This particular cap is their at standard home-field cap and was used for the first game of the doubleheader. I got this awhile back on account that the Blueclaws are one of only two minor league teams in New Jersey, with the other being AA Trenton Thunder, who are affiliated with the New York Yankees. I also picked up another cap from their appropriate named team store, the “Claws Cove” which features a similar logo except the crab is batting rather than throwing, which will certainly be written about in due time.

Once again, a big thanks to Sean and his family for letting me tag along on an awesome day, and specifically to his little sister Megan for her academic achievement award, since we wouldn’t have gone to the game without her. I will be back at the FirstEnergy Park on August 4th for Darin Ruf’s Bobblehead night, and I simply cannot wait.

From Left to Right: Connor, Sean and Me

From Left to Right: Connor, Sean and Me

Me, Sean and two Mets fans who wanted to Photobomb

Me, Sean and Two Mets Fans who Wanted to Photobomb

Me and the Blueclaws' Mascot, Buster

Me and the Blueclaws’ Mascot, Buster

The Cleveland Indians Cap

Cleveland Cap

Generally, when I have a soft spot for a team throughout any sport, it’s because of a of a specific memory I have of the team from my childhood; the Cleveland Indians are the rare exception. My love of the Indians is new-found, beginning in the 2013 season with the hiring of former Phillies and Red Sox manager Terry Francona and the signing of free agent outfielder Nick Swisher.

Terry Francona

While he will always be remembered for the two World Series he brought to Boston, breaking the Curse of the Bambino, Francona was the manager of my beloved Philadelphia Phillies between 1997 and 2000. While I personally do not remember him managing, as his last season with the team ended before I was five, my father and uncles all speak of him very fondly, even if his best record with the club was only 77–85. Sadly, Philadelphia didn’t weep too much for his firing, as they hired fan favorite player-turned-manager Larry Bowa.

I will never forget the day my cousin Rocco from Arizona called me up all excited. He was in charge of hosting a very large golf tournament that was going to be held in Tuscon, and somehow during the preparation stage he ran into the one and only Terry Francona, recently fired from the Red Sox. Despite living in Arizona, Rocco is thankfully a diehard Phillies fan, and was beyond excited when he ran into him. Now this is someone who is generally as cool, calm and collected as they come. I had never before gotten an actual phone call from him before, but he felt it was worth it. You could hear the excitement in his voice, and its something I will never forget. When a manager is loved by a fan after mediocre seasons more than a decade afterwards from someone who is as big a fan as Rocco, it truly means something. Somehow he was able to convince Francona to come to attend his tournament, and was able to reminisce on old time Phillies memories. Man am I jealous.

Nick Swisher

Nick Swisher was and always will be one of my all-time favorite players. I have often said that the Chicago White Sox are my second favorite team due to the amazing childhood memory I have of attending the 2003 All-Star game hosted at US Cellular Field. Swisher was traded from the Oakland Athletics to the White Sox for Ryan Sweeney, Gio Gonzalez and Fautino de los Santos. At the time it was part of a larger rebuilding effort by the A’s, and Swisher was on the bubble between fan favorite and super star at the time. He was unimpressive during his season with the White Sox, batting a career low .219 and hit a very pedestrian 24 home runs. Even when he was part of the 2009 Yankees team that beat my beloved Phillies during the World Series, I could not bring myself to root against him personally. I honestly don’t know the answer as to exactly why I like the guy as much as I do; he is as someone I will always go out of my way to support no matter what team he is one.

Chief Wahoo is one of my favorite logos throughout sports, but it sadly appears as if the Indians have finally accomplished their task of entirely phasing him out due to the cultural insensitivity of his representation of Native Americans. If I asked you to name, or even just visualize, the Indians’ mascot chances are you would think of some form of a Native American resembling Chief Wahoo; sadly, you’d be wrong. The correct answer is Slider, a “fuchsia” colored creature thing who has absolutely nothing to do with the team’s overall name and theme. Former Cleveland Cy-Young winner Cliff Lee perhaps said it best: “I mean, Slider’s like a giant walrus that’s suffering from the Resident Evil virus.” I couldn’t agree with you more Cliff. How Slider is in the mascot hall of fame with such timeless characters like the Phillie Phanatic and Mr. Met is beyond me.

Cleveland, Ohio St. Patrick's Day Parade Slider and Hot Dog Dancing

Slider is the Handsome Fellow on the Right

I can’t tell you specifically why I love the Chief Wahoo logo. Maybe its the broad smile that adorns his face, lighting up the day for the Cleveland faithful. Something about it just resonates with me, and to me is one of the classic logos in all of baseball; one that is instantly recognizable with the team. I understand what a lot of people absolutely hate it, and a significantly smaller amount find it offensive. Personally I think killing him off as part of the franchise is more offensive than allowing a classic MLB logo to stay. Sadly I am not the one making decisions.

All of these factors together give me a soft spot for the Indians. Just to be 100% clear, I am a Phillies fan and only a Phillies fan, but I support many other teams as well. I just happen to support the Indians more than most. When they made the postseason their first season under Francona, I was beyond excited. Even though they were eliminated in the one game wildcard round, it showed what a turn around this team could make and a glimpse of their future potential.

While most caps I buy have an uninteresting story about how they were purchased (with the notable exception of my New Era Cap), I vividly remember when this one was purchased. Being part of a large Italian family, we often get together with grandparents and numerous cousins at Italian restaurants to celebrate even the smallest of events. I cannot remember specifically what event we were celebrating, but we decided to try Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant at the Cherry Hill Mall for what I believe was the first time. As grandparents do, my grandmother gave each of us some spending money, for which I was very thankful for. After dinner, my cousin James and I spent it almost immediately at the LIDS in the mall. I remember James picked up a diamond era with the Cincinnati Reds’ Running man on it. I came very close to buying my first Kansas City Royals cap, but ultimately decided on the Indians Cap due to solely on the fact that there were no stitching errors. While most are unnoticeable to a vast majority of the population, me and my obsessive-compulsive self can’t in good consciousness wear a cap with such errors. In a way, I am glad that fate ended up forcing my hand to get the Indians cap as it allows me to show off my pride in Nick Swisher, Terry Francona and the entire Indians organization.

The Montreal Expos Cap

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A few months ago at my younger cousin Brad’s house, we talked about sports as we generally do. Both being Phillies fans, we have an inborn hate for the traitorous outfielder Jayson Werth, who bashed Philly every chance he got after joining the Washington Nationals. We were both frustrated that Washington was the reigning champions for the division for the first time in team history, which he found hard to believe, and then I realized he wasn’t old enough to remember the Montreal Expos. Heck, I am barely old enough to remember myself. I decided to tell him about one of my earliest memories.

I am not entirely sure when my first ball game was, since my dad has been taking me to them for literally longer than I can remember. However, the first one I remember was against the Montreal Expos at the old Veterans Stadium. The one truly vivid memory I have from that night was Vladimir Guerrero hitting a home run, but being no older than 9 when the Expos left in 2004, I didn’t really remember too much else, including the date. My dad didn’t have any recollection of it since he has been to countless Phillies games so it was up to me and the internet to try to figure it out.

I knew it had to be before 2004, since I remember it was in Veterans Stadium, and I can’t imagine I would remember anything before I was 5 it would have to be at least 2000, giving me a 3 year window to work with. Turns out, Guerrero only hit one home run at Veterans Stadium during that time: July 24th, 2001 off of Phillies’ starter Nelson Figueroa. The Phillies would go on to win the game by a score of 10-2, with Figueroa getting the win. If you are interested in seeing the entire box score, it can be found here. The only other interesting bit of information I could find about this game was that Guerrero’s home run was the second part of back to back bombs, with the other one coming from Ryan Minor. I’m not surprised I don’t remember more about that game, since I didn’t turn 6 until exactly one month after this game took place. Regardless, it will always be one of my most cherished memories.

Vladimir Guerrero

Vladimir Guerrero is the Montreal Expos to me. He’s the only player who I actually remember playing for that team (remember, they moved when I was 9). While he is better remembered for his MVP year with the Angels, he spent more years as a member of the Expos than any other team, never batting lower than .302 (save for his rookie season). Sadly, he never reached the postseason with the Expos, but was a four time All-Star. After Montreal, he played six seasons with the Angels, and one with each the Rangers and Orioles.

Despite making a comeback attempt with the Toronto Blue Jays, Guerrero officially announced his retirement from baseball earlier this September. He finished his 15 year career with a .318 lifetime batting average, 9 All-Star bids, an eight-time Sliver Slugger, an AL MVP, 499 home runs, and the most hits ever by a Dominican player (2590). Even if he only appeared in 1 World Series (his All-Star season with the Rangers in 2010), that still certainly sounds like a Hall of Fame resume to me. My friends and I were discussing would he go in as an Angel or an Expo. Logic says an Angel, but I like to think there is a part of him that would love to join Gary Carter and Andre Dawson as Expos in the Hall of Fame.

There are only a few former Expos who played in 2013: Bartolo Colon, Luis Ayala, Jamey Carroll and Scott Downs. Interestingly enough, as of the writing of this article, all of them are free agents, so as of this moment there are no Expos on major league rosters. Colon is a virtual lock to be signed next season, and Ayala could probably at least find work in the tragedy that is the Phillies bullpen, but the others could very well be out of baseball. My all time favorite pitcher Cliff Lee was part of the Expos minor league season before coming to over to Cleveland in the Bartolo Colon trade, but never appeared in a major league game for them. While the Expos may have left Montreal, they are not yet forgotten.

The Expos were named after the 1967 World Fair hosted in Montreal, called the Expo 67, and became the first international Major League Baseball team in 1969. The Expos home field for most of their existence, Olympic Stadium, was originally made for when Montreal hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics. Besides a handful of winning seasons, the Expos only division title and postseason appearance came on a strikeout shortened season, which was officially broken into two parts with Montreal winning the second half division title, but lost in the NLCS to the Dodgers in 5 games.

Fans of the Montreal Expos join at the Rogers Centre.

The photo above was taken at a Blue Jays game, where Expos fans to this day continue to rally in the outfield. The Expos didn’t leave because of lack of fan support; they left largely due to the fact that owner Jeff Loria didn’t want to be there anymore, who went on to sell the Expos and buy the Florida Marlins. I could go own about how he single-handledly got not one but two entire cities/fan-bases to hate him, but that deserves its own article. In 2005, the Expos became the Washington Nationals, where they reside to this day.

While I appreciate all hats, I am especially fond of the unique, the historic and the hard to find. For my 18th birthday, I bought myself the gift of finally getting a “New Era By You” cap, which you can completely customize and design exactly how you imagine it, and I decided to pay heritage to my earliest baseball memory. I will stand by my opinion that the Expos logo was the best in all of baseball. As for the colors, I just found the contrast to be a cool combination, with the blue stitching on the brim tying it all together. I can proudly say that this hat is truly one of a kind, made especially to honor a day I will never forget.