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.

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.

The Retro Blue Jays Cap

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Since I was young, my father worked for a toy company based in Toronto, Canada. For most of my life, my father would spend at least one week in his company headquarters, and often times would go to Blue Jays games with his friends who had season tickets. My father has on more than one occasion said that he has adopted the Jays as his second favorite team. His coworker and her family come down just about every summer and spend a few days, and baseball is always the topic of conversation; they may be the only people in Canada who just don’t care about hockey.

I have only been in Canada once when I was about eleven, and had the pleasure of staying at the Renaissance Hotel, which is unique in the fact that it is literally attached to the Rogers Centre, the home of the Blue Jays. We were one of the lucky ones whose room’s window looked out onto the field. Imagine as a little kid, looking out the window and seeing a baseball diamond right outside. I was literally in awe, and it is something I will never forget.

The night we got there the Blue Jays got to play the Oakland Athletics. I really don’t remember too much of the game except sitting in one of the two giant lounge chair feeling like I was on top of the world. I was looking out my window to see professional baseball. Admittedly I wasn’t as big a sports fan then as I am today, but it was something that I absolutely loved. We even had the TV on in the background to hear the play-by-play. To this day it remains one of my favorite sports related memories.

Rogers Centre

This is the view from one of the hotel rooms looking out onto the field

In our second day in Canada, my family went to visit the Centreville Amusement Park, which is actually a small island that you have to take a ferry to just outside of Toronto. There was all the stuff you’d expect from an amusement park: a ferris wheel, bumper cars, and a huge tent where you can spend extravagant amounts of money for a hot dog. As we were leaving the island, there was someone handing out free stuff to everyone boarding the ferry. Just as any little kid would, I ran over there as fast as I could eager to take whatever they were giving out. Turns out, it was Blue Jays/Yankees tickets for their game that weekend. Yes, they were literally giving away tickets to a Yankees game. That should be enough to explain how little people appreciate the sport of baseball north of the border. Sadly, we were headed back to the states and I was unable to attend that game.

No matter how hard I try, I simply cannot remember the year that all of this took place. I know at this point Roy Halladay was their star player and had already won his first Cy Young award. My best guess is 2006, which places me around age 11. I still have those Blue Jays/Yankees unused ticket stubs somewhere which would have the date, but I don’t think it would be worth the effort.

Exploring the city was one of the greatest things I had ever seen. If you have never been to Toronto, it’s simply a much cleaner and friendlier New York City. One of the two things that I vividly remember was that they had entirely different candy; the standout in my mind was the Aero bar. To the best of my knowledge, it was simply a chocolate bar that had air whipped in it leaving small holes throughout it. Imported from England, they were unavailable for purchase in the US at the time, but to a young version of myself, it was the greatest thing ever. I even made my mom get some to eat on the plane ride home. The other part of Toronto that stood out to me was how clean the Subways were. If you have ever taken the subway in New York, these look the a crystal palace. They are absolutely pristine. I have always wanted to go back there, since now that I am older and would likely appreciate it even more.

As I said in one of my previous posts, this hat was a birthday gift to me from my college suite-mate Sean and his girlfriend Jenna. In general, I am a huge fan of any two-tone cap, but they had no idea of that at the time. Jenna picked the hat solely based on looks, knowing nothing about the team or logo, and I couldn’t be happier with the choice she made. The Blue Jays have had a bunch of very unique looks over the years, but in my opinion this is easily the finest.

First used as part of a team makeover in 1997, the cap coincided with the arrival of free agent Roger Clemens, arguably the best pitcher in team history. In his first of his two seasons with the team, he had one of the best seasons in MLB history. Pitching the triple crown, Clemens finished with a 2.05 ERA, a career high 292 strikeouts and 15 straight wins, shattering Blue Jays team records in the process. While he was accused of PED use later in his career, the general consensus is that during this season it was all natural. That type of season is hard to replicate for even the best pitchers; the only pitchers to do it up to that point were Christy Mathewson, Lefty Grove and Lefty Gomez. The very next season Roger Clemens did the same thing, pitching the Triple Crown once again. While he will always be remembered for his seasons with Red Sox and Yankees, some of the best years of his career came with their division rival. He would never again pitch for the Triple Crown.

Sadly, some error in someone’s judgement 5 years later lead to this hat being replaced in favor of the unpopular “Blue Jay on PEDs” doing its best Barry Bonds impression. Sadly, I cannot find a picture I am licensed to used, go just head over to this link to see what I mean. It proved so unpopular they retired it the very next season, replacing red with silver on their color palette and going for an entirely new look. When you have a logo so bad it gets Canadians to care about baseball you know you did something horrifically wrong.

I don’t want to leave out the people who made this article possible: Sean and Jenna. I cannot thank you both enough for the generosity you have shown me in the very short time we have known each other, and I want you to know how much I love this hat. Jenna, you made a great choice.