You see them everywhere – on top of the heads of ballplayers on TV, on tourists roaming Michigan Avenue, on weekend warriors at the neighborhood softball diamond and on the kids playing in the cul-de-sac. In fact, for most fans of baseball caps, the relationship begins during childhood.
“The first hat I ever owned was a red hat from my tee-ball team at Norwood Park,” says Jim O’Brien. “I don’t even think it had a logo on it. I wore that thing everywhere. My mom has these photo albums and I think I have the hat on in 90 percent of the pictures.”
O’Brien, today a commodity broker who lives in Chicago’s Edgebrook neighborhood, says he still wears baseball caps, but mostly on weekends “when he’s messing around with the kids or running errands for my wife.”
The origins of the baseball cap aren’t entirely clear but Epic Sports says players on the 1849 New York Knickerbockers wore straw hats to keep the sun out of their eyes. The cap model first showed up several years later, when wool replaced hay as the hat material, and a brim was attached to help shade the sun from players’ eyes.
According to Sports Illustrated for Kids, the oldest baseball cap in existence sits in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and was worn by a member of the Baraboo Baseball Club of Baraboo, Wisc., sometime around 1866.
Everyday Baseball Caps
Baseball cap logos aren’t limited to Major League Baseball teams. Colleges, high schools and most elementary schools offer hats in their respective school colors, sporting current and history logos. Caps promote movies, TV shows, soft drinks, restaurants, tourist spots and pretty much anything else that has a brand.
“I can’t say I’m a big sports fan but I am a fan of the baseball hat,” says 22-year-old Uriel Hernandez, who lives in Waukegan. “Most of the hats I wear have band names on them, things like that. I’m not one of those guys who spends an hour making sure my hair is perfect around my hat but I do like wearing them.”
Hernandez says he did break out a Blackhawks cap for the Grant Park celebration in late June.
“Anything for a celebration,” he says.
Hernandez says his older brother is a huge baseball fan and collects caps from minor league clubs across the country. “He’s always wearing some obscure hat from some team in Kentucky or Nebraska,” Hernandez says.
Baseball Caps for Women
It goes without saying that baseball caps are no longer limited to men – in fact, they haven’t been for a while. But women who wear them should heed Palatine resident Abby King’s advice and make sure they’re in good condition.
“Guys can get away with a little bit of a ratty baseball hat,” says the 19-year-old University of Wisconsin student who was home for the summer and recently sporting a Chicago Cubs hat at Navy Pier. “Girls need hats that are clean, at the very least. You don’t want to wear something that makes it look like you’re borrowing your boyfriend’s old hats.”
King says she wears hats on those days “she doesn’t feel like doing her hair.”
Fair enough, but former Portage Park tee-baller O’Brien has a different – if not related – reason. “I’m an Irish guy with a growing bald spot,” O’Brien says. “When that sun is shining, I need all the protection I can get.”