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Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Protocol of Ball Caps…

Go to meetin' capThe other day I visited Rosario’s Flower Stand (aka Kurt’s Vegetable Stand--to us Valley long timers) to see Jesus about a minor bit of business. Jesus, an amiable, well-mannered young man with a hint of mischief in his smile, was wearing a baseball cap sporting the distinctive Old English “D,” logo of the Detroit Tigers baseball franchise. My business concluded, we shared gardening information for a while and then I headed home.

Later in the day I got to thinking about Jesus’s Detroit Tigers baseball cap, wondered if he had any idea of the rich history he had perched on his head, if he knew about Tyrus Raymond Cobb, “The Georgia Peach” who played for the Tigers for twenty-seven years and tallied the highest lifetime batting average in the history of the sport: .367. According to The Baseball Encyclopedia Cobb hit over .400 in two consecutive years: .420 in 1911 and .410 the following year. A “peach” of a player in Old School baseball, Ty was rumored to take his bats to Georgia in the post season so they’d stay warm all winter. Competitive to the point of aggression, Cobb was notorious for sliding feet first into second base, spikes flailing like a vegematic, targeting not so much the base as the opposing second baseman’s thighs. No, I’m certain Jesus knows little about his ball cap’s legacy.

Kerplop.” I heard the noise from my desk where I was doing some computer work. I followed the sound and there on the deck was my ball cap. In disgraceThe sound blended into an echo: “That thing stays outdoors.” My wife again, at odds with my ball cap. There it lay, banned, tabooed, excommunicated, exiled to the out of doors…the world of fresh air. The cap police on the march again. Makes no difference  in which room the cap happens to be, she’ll sniff it out, track it down, gingerly scoop it up and “Kerplop.” there goes my headgear out the door, spinning across the deck. A ripe ball cap has nowhere to hide in this household.

I was jinxed with a thinning hair gene. Two of my brothers are likewise jinxed, their legacy, as mine, from Dad’s side of the family. To cover our shortcomings, we’re always ball capped. Brother Kevin, however, won the hair lottery: his head is coiffed like a pale gray shag carpet, courtesy of his maternal grandfather. Kevin also sports a ball cap but only to let his unruly hair know who’s boss.

Wearing a ball cap became a routine cover up for the barren landscape of my scalp, (I admit to suffering from a mild form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from seeing Bill, my long time school bus driver, hatless for the first time and exposing a noggin that gleamed like it was simonized). My ball cap is just an extension of myself; I never leave the house uncovered; my cap protects me from the sun, from the rain, from self-consciousness.

One’s ball cap does not become the sacred object it is overnight but like a sturdy pair of boots must be broken in over time. A good ball cap must conform to one’s unique phrenological blueprint, its brim sculpted into a semi-arc, not flat-lined like the mouth of a stick figure drawn by a preschooler. A serviceable ball cap, when you think about it, undergoes an evolution of its own. In its primeWhen it’s new, the ball cap is your “Sunday Go to Meeting” hat, what you wear in public, if not tasteful, at least not conspicuously disheveled. More and more it becomes the headgear you wear as you’re working around the place…in the garden, splitting and stacking firewood, mowing and trimming the landscape… soaking up the sweat of your brow, acquiring what I like to call “the bouquet of labor.” Into the wash the cap goes a few times, staving off  for a time that inevitable unceremonious fling to the deck. Between launderings your cap and you become as one, a Zen-like relationship; your cap has you comfortably covered, is an extension of  your head.

Time passes and just short of looking like it’s a nest for rodents, your faithful cap comes to the end of a most serviceable life, destined for the trash can; however, what it really deserves is one final act of deep respect: a solemn burning like a tattered American flag, at attention, hand over heart.indoors restraining order

Back to Jesus’s ball cap. In post season play the boys of fall religiously wear their regular season game caps, their “gamers,” caps that have faithfully brought them this far…to the Championship Series, the World Series, perhaps. You can see, riding their crowns, the ragged tidelines of salt, sweat stained rings wrought of hard work, dedication, day-to-day perseverance, extra inning games, doubleheaders…. Do the managers of these hardworking young men take a whiff in the locker room, snatch up any offending caps and fling them from the clubhouse to the playing field? Most certainly not. Superstition forbids it. caps in the quequeBut then the person wearing my sweat stained, aromatic cap, symbol of a long day’s honest, hard work hasn’t signed a multi-million dollar contract to hit, throw, and catch a baseball either, has he? 

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