Sox lid: A hat is not just a hat

It's almost time for major league baseball's spring training to begin. Until this year, I have never really paid attention to spring training because I've never really been a fan. Until now. Thanks to a hat.

A friend once said "Men who wear hats go bald." I replied: "Men who go bald wear hats."

Though I wear baseball hats, the bulk of my knowledge of America's Pastime comes from Ken Burns' 18-hour PBS documentary, "Baseball," a program I watched during a weekend I was disabled from major oral surgery. Among the many things I learned about was "the curse of the Bambino," the legend centered on Babe Ruth's anger at being sold by the Boston Red Sox. It's a popular explanation for the Red Sox 85-year World Series drought.

Long-suffering Sox fans are united by the hope that the curse will relent and the team will finally win the prize. They are also united by their disdain toward the New York Yankees– an organization that began a decades-long dynasty by pilfering the stars of the 1918 World Series, including Ruth.

In August of 2002, my wife and I honeymooned in Boston. On a lark, we attempted to buy tickets to a sold-out game at Fenway Park. We enjoyed the carnival atmosphere outside, despite not getting in, and we each bought Boston Red Sox ball caps. Immediately, people's perception of us changed.

For the rest of our time in Boston, complete strangers struck up uninitiated conversations: "Did you see the game last night?" "Are you going to the game tonight?" "How about those Sox?"

We immediately became accepted by long suffering Red Sox fans, and were touched by the instant camaraderie. We were treated warmly and made friends everywhere we went. A couple we knew from Charlottesville, who had relocated outside Boston, were perplexed when we reported to them how friendly Bostonians were to us. I believe it was the hat.

When we returned to Charlottesville from our honeymoon, I was surprised that our hats continued to draw attention. Former Bostonians approached us. People stopped me in stores to express their hopes for the upcoming Sox season. Sometimes I would explain that it was a souvenir of a wonderful trip, and other times I would support their joy by just smiling. I was too embarrassed to say, "Hey! It's just a hat!"

Usually the exchanges were touching; sometimes they were outrageous.

While attending an outdoor concert soon after the honeymoon, I was walking through the crowd when a woman approaching me with a huge grin and an outstretched hand.

"Congratulations!" she yelled, and I assumed she was one of my new wife's many friends talking about the marriage. Nope. "It's so nice to see a real hat here tonight!" the Stranger said as she took my hand. "I've seen so many damned Yankees hats here, it makes me want to puke!"

When the 2003 baseball season began, a long string of wins suggested the Sox would end "the curse of the Bambino." As the season wore on, it also appeared that the Chicago Cubs might also make it to the World Series. Fans and non-fans alike started chattering about the dream Series match-up of Boston and Chicago for the first time since 1918 (the last time Boston won the Series).

The chatter increased when the American League playoffs pitted the Red Sox against the Yankees, and the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins were fighting for the National League pennant. The chatter around my hat magnified.

The bakery where I work allows me to wear a hat, and I would greet customers while wearing my dark blue hat with a bright red and white "B." I started getting caught up in the American League series. People would come in the day after each game and discuss it with hope– until New York started pulling ahead.

People who used to greet me and ask for their favorite cookies were saying, "It'll never happen," or "Boston hasn't got a chance."

Now, instead of being appreciated by Charlottesville's contingent of Boston fans, I was being reviled by local Yankee fans. They came in and gloated after each New York win, which propelled me to root during each game even harder for Boston to turn things around. One Yankees fan warned, "You are going to get your [butt] kicked!"

"Boston, maybe– not me!" I snapped, pointing to my head. "It's just a hat!"

Unfortunately, the Cubbies, aided by an over-zealous fan's interference, lost against the Marlins and ended hopes of the dream series. At least there was still hope for the end of the Curse. I sweated it out as Boston fought boldly to win the sixth game. With the teams tied in the Series, it all came down to the seventh game.

Boston's star pitcher, Pedro Martinez, took the mound and was poised to take the game and go to the World Series. I squealed with delight as he took out most batters. Unfortunately, manager Grady Little made the poor decision to let Martinez continue to pitch when it was obvious he was getting worn down. Boston lost. Devastated, I slapped the power switch on the TV before I had to watch the Yankees and their fans celebrate.

When I returned to work, I wore different hats. I didn't want to hear the Yankee fans, and I didn't want to hear the long-suffering Boston fans' decades-old mantra of "wait-until-next-year!" I avoided watching the World Series, though I was glad the up-start Marlins beat "the best team money can buy." Maybe I was being a fair-weather friend to the Boston Red Sox, but I didn't care.

Despite not wearing the hat, I took one more jab for Boston. Shortly after the New York team was defeated, I unintentionally wore my Boston subway shirt to work. A customer came to the counter, looked at me and said, "Why are you wearing a 'loser' shirt?"

I defended the shirt as a souvenir of the Boston subway system, deflecting the intended slander of the Sox. As the customer went out the door, the smug look on her face made me realize that she was a Yankee fan. I stood behind the counter and fought the urge to run to the door and scream out: "Losers? Can you say Marlins?"

Okay– maybe it's not just a hat...

Carroll Trainum can often be spotted behind the counter at BreadWorks, in his Boston hat or one of his many others. At other times, he can be found pounding away at yet another screenplay.



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