Even though the days of one sport truly being “America’s Pastime” are long gone, there is no denying that baseball has a kinship with our inherent feelings of patriotism unlike any other sport. It is a literary game that found it’s birth as a retreat from the battlefields of the Civil War, and continued to serve as the tapestry of our country through every significant event of the past 100 plus years.
Reading the history of the game is symbiotic with that of the country itself. Babe Ruth was the first national sports hero during the bustling 20’s in New York, the game’s biggest stars interrupted their careers to serve in World War II, Jackie Robinson was an iconic figure in the civil rights movement. For the reasons, and more, the game continues to have a patriotic feel to it (being the only major sport in season during the celebration of the country’s birthday doesn’t hurt).
Baseball was the first sport to involve presidents in the opening ceremonies (William Taft was the first president to throw out the first pitch of a game), the first to have The Star Spangled Banner sung (during the 7th inning stretch of the 1918 World Series), and the first to place patches of the United States flag on their jerseys (In 1990 during the first war with Iraq, and after 9/11 just to name a few).
So it is by natural extension that a more substantial patriotic expression with Major League Baseball’s on-field attire was coming.
No one ever accused Fred Wilpon of being a visionary. The embattled owner of the New York Mets lost a large portion of his fortune through friend Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme. Who knew that through his efforts trying to find a way to give back to war veterans that Wilpon would open the door for a headwear phenomenon to occur?
In 2007 Wilpon was working closely with Major League Baseball on ways to support war veterans, when on-field headwear provider New Era was brought into the discussion. New Era has a rich history itself, that is intertwined with Major League Baseball, as the Buffalo, NY based company has been providing on-field caps for teams since the 1920’s. Through that time New Era has established itself as the king of sports headwear in the world. Their 59/50 hats are iconic and fashionable, and are one of the biggest sellers in the multi-billion dollar sports apparel business.
To that point, some proceeds of gate receipts from games on Memorial Day, the 4th of July, or September 11th were donated to charity.
It was time to take things to the next level. The Stars and Stripes collection from New Era was born the following season. Starting in 2008, each Major League Baseball team donned the same navy cap, with their respective team logos in red, white and blue on Memorial Day and the 4th of July.
It was the first time that the entire league would wear the same hat in such a way. What was also unique was this was the first time fans could buy such commemorative hats at their favorite stores such as Pro Image Sports.
All proceeds went to the charity Welcome Back Veterans (www.welcomebackveterans.org), which assists vets with their transition after returning from deployment.
The hats were an instant hit with customers.
“That first year, we grossly underestimated the customer reaction because we hadn’t seen anything like it,” said Pro Image Sports franchisee Chris Edwards, who operates five stores in Pittsburgh. “Sure, fans wanted to show their support, but it was more that the hats were cool, so they sold well.”
2008 was such a success that New Era knew quickly made the decision to roll out a new version of the hat in 2009.
“We had always supported our troops and thought it would be a cool way to signify it on the field,” said Todd Sokolowsky senior director of on-field products for New Era. “We wanted to come up with a cap that showed the solidarity of our support.”
The following year the cap changed from navy to red, with the same American flag representation inside each team logo. Sales continued to surge as fans became more aware of the hat.
In 2010 anticipation surrounded the unveiling of the new design, and New Era didn’t disappoint, coming strong with a two-tone, white crown with a navy or red bill, and American flag team logo. By this time, there were many customers who collected the hats.
2011 saw New Era evolved slightly from the 2010 design going with a white front panel crown, with the remainder of the cap and bill being either navy or red, with the same American flag logo.
In Pro Image Sports stores across the country the 2010 & 2011 caps were not as widely successful simply because a lot of customers are weary of wearing a white hat in fear of mucking it up.
Sales were still strong, but you could hear customers at the store level voicing their desire to have a Stars and Stripes hat in their own team’s colors. New Era, ever having their fingers on the pulse of what their customers are after, answered the call in 2012 with what many are raving is the best collection of hats in the Stars and Stripes series.
This season’s inception is subtler, and speaks poignantly to the military influence that it seeks to honor. Each hat is in team color, with camouflage of different colors and design that most closely matches that of the team’s colors.
“This has been a good cap to honor the vets, and the players love it too,” said Sokolowsky. “There has been greater acceptance overall.”
The Stars and Stripes hats have evolved over the years, but continue to stand for their original purpose of giving fans a way to feel connected to their country and team, while supporting the military that keep us free.
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