By Jim Caple
Page 2

There are two great American contributions to world fashion: blue jeans and baseball caps. Of these, baseball caps are more important. They can cover up bald spots.

I love that wherever you go in this world, you see people wearing baseball caps. It's very reassuring. Walk down the Champs Elysee. Ride a ferry past the Sydney Opera House. Wander through the Ginza. Feel the spray at Victoria Falls in Zambia. Doesn't matter where you go, where you are. People will be wearing baseball caps. The caps may not have a baseball logo -- in fact, they often don't -- but they are baseball caps nonetheless. I bet al-Qaida wears them.

There once was a more formal time when Americans wore hats. No longer. Straw hats, pork-pie hats, slouch hats, Panama hats, Tyrolean hats, homburgs, Stetsons, fezzes, berets, Easter bonnets, pillboxes … they've all fallen from fashion, replaced by the utilitarian baseball cap. Everyone wears them, children and adults, men and women, movie stars and the homeless, celebrity chefs and fast food workers. Baseball caps are as at home on a catwalk as on an intentional walk.

Football coaches wear them on the sideline. Baseball players wear them when they leave the stadium.

You can wear baseball caps anywhere: to school, the store, the movies, a restaurant, a museum, center field. About the only place a cap would be out of place is a funeral, and not even there if the deceased was a Cubs fan.

There is no more egalitarian item of clothing. George W. Bush wears them. So does Michael Moore. Whenever politicians want to show they're in touch with the common people, they put on a baseball cap. Or in the case of Hillary Clinton, two baseball caps -- one for each New York team.

Caps are better than replica jerseys for showing your allegiance. Sure, jerseys are nice, but they're impractical. Once you enter your mid-30s, you pretty much can't wear them anywhere but the game. Caps are different. You can wear them at any age. In fact, they become even more fashionable as you grow old and start losing your hair.

Nor does anything hide morning hair better than a baseball cap. The flip side of this, however, is the ever-present danger of hat head.

India cricket fans
Aman Sharma/AP Photo
Even cricket fans in India are sporting baseball caps these days.

My closet is crowded with caps, littered with lids. It's impossible for me to throw away a cap. Unlike with my T-shirts, I get few complaints from my wife, though. Half the caps are hers. We own so many caps that if you sewed the sweatbands together it might even fit Barry Bonds' noggin'. We have big league caps. Little League caps. Japan League caps. Negro League caps. Retro caps. Olympic caps. British and U.S. Open caps. College football caps. College basketball caps. We have caps from newspapers, tractor companies, aluminum plants and wineries. I've sweat so much into one cap that it's encrusted with enough salt to preserve ham. Our prize cap is the giveaway item from the first night game at Wrigley Field, now so horrendously soiled that I can wear it only while wearing a surgical mask and a hazmat uniform.

For a time, the fashionable way to wear a cap was to curl the bill so thoroughly that people even started producing molds specially designed for that purpose. Now the thing to do is keep the bill so flat you could use it as a carpentry level. And the new caps come in all sorts of designer colors that bear no relation to the team's uniform. White Red Sox caps. Red White Sox caps. Camouflage Padres caps. And of all things -- pink Yankees caps.

You can buy such fitted caps for $25 to $40, but caps don't truly fit your head until they've been dirtied and grass-stained on sandlots when they fly off while stretching a double into a triple or diving for a sinking line drive. Until they've been lovingly patched by a mother after your dog chewed a chunk out of the back. Until they've been stretched and the bills stressed by repeated use as rally caps when your team trails by four runs in the final inning. Until they've been worn forward like Derek Jeter and backwards like Ken Griffey Jr. and sideways like Charlie Brown.

People say football has replaced baseball as the national pastime, but I don't think so. You don't see people wearing football helmets.

BOXSCORE LINE OF THE WEEK
San Diego's Jake Peavy put up this impressive line -- 7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 16 K -- Monday against the Braves … and still wound up losing. Meanwhile, Byung-Hyun Kim and Jae Seo faced each other in the first-ever big league matchup between Korean-born pitchers. But our award goes to San Francisco's young bench player Dan Ortmeier, who put up this rare line Sunday:

1 AB, 0 R, 0 H 0 RBI

What's so unusual about that line? The guy he pinch hit for was Barry Bonds, who had exactly 714 more career home runs than Ortmeier. Which is not to say the two didn't share something in common. As soon as he was introduced as the pinch hitter and the crowd realized Bonds wasn't batting, Ortmeier received long and loud boos.

"I've heard fans mumbling before, but nothing like that," Ortmeier said with a grin. "That's a first."

INFIELD CHATTER
"Roger Clemens Family Offers Him One-Year, $10 Million Contract"
-- headline in The Onion

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com and the author of "The Devil Wears Pinstripes." You can order the book, reach Jim or read the new chapters of "24 College Avenue" at his recently redesigned Web site, jimcaple.com.




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