Mets caps and talking baseball

A conversation on a partly sunny sidewalk, Sunday afternoon. I’m wearing a Mets hat, walking to a post box to mail a bill.

Guy walking toward me: Twenty innings last night.
Me: Yeah, that was something. At least they won.
Guy: Fucking unbelievable.
Me: I know. After a while, it was just like, someone, please score.
Guy: I wanted to go to bed, but I didn’t want to turn it off.
Me: Yeah, it was like a car accident … (Guy looks momentarily confused) … You couldn’t look away.
———

You’d be surprised how often this happens (that is, this sort of conversation, not a 2-1 baseball game that lasts 20 innings).

For nearly all of my first 36 years, save for a youthful flirtation here or there, I was a Yankee fan, and I wasn’t shy about wearing my gear. But after they left me, and I warmly embraced my new team in Queens (even in the face of 2009’s downward spiral), I noticed a different phenomenon. People want to talk to you about baseball if you’re wearing a Mets hat.

That may sound strange, and perhaps this is only a phenomenon north of Catskill, but let me explain, or at least give you my theory.

Everyone and their brother, from Wichita to Leningrad, is a Yankee fan, or so it seems (our family, by hailing from Yonkers, had some legitimacy to our claim as Yankee fans, according to Mr. Queenan at least, but I digress.). Baseball hats, and especially Yankees caps, come in every shade of color — or, let me pause. Fan hats come in every shade. Real Yankee hats are only navy blue with the white “NY” — it’s the only one I ever wore, and the one time I was given a beige version of that hat as a gift, I politely thanked the gift-giver and stuck the cap in the attic.

But here’s the thing: when I wore a Yankee hat, almost no random stranger wanted to talk baseball to me, or even acknowledge the team I wore on my head. Never a “Did you see last night’s game?” or even a “Go Sox” or “Go Mets” from a fan of another team as sort of a friendly (or not) nudge.

But variations of these things have happened to me in the last 11 months whenever I’ve gone out in public in a Mets hat.

True, I live in a walkable and, I’d say, chatty city upstate —put me in the suburbs, where the only place you walk is inside the mall while you’re shuttling in your SUV from your garage to your office park, and the story might be different. Suffice to say, you’re not going to get a “fucking unbelievable” from a 50-ish total stranger strolling through your cul-de-sac.

Still, I’m hardly a social person. I’m not out looking for conversation, unless someone engages me first, and even then, I can be moody and standoffish. But it never fails when I’m in a Mets hat.

———

Clerk at the beer store, to me, on Sunday: Twenty innings, huh?

Guy coming out of the beer store, to me, last summer: [mockingly; a friendly jab] Let’s go Yankees.

(I go to the beer store a lot.)

Teacher at pre-school, smiling, seeing me and Junior in matching caps, last week: I see he’s rocking the Mets hat.

———

Why didn’t this sort of thing happen more often when I wore a Yankee hat? I live in an area that clearly places itself deep inside the Yankee fandom camp. Two recent polls stated the obvious: that fans in New York State root for the Yankees more than any other team. Delving deeper, my part of upstate is nearly equidistant to Boston and Manhattan. Though one poll didn’t ask about out-of-state teams, and the other showed weaker support for the Sox, the Red Sox are a clear and close second place to the Yankees in terms of fan support here in the Capital Region. The Mets are barely fighting for show money in this race.

Here’s my theory:

Not all of these comments to me are coming from one Mets fan to another, but they are coming from fellow baseball fans. And baseball fans like to talk baseball, even to strangers on the street or in the beer store or in the lobby outside your kid’s pre-school. And a Mets cap in a Yankee town clearly indicates someone who follows baseball, something a Yankees hat does not. (Clarification, June 1, 2010: In that, there seems to be 500 varieties of Yankees hats — from pink to red to versions that completely obscure the “NY” logo — and everyone seems to be wearing a different one, it’s to the point that it’s long since become a fashion thing, and less a true fan thing. True, other teams may offer their own different varieties of their team’s hat, but no one’s snatching them up in the same volumes as Yankee caps. But I digress.)

This sort of thing doesn’t happen if I wear a generic baseball hat (say, my New York-Penn League cap). This sort of thing doesn’t happen for other sports when I wear the hat of a team in hockey or football.

This sort of thing doesn’t happen to any other team, even the Red Sox I’d hazard to guess, with all the Bosox bandwaggoning in the last six years. Heck, even when I rooted for the Yankees, I’d dabble in wearing a Twins or Tigers hat over the last few years as my disillusionment grew and the diehard in me waned in the face of mounting evidence of Bronx Bombast. All anyone every asked of me when I was in one of those hats was “You from Detroit?”

It’s not like I’m parading around like Mr. Met or seeking a blue-and-orange badge of courage. But my theory goes that if you’re wearing the hat of a local team that’s not the Yanks or the Sox and that’s been to the World Series four times in nearly 30 years (and none in almost 10 years), you’ve got to be a real baseball fan.

Let me put it another way: I’m sure most baseball fans (at least those up here) wouldn’t approach someone in a Yankee hat the same way. Why should they? They’re almost certain to get one of four reactions:

Person A to Person in Yankees hat: They had a great rally to win last night’s game, huh?
Person in Yankees hat, response 1: Um, I didn’t watch it.
Person in Yankees hat, response 2: Who are the Yankees? Oh, is that what the “NY” represents on my red and pink hat?
Person in Yankees hat, response 3: Yeah, and your team sucks if it’s not the Yankees. Now get in your car so I can cut you off in traffic while I change the number on the back of my “Got Rings?” T-shirt from from 27 to 28 to indicate my abject smarminess.
Person in Yankees hat, response 4: Derek Jeter is so cute.
———

Maybe it’s an upstate phenomenon, but given the Mets recent state, and the Yankees boorishness combined with rampant front-running, I think not.

Originally published at my other blog on Monday, April 19, 2010.

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