It's a small canvas, typically less than 5 square inches. But with that space, a great story can be told, by both the team and the person rocking it. Whether you connect with the history or just think the logo is cool, caps continue to be the most popular way
It's a small canvas, typically less than 5 square inches. But with that space, a great story can be told, by both the team and the person rocking it. Whether you connect with the history or just think the logo is cool, caps continue to be the most popular way to support a sports team and the community it represents.
This marks the fifth year MiLB.com has celebrated National Hat Day by looking at some of the top-selling caps from MiLBStore.com (2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2021). Included in this year's list are looks for theme nights, Copa de la Diversión, Marvel’s Defenders of the Diamond, and of course, the on-field 'fit.
After Sugar Land joined the Minor League landscape ahead of the 2021 season, the Astros spent the first year connecting with its shared community. For 2022, they then found a way to represent the fandom and the new partnership by rebranding as the Space Cowboys. “The logo embraces the Houston area and the state of Texas and everything that we are known for from our Western culture to our space program,” said Shamaine St. Julien, the Space Cowboys’ retail manager. “You have the Western hat, you have the face that, you know it's kind of mysterious, because it's not a face. You don't see the eyes and nose and mouth features. You see stars, which is kind of the tie-in with the galaxy and the space aspects of our brand.” The design was an instant success and continues to be a hit with several styles leading the charge in the Minors. And the popularity got even stronger when the Marvel's Defenders of the Diamond design featured an enhanced version of the cosmic hero. Just don’t call him Maurice.
Browse National Hat Day discounts >>
Although the Trash Pandas have only played two seasons since debuting their tin-can cap, this is their fifth time making this list. People love the Trash Pandas and their Brandiose-created signature look. "It's one of the most unique and irreverent team names in the Minors, one that still causes people to ask, 'Wait, did they really name the team that?'" said Ben Hill, MiLB.com's branding expert. "And once the Trash Pandas have your attention, they keep it. The logo, featuring a scrappy raccoon with the ingenuity and bravery to pull off his own journey into space, tells a story that has a local connection but that anyone can relate to. Trash Pandas may sound ridiculous, but clearly it's no joke." And this year, fans got another Rocket City chapeau they couldn’t get enough of. As part of the Marvel's Defenders of the Diamond collection, this design put the Trash Panda front and center. With a touch of glare on the top right, you know he’s wearing his space helmet and is ready to rock. We can only assume Rocket Raccoon would be proud.
Hartford burst on the scene in 2016 as one of the early adopters of the quirky compound team name (e.g., Trash Pandas, Sod Poodles, Space Cowboys). And the hat was equally unique, putting a chomping goat where you’d typically see a letter or a snarling face. But although the name feels more familiar now, the Brandiose design still attracts fans from across the country and at home in Connecticut. Locals gravitate to the blue and green shades paying homage to former NHL team the Hartford Whalers. A couple years after the Yard Goats found their branding, the USL’s Hartford Athletic adopted the same scheme. “It really sort of set off a domino effect of now green and blue being the city's colors, and you're starting to see green and blue pop up a lot of places to represent Hartford,” said Jeff Dooley, the Yard Goats’ director of broadcasting. And while sports fans continue debating the greatest of all time, Hartford is the real winner. “I think just that added serendipitous boost of the concept of a G.O.A.T. has really helped us as well.”
While most of the hats on this list are fan favorites for being unlike anything anyone has ever seen before, Norfolk found success going the opposite direction. After the Tides adopted the orange and green seahorse design in 2016, many fans missed the original logo. Director of community relations and merchandise Heather McKeating, who grew up in Norfolk, said there’s a real nostalgia for the 'T' design. “When I was younger, baseball was the predominant sport. We didn't have soccer or lacrosse. I remember all my friends wearing that hat,” McKeating said. “It's a very simple hat -- the royal blue top, the lighter blue bill. People just identify with that.” Former NBA player and Norfolk native James Michael McAdoo sports the cap often. And with a large military presence in the community, many veterans also feel the nostalgic draw to it. Some miscommunication led to double the hat orders being placed, but it didn’t take long for fans to tap the Tides dry and force yet another shipment.
The River Bandits’ first year in Copa de la Diversión was a hit as their Bandidos del Rio de las Ciudades Cuádaruples resonated with fans. Mascot Rascal traded in his cowboy hat for a sombrero as he became “Pícaro.” Teaming up with Group O and the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the River Bandits wanted their logo to represent the fan base that has gathered at Modern Woodman Park since 1931. “When you've got a ballpark that encapsulates four or five, six cities realistically here in the QC, the logo really symbolizes all that diversity with all those different colors; everything coming together over one team, as one community,” said Kyle Kercheval, the River Bandits’ broadcaster. “And we're really excited to pay homage to the area's Hispanic and Latino populations this year with that cool serape design and the sombrero.”
West Michigan unveiled the Beer City Bung Hammers look in 2018, and since then, the design has aged like, well, a beer whose bung has been properly hammered. For those unfamiliar, a bung is a wooden cork that plugs the barrel of craft beer during the aging process. One uses a hammer to seal and unseal the bung. In West Michigan’s take, it’s a pint of beer taking a swing and hammering the bung. The Whitecaps knew they wanted to celebrate the local craft beer scene, so they took a tour of Founders Brewing Co. to find inspiration. Like many parts of Minor League promos, merchandise manager Lori Ashcroft says the beauty lies in the mix between silly and provocative. "Bung holes is a fun term. It's just a little edgy and something that people giggle a little bit about, but it's still good, clean fun because it's a cute logo. I think it illustrates really well that we're celebrating Grand Rapids' title as Beer City, USA."
This small dog has taken a big bite out of hat sales. When the brand was released in 2014, the Chihuahuas' on-field home cap sold to customers in all 50 states as well as 11 countries within the first week. Eight years later, it's still going strong. El Paso senior vice president and GM Brad Taylor thinks the bold color palette and central figure draw fans in. “If you can't get into a cartoon dog, you're probably not for us anyway. You know? The whole thing was about having fun and building something around that fierce little chihuahua that's loyal and not the biggest dog in the fight but certainly the scrappiest, and that's resonated for years.” Not only was El Paso’s signature look among the most popular Minor League caps, but the Chihuahuas’ Marvel's Defenders of the Diamond cap in which the pooch appears extra fierce has also been a top seller.
When baseball returned to Louisville in 1982, fans couldn’t get enough of the Redbirds as the club drew 25,000-30,000 fans a game at their shared home with University of Louisville football. So when the Bats were looking for moments in their history to celebrate, the popular cartoon bird was a no-brainer. “It was this lightning in a bottle,” said team president Greg Galiette, who has been with the club since 1984. “Just a lot of great memories for folks in this community who grew up and went to old Cardinal Stadium and saw those Redbird teams. It just has a warm place in their heart and now they pass it along to their relatives, whether it's their kids or their grandchildren, so it just continues on.” And with Memphis joining the International League in 2021 comes hope for an all-Redbirds matchup one day.
To celebrate its 25th season as the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate, Durham wanted to do something special. “We knew the hat was going to have to be a focal point,” said Bryan Wilson, the Bulls’ director of merchandising. “And the Rays started wearing that [throwback] style again as an alternate, so we adapted it into our brand and our namesake and used the bull. It just exceeded by far any expectations.” While tapping into '90s nostalgia, the hat put a local spin on the retro Devil Rays vibe. Durham sold out within 48 hours of the hats going on sale. Both Bulls and Rays fans couldn’t get enough. When they got more in stock at the end of the season -- same result. But if you missed out on the shimmery DB, fear not. Fans should look forward to seeing the design more regularly at Durham Bulls Athletic Park this summer.
The Marvel's Defenders of the Diamond collection has brought a whole new universe to Minor League hats. For this design, the creatives at Marvel worked with Buffalo to make sure the local community was represented. Assistant general manager Brad Bisbing said the “stout, determined” face taps into the pride Western New Yorkers have for their region when overcoming hardships. “You're going to throw a lot at Buffalonians, and it's not going to matter. We're going keep forging ahead,” he said. “And I think that's what that bison is doing in that logo. It's getting pounded by a winter storm, but it doesn't matter. It's going to keep forging ahead.” Fans from across the country have been drawn to that icy determination -- even folks in Hawaii have ordered the cool cap.
Kelsie Heneghan is a writer for MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.