Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Future for The Culture: Meet Brett Swartz

     For many cap collectors to say they have been "chasing the dream" for quite some time would be the most modest of understatements.  Many that I've had the pleasure of getting to know have been working on their ultimate hoards for well over a decade and some for as long as 25 years. That type of commitment and desire is something to be revered but let us not forget that one day the future of our craft will eventually be carried out by the next generation. 

     Today, we get a chance to meet one of the youngest cap connoisseurs around. You may not know the name, but rest assure, it's one you're going to want to get to know. This 21 year old, hailing from the depths of the desert, can only be described by one word; NEXT. He may be early in the hunt, to some, but sooner rather than later all bets are on this collector being a giant in our game. Without further ado, here is this weeks conversation with Brett Swartz.   

TFD: Brett, where do you call home?

BS: I am originally from Orange/Riverside, California but I moved to Phoenix four years ago to go to college.

TFD: What size fitted do you wear?

BS: I wear a 7 3/8 but can make 7 1/4 or 7 1/2 work in a pinch.  

TFD: When did you find yourself beginning to collect fitted caps?

BS: I have always been really into caps. When I was growing up I had a cap for each of my favorite team. In high school, I expanded my collection to around 20 caps. I really didn't consider it a collection. There were a few caps I wore and some others that were older that I didn't want to get rid of. When I got to college, I noticed a few hat collector accounts on Instagram; Spike Leach (@SpikeLeach), Will Schaule (@goodwillyum), Anthony Collicchio (@xclickaroox), etc. I started expanding my collection from that point forward. 

     In February 2016, the Kansas City Royals were fresh off their World Series win and newly designed Spring Training cap dropped with the Royals adding a crown to their "K.C." logo. I knew I had to have it. For two weeks, I drove to different Hat Club stores in Arizona and even to the Royals Spring Training facility (looking for the cap). After nearly giving up, I stopped into a random Hat Club that I had never visited before; of course, the caps were  there on the shelves. The feeling of finally finding one was something I looked to replicate. Around March 2016, I decided to start a fitted cap specific Instagram account. separate from my own. Since then, my cap collection has exploded.

TFD: Can you remember what your very first cap was?

BS: I personally cannot remember it but it is well documented in pictures. As a baby, my Dad had a newborn sized Kansas City Royals New Era Authentic Collection cap for me, when I was born. That cap is in a lot of photos. It's still in my possession, today.

TFD: Where does this love for the Royals come from? 

BS: My dad lived there during a very key year in K.C. sports history. As a 9 year-old, he witnessed the royals come to fruition, in 1969. He witnessed the growth of a future Hall-of-Famer, in George Brett (guess who I was named after). My dad also saw the first Royals World Series victory. From all that, his fandom was passed down to me. Not that I had a choice, anyway. 

     After years of torment, they finally rewarded my loyalty in 2014 and 2015. Those years were filled with moments that I will never forget. Sports truly are magical, aren't they?

TFD: If anyone follows you on Instagram, they can see that the majority of your caps are baseball related. Any favorite teams, other than the Royals?   

BS: Since living in Arizona, I have developed a soft spot for the Diamondbacks. MiLB wise, my favorite team was the (now defunct) High Desert Mavericks. When I was a kid, my dad ran a club-baseball team named after them. I played many games under that "hatted-M" logo of theirs, so it has held a special place to me, in terms of cap collecting. 

TFD: Are there any specific rules you have, in terms of what caps make the collection and which don't? 

BS: I usually stick to USA-made polyester caps, due to them fitting my odd-shaped noggin the best. I don't really have rules, besides that. However, from my page you can see I mainly stick to baseball related caps. 

TFD: You recently did a mini-tour of the Arizona Fall League, where you happily helped multiple members of Team Fitted acquire On-Field caps. Which team in the league has your favorite cap/logo and why?

BS: Everyone loves the Scorpions logo, due to its awesome design and notable team alumni (Michael Jordan, Tim Tebow, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, etc). However, I actually dig an outside the box, team. My favorite is actually the Salt River Rafters cap, because, to me, it is just so unique compared to other baseball logos. It just stands out. I have been helping people get AFL caps for two seasons, now, yet I still don't own a single one of their caps! Guess I need to fix that!

TFD: What would you say are some of your favorite caps?

BS: Some of my favorite caps are my Royals 2016 Ring Ceremony/Friday alternate cap, the ever-illusive 2016 Asheville Tourists "Beer City" cap (one of my first MiLB caps) and my Casper Ghosts cap. 

TFD: Are there any "holy grail" caps that you would like to add to the collection but have had trouble finding?

BS: Any of the Royals special event caps, pre-2015; Memorial Day (2013-2015), Stars and Stripes (2008-2013), All-Star patch caps (pre-2016), along with all of their older Turn Back The Clock caps (2011-2015). I missed out on those, back in my pre-collecting days. Another one I would like would be the Portland Beavers two-tone cap from the 2008-2010 era. There are a few others that I really want that I wouldn't say are quite grail status...yet.

TFD: What are your most frequented hat stores?

BS: Hat Club, for sure, being in Arizona where they have most of their locations. It's pretty easy to visit them. Plus, they do the best business in the business, in my opinion. 

TFD: Have you enjoyed being part of the Team Fitted group?

BS: 100%. I love chatting it up about caps and other cap related topics, with other collectors. I also love seeing what everyone else is grabbing, especially when I can't afford to buy one. I love being able to assist people with finding caps they want (I.E.: the Arizona Fall League caps).

TFD: What does the fitted culture mean to you?

BS: It gives me hope that I am not alone! Even among baseball players, who own more hats than usual, I am the crazy hat dude on my team. On a more serious note, it is amazing what fellow cap collectors are willing to do to help out one another; whether it is a person with thousands of caps or even just ten. I can't count how many times other collectors have assisted me with information or have even grabbed a cap for me in person, all the way across the country. That kind of blind generosity is a model I think the whole world could benefit from following. 

TFD: If they don't do so already, where can the readers find you on social media?

BS: On Instagram I go by @FittedGuy16. I do have a personal account but I do like to keep that one separate. I use my cap account quite a bit more. On Twitter, my handle is @Swartzy16. Those are my most-frequented social media outlets. I also use Flickr to catalog all of my caps. If anyone wants to see an updated view of my collection, you can check out my account there. 

TFD: Lastly, if you could design your own custom New Era Cap, what would the inspiration for that be and what might it look like?

BS: That's a great question. I really love what Hat Club is doing right now with the customs and in-house designs. The Dionic Danny creations, as well. Personally, I would follow on Danny's path by creating a faux-team identity and branch off from that. 

(The now sold-out Dionic Halloween Octo-Slugger cap, via Hat Club)

     As far as inspiration and what it might look like, I have no idea at this point in time. However, I have always wanted to dabble in the custom-game, so who knows. Maybe something will come of it in the future.

     That will do it this time around. I hope you enjoyed today's read, featuring Brett. He's a young collector who is years ahead of the game. His willingness to help others and passion for expanding the fitted culture qualifies him as a valued part of Team Fitted. Give him a follow on Instagram, if you haven't already, @FittedGuy16. Thanks for reading and remember, #StayFitted

-Matt Aballi
Twitter: @MattAballi
Instagram: matt_aballi




Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Sunday Conversation with Benjamin Christensen

     For most reading, the name Benjamin Christensen is one that will ring bells of familiarity. Ben, or "Shakabrodie" as his thousands of Twitter and Instagram followers might know him, has been a prominent figure in the world of fitted caps for quite some time. Ranging from being a part of the now famous Crew Era 13 collectors group, to being a prominent figure of a certain bay-area cap store, along with managing a rather well known corporate social media account, he's seemingly done it all. Rest assured, he's just getting started.

     I recently had a chance to spit-ball and bounce a few questions off of one of the greats in the fitted community, with hopes of finding out what makes him tick. Needless to say, the results certainly did not disappoint. Enjoy this week's interview with the man of a thousand hats, "Shakabrodie."

TFD: When did you first start collecting fitted caps?

BC: I would say I first really actively started collecting caps in 2009/2010. Prior to then, I just had a few caps from my time working in the San Francisco Giants organization, back in 1999/2000 (with the Bakersfield Blaze). There were a few random ones, back then; an Oakland A's home cap, a 1969-1991 Montreal Expos cap and a 1980's Philadelphia Phillies cap. When I got older and grew my hair out is when I started grabbing at least one of every MLB team and a few Minor League Baseball teams, which then snowballed into the 1000 or so that I have now.

TFD: What attracted you to the culture?

BC: It's not so much the culture that I was attracted to, as the hats themselves. Since I was a kid, I've always treated hats as pieces of wearable art. Some would make the same claim about shoes. The overall construction and the amazing colors and logos are very attractive to the eyes. Also, it's one of the few articles of clothing that actually tells stories; by that, I mean, hats serve as beacons to some about the town/city they live in. Even though we're talking about an accessory/piece of a uniform, hats have transcended fashion and become a part of a person's upbringing or personality; that's what continues to attract me to them.

TFD: When did you start working with Hat Club?

BC: I started working for Hat Club in June of 2014, at their location in Daly City, California at the Serramonte Mall.

TFD: What are your roles with the company?

BC: Along with running the day to day operations at their location in Concord, California, I've been serving as the company's Director of Social Media, since April of 2015. I'm also the unofficial "Hat Lord" of the company.

TFD: How do you feel your experience as a journalism student affects your ability to run Hat Club's  Twitter and Instagram feeds?

BC: My journalism background plays a huge part. While some folks see social media as a void to mutter jokes and spit dribble, it actually serves as a wide-reaching platform to tap into markets and consumers on a scale that wasn't imaginable 15 years ago. By understanding how the masses communicate (tone and thirst for information), I have become pretty savvy on picking up how we, as a society, evolve via communication. It's a mixture of being witty and relevant, while leaving a lasting impression.

TFD: Speaking of the Hat Club Twitter account, the company has recently been dropping some absolute fire, via their feed. Which of the most recent drops is your personal favorite?

BC: Hands down my favorite is the one hat I've been trying to locate for about six years, now; the old school Jacksonville Expos minor league hat. Even though I'm an A's fan, I've always been a huge fan of the Expos organization, especially when it comes to their logo and color schemes. Any time I see something of a historical significance involving the Expos, I have to have it. Even though I work for Hat Club, that doesn't necessarily mean I get first dibs at everything; I still have to fight tooth and nail for these sweet releases, like everyone else.

TFD: What can we expect to see in the near future?

BC: Expect to see a lot of really cool shit, coming from the MLB, MiLB, NFL, NBA very soon. I think we're dropping over 100 new releases, spanning from mid-September through November.

TFD: Is there anything that you, personally, would like to see produced?

BC: Not a lot of people know this, but I've actually designed a few hats in the past. I wouldn't say they're anything too special, just hats that I know would take off. For example, the late 80's Seattle Mariners "S" logo hat, with the mid 90's Seattle Supersonics color way. When it comes to stuff I'd like to own and wear, I always design and pass forward my ideas to our buying team to get their opinion. I know there will be at least three dropping some time over the next month or so that I helped create or bring back to life. It's always a cool feeling knowing that other hat collectors share the same nostalgia for a lot of the hats that I help put out.

TFD: As a fellow wrestling nerd, any potential for a collaboration of the squared-circle variety?

BC: If it wasn't so hard to cut through licensing, I would love to see some kind of a collaboration with the WWE, New Era and Hat Club. I know those things would be cleaned out in a matter of minutes.

TFD: Anyone who follows your twitter has seen the unique labeling system you use on your caps. Can you break this down for the readers?

BC: So, when it comes to my marking system, which I've really slowed down with, I always choose jersey numbers, statistics or major event dates in the history of when each hat was used. I first got the idea from Livan Hernandez during the 1997 National League Championship Series. A lot of Dominican players write on their hats to pay tribute to loved ones or friends who have passed away; I was really inspired by that kind of a simple tribute.

TFD: Do you have any rules in your collection? For example, are there any caps you will not buy, based on the team?

BC: For them most part I don't buy any custom color way hats; however, I've been known to be a habitual line-stepper when I see something that pops. For the most part, as long as it's something that was, is or resembles something that has been worn on field, those are my targets.

TFD: What is your favorite cap in your collection?

BC: It has to be my 2012 Oakland Oaks Turn Back The Clock hat, that I actually got at Hat Club. I can't really explain why. It's just such a clean cap. It was also the cap the A's wore when Josh Reddick hit a walk-off double, against the Seattle Mariners.

TFD: Are there any "Holy Grail" caps that have seemed to evade you that you're still looking for?

BC: I'm always on the hunt for a few caps. The top of the list is made up of a few of the A's hats from their Kansas City days, a 1998 Milwaukee Brewers road hat, New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals pillbox hats and the 1974 Boston Red Sox alternate hat. Those are all stupidly hard to find.

TFD: As a fellow Team Fitted member, what is your favorite part of the group?
BC: I love seeing a lot of the rare hats that other Team Fitted members have. I also enjoy helping a few of the T.F. members track down some of the "Grails" they have been trying to locate. Over the last few years I think I've helped at least a bakers dozen guys and gals add some gems to their collections.

TFD: What's next for Benjamin Christensen?

BC: Good question. Probably a beer and a nap in the immediate future, but I'd really like to have some more free time to get back into writing. I really want to restart my hat blog that I was active with from 2013 through early 2014. It brought me a lot of joy and I was able to meet and talk to a lot of cool people as a result of it.

     That concludes this week's interview. Big thanks go out to Ben for willing to be a part of this and giving me some really good material to work with. Hopefully, you now know a little more about him and will reach out and say hello. If you want to connect with him on social media, you can find him at the following places:

Twitter: @Shakabrodie
Instagram: @Shakabrodie

also, if you do not do so already, you can find Hat Club, here:

Twitter: @HatClub
Instagram: @HatClub


-Matt Aballi
Twitter: @MattAballi
Instagram: matt_aballi

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Blatantly Turning A Blind Eye


  Trying to keep kids interested in Major League Baseball is something to be totally in-on and support with all your might. Without the support of future generations, it would be rather difficult to sustain funding for a business where each of it's 750 (on-field) employees all make well upwards of a half-million dollars. The real question to ask is, is it worth the cost of completely selling-out tradition in the process? On the eve of the inaugural "Players Weekend", this is the inquiry at hand.

        Major League Baseball will jump into the deep-end of the proverbial highlighter-pool, this Friday, Saturday and Sunday as they debut sets of 30 in-game uniforms, featuring florescent colors and nicknames, amid many alterations. This series of temporary changes stems from the current on-going Little League World Series, in which MLB hopes to link the sentiment of love for the great game of baseball across all ages, beginning with the youth. Fans young and old will once again "remember" how fun and special the sport truly is.


       Not that baseball can't be fun, but surely we don't need to go to these drastic marketing lengths to keep fans involved. If the argument is that it's "for the kids", think again. These uniforms and caps are being sold in adult sizes, too.

        The New York Yankees seem to be the one franchise that resisted to the eye-popping modifications, as far as the On-Field New Era Caps are concerned. They went with a rather simple navy interlocking N-Y over a monochrome road-gray brim and crown. That much is tolerable but what comes next seems asinine and downright sac-religious.

        The fore mentioned interlocking N-Y, traditional blue pinstripes and white background have all been removed on the home jersey. Additionally, the "Yankees" cursive word-mark has been placed across the chest, in white font, over a navy blue body and road gray sleeves. Lastly, they too have nicknames on the back. To make mild alteration is one thing, but to completely butcher it? Awful. This is a traditional design, originating in 1915.  (see below)

        Surely, there was a better way to link the lineage of the little leagues and the big leagues. This is blatantly just a petty plea to sell jerseys and caps to anyone willing to shell out the money. In fact, it's so ridiculous that MLB Shop itself has to remind its shoppers that, in fact, these abominations will make it onto all major league fields.

        In conclusion, this, in its entirety, is a messy, rushed disaster of a marketing attempt. If Major League Baseball has to go this far to draw in the casual fan, they have bigger problems than they think and that is something to really have concern for. 

-Matt Aballi
Twitter: @MattAballi
Instagram: matt_aballi

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What Is Old is New Again

     Whether it be a familiar scent, a sight for sore eyes or a memorable sound, nostalgia can be triggered at a moments notice. It seemingly comes out of nowhere but as soon as it hits you, you are magically transported to times of pure joy and simplicity. 

     It is not always easy to elicit these feelings, but, for many in the fitted-cap community, New Era has recently done exactly that. With the release of their "MLB Retro Classic" collection, many baseball fans have been launched back in time to their fledgling stages of days at the ballpark. 

     Being a "fan" is a funny thing that can be defined in many ways. True, going to games is a great way to show your support; there's really nothing quite like being there. Getting a player-tee is another fantastic way to show everyone who you specifically pull for on your club. Of course we need to mention the addition of an authentic jersey, which really puts you in that upper-echelon of supporter. However, perhaps, the official On-Field New Era Cap is the best way to link us all in a subtle simplicity of shared armor. It's an unmistakable and classic way to represent your organization and let everyone know what you're all about. After all, it is "The Cap The Pros Wear".   

     New Era's recent "MLB Retro Classic" line is one, in the opinion of most collectors, has been a long time coming. In 2007 New Era and Major League Baseball completely overhauled the iconic 5950 cap. The major change; no more wool. The company moved to a primarily polyester-based cap, which was geared to decrease troubles to athletes based off of sweat accumulation. The caps still fit well and looked great, however to many fans of the popular pro-model of past, some things seemed to be missing. In addition to the material change, looks were mildly altered over the past 10 seasons, being capped off this season with the New Era Flag being permanently affixed to the exterior of the hats.

     Everyone can finally breathe. Salvation is here. A select run of styles in various teams have been produced and are now up for purchase HERE at New Era's official site and HERE at Lids official site. New Era opted to turn back the clock with some of baseballs most iconic caps and team logos accordingly, in full accuracy of the originals. The flat team logos and "Batterman" logo have returned to the iconic cap along with the light-gray under-brim. The interior sweatband is again white, the way it was initially designed. There is no New Era Flag on the wearers left side and finally, the cap is once again 100% wool. 

     Undoubtedly, these will be received rather positively among the masses and they will likely sell out in the most popular sizes quickly. All that can be hoped for is the realization on New Era's part that they have done a fantastic job in the reproduction of these and that there is an absolute need for expansion and further production of the line. 

     Until then, appreciation is to be had. Good things have been done. A large corporation has chosen to look into the past at something that had been deemed vestigial by a major partner and managed to find value in it in the eye of the consumer. That is truly something worth celebrating. This should be regarded as a victory for collector and fan alike. It seems as though even those at the highest rungs of the business world can too reference their youth, as fans, and appreciate nostalgia as well. 

-Matt Aballi
Twitter: @MattAballi
Instagram: matt_aballi