Bulls in Hats

Howard and Bakari

Howard and his son, Bakari. Photo by Roni Nicole Henderson.

I sit in a sea of hats, mostly blue and orange, all displaying capital Ds with Bulls leaping from their center. So many hats, old, brand-new, mesh, wool, bent brims, straight brims, some worn in the traditional manner, some turned to the back or even sideways. These conservative, ostentatious, loud, quiet, unassuming, over-the-top and out-of-the box hats do more than represent the Durham Bulls baseball team. They offer a glimpse into the lives of the people who wear them.

The gentleman who sits beside me wears a camouflage edition. The brim is bent in a semi-circle like a crescent moon. Replace the Bulls logo with a John Deer symbol and the gentleman could be advertising tractors. Add an orange safety vest and a Remington; he’s standing on a deer stand with Bambi in his sights. Next to him, an elementary school kid licks his funnel cake powder-crusted fingers sporting an orange and blue cover adorned with a smiling Wool E. Bull, the official Durham Bulls’ mascot. The young girl beside him, perhaps his sister, laughs. She’s wearing a pink-colored cap, capital D still prominent. How does the sun feel about these hats? I think it loves them, especially the ones it’s kissed. They offer up a beautiful faded blue banner of Bulls loyalty.

An hour earlier, I crossed Jackie Robinson Boulevard and headed toward the press entrance of Durham Athletic Park, bareheaded, looking for Sam Stephenson, the director of the Bull City Summer project. Sam has invited writers, photographers, and artists to document a season of Durham Bulls baseball. This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the movie Bull Durham. Remember, the baseball movie with Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon? Yup, it’s been that long since that movie came out. I was actually playing baseball back then. Now I’m trying to teach my two-year-old how to hit a ball off of a tee.

I spotted Sam, all six feet and several inches of him, waiting for me. He told me he was from Little Washington, North Carolina, but the way he looks in his fedora-like straw hat, I believe he might actually be from Krypton. He’s got that whole Clark Kent thing happening minus the glasses. And like everyone else here, his hat makes a statement. It’s subtle and unobtrusive in its neutrality. No logo, no team colors; it’s the documentarian’s hat, the journalist’s cover. Sam handed me my media pass. What he didn’t hand me was what I needed most of all in this situation: a hat.

I entered the apparel store on the first level of the stadium and was quickly reminded that “fan” is an abbreviation for the word “fanatic.” Hands grabbing, voices yelling, deep and high-pitched: “Where the hats with Wool E. Bull on ‘em?”

“Get a shirt for Peanut. No not that one, get the extra-large.”

“Make up your mind, baby girl. You can’t get a hat, a foam finger, a jersey, and expect me to buy you and your brother a bunch of hot dogs and funnel cakes when we get inside.”

“What do you mean, my coupon won’t scan?”

“Willie Joe, I’m tired of telling you to stop runnin’ in here. Go outside and wait with Grandma.”

Durmites, my kinfolk, I couldn’t be neutral in my hat choice. I had to represent. There, on the bottom shelf, I saw it: a fisherman’s hat, sometimes called a bucket. A style of hat once worn by the eighties rap duo EPMD (Eric and Paris Making Dollars) would allow me to join the ranks of Bulls’ supporters in retro hip-hop chic. The hat is faded with a burnt orange and white band and possesses just the right amount of floppiness with the Durham D sewn a little off center. It’s not pretentious. It’s self-assured. It knows what it is. That’s Durham, that’s baseball. I paid for my fisherman’s hat, met Sam outside the store, and we walked into the stadium.

***

Sitting beneath the sun behind home plate, it feels good to be a part of something. An ocean is only as strong as the weakest wave. Now that I’ve joined that ocean of blue with my new headwear, I feel that those folk not wearing Bulls’ hats betray our beloved home team. They lessen the strength of our group qi. They water down the impact our unified victory-focused life force can have on the outcome of this game. The first pitch hasn’t been thrown yet. There’s time to make a mad dash to the apparel store and get that perfect ball cap. If one is truly a fan, then one should have some fanaticism about oneself. The woman a few seats down from me sipping white wine while talking endlessly on her iPhone seems to have none at all. Not far from her, I see an older gentleman in a black hat, straight brim, mesh in the back. He turns to the man next to him to say something and I can read the yellow letters on the front of his cap: Vietnam Veteran. This makes me feel a little silly about my newfound fundamentalism. Note to self: veterans can wear whatever the hell they want to the ballpark.

The announcer takes the microphone. He informs us to bring our attention to the youth group standing to the right of home plate. They look a little nervous in their pressed white shirts and dark-colored dress pants.

“Will you now stand for the National Anthem?”

We all stand and remove our hats. Bareheaded Durhamites as far as the eye can see squint looking towards Old Glory raised high in the outfield. The choirboys belt out a beautiful rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” When the last note is delivered, the stadium erupts with cheers. It’s game time, and this blue and burnt-orange ocean is ready to wreak havoc on this team from Indianapolis. We will watch their resolve crumble in the face of the angry Bulls leaping from the capital Ds on our blue and orange hats, while the sun continues to smile down upon us.

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