Monday, October 21, 2013

August 3- Washington Nationals

When it comes to being a collector nothing really beats the feeling of a good score. The definition of “score” is not just any object; rather, it’s something that tugs at the heartstrings a bit. It’s something that will always display more value emotionally than monetarily. In my years of collecting New Era Caps I’ve had many scores. A few of them I’ve already written about (Tucson Padres, Jacksonville Expos and the Oakland Athletics) and quite a few of them I have been saving for special occasions. When it comes down to it, I could realistically argue that every single one of my caps has been a wonderful score. I think I’ve proved that over the last seven months with all of these posts, but the ones that have been discontinued, the ones that I’ve had to search high and low for and the ones that makes other collectors or even just fans of the team swoon are hands down my favorite of them all. As crazy as it may sound, especially for as new as the Washington Nationals are, this is one of those caps.

It hasn’t even been 10 years since the Montreal Expos packed up shop and relocated to Washington, D.C., but the Nationals have gone through six on-field caps and they are currently on their fourth batting practice cap. This really wouldn't be that big of a deal had it not been for the fact that the Expos only had two on-field caps in their 35-year existence, one of which I’ve already written about, and yet somehow I’ve already knocked out four of the Nationals caps (February 8, March 13th, April 17th and June 27th). Well, here’s number five. This is one that I had completely forgotten about until I randomly came across it on Ebay back in December of 2012. Like most days when I get bored I combed through every inch of Ebay using the most random of search criteria in the hopes that a lister would misspell a word or put in a lack of a description so that other hat enthusiasts would pass over rare gems and not drive the bidding price up. Not only did the lister of this “DC” cap spell Nationals “Natonals,” but they also started the bid at $4.99 with a $6.00 shipping cost. I threw in a bid of $11.27 a week before it expired and waited. When you wait for something special like this it feels like a month, especially when it comes down to the final minute of bidding. For all of you who are not savvy on Ebay, the last minute of an auction is a cyber-death match as all the other collectors come out of the woodwork and throw down bids at the only time that really matters. Somehow I escaped this process and made off with the cap for $10.99 including shipping. Hazah!!!

I know it doesn’t seem like much, but this cap has been extinct since the end of the 2008 season. It made its debut in 2006 and was paired with the alternate red “DC” jerseys the Nationals typically wore on Sundays. The cap itself was retired but the “DC” was tweaked with an added stars and stripes motif from 2009-2010. After that, the “DC” was fazed out of the Nationals uniform sets altogether. Pretty depressing when you think about it.

It bums me out way more than it should when hats vanish into legend like this cap. I realize that I sound a little overdramatic when I say that, but if you sincerely feel that way you have clearly missed the point of all of these posts. Every one of these caps tells a story about the players, the team and especially the fans who wear them. These aren’t just clothing accessories or sun shields; they’re relics of baseball history that can evoke a sense of camaraderie or rivalry in the minds of those who pass by. As much as much collecting New Era caps may seem like a “gotta catch ‘em all” game of Pokémon, the reality is that I care about preserving history in my own way. It’s nothing different than someone who collects coins, stamps or even vintage porn magazines; there’s a bond that forged ethereally and the thrill of the hunt or the telling of the stories will always keep us going… well, except for the porn magazine collection. I don’t know of many people who would have crowd pleasing stories about that. So with that I of course dropped some pretty recognizable numbers on this cap, both of which played key roles in the history/time frame of this cap. Enjoy!

#12- Soriano began his professional baseball career in Japan with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, training at their Carp Academy for Dominican players. In 1997, he was promoted to the varsity team, and, wearing number 74, he appeared in nine games, batting .118 (2 for 17) with two walks. Soriano disliked the intense Japanese practice schedule (shocker), and the Carp denied him a salary increase from $45,000 to $180,000 per year. Like Hideo Nomo and Hideki Irabu, who had previously left Japan to play in the United States, Soriano hired Don Nomura to help his situation. After first attempting to void Soriano's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) contract by unsuccessfully arguing that the player was legally a minor when he signed it, Nomura advised him, like Nomo, to retire from NPB and pursue a career in Major League Baseball. This prompted Carp executives to file an injunction against Soriano, and to send letters to MLB teams demanding that they cease all negotiations with him. After the Nomo case, NPB officials had amended the Working Agreement without consulting any MLB officials in an attempt to prevent the situation from recurring. Since MLB had not agreed to any changes to the agreement, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig declared that MLB would recognize Soriano as a free agent on July 13, 1998, and the Carp backed down.

I’m going to skip Soriano’s first run with the New York Yankees and time with the Texas Rangers and move right into the Nationals. On December 7, 2005, Soriano was traded to the Nationals in exchange for Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge, and minor league pitcher Armando Galarraga. On February 10, 2006, Soriano set a record for the highest salary ever awarded in arbitration, receiving $10 million, even though he lost his request of $12 million. The previous high had been set in 2001 by Andruw Jones of the Atlanta Braves when he earned $8.2 million. The Nationals offered Soriano a five-year, $50-million extension, but Soriano rejected the offer. Soriano and his agent Diego Bentz instead opted to open contract negotiations during the off-season, so that he would become a free agent.

On March 20, 2006, Nationals manager Frank Robinson inserted Soriano in the lineup as the left fielder. Soriano, who since 2001 had played exclusively at second base, refused to take the field, and the Nationals organization threatened him with disqualification, which would have meant forfeiture of his salary, and he would not have received credit for service time in fulfillment of the obligations of his contract. With his contract's service terms officially still unfulfilled, he would then have been ineligible for free agency at season's end. Two days later, Soriano relented and played in left field for the Nationals in their exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Robinson indicated that he considered Soriano's move to left field to be permanent and would not consider moving Soriano back to second base at any point during the season. In his comments following that game, Soriano indicated that he would accept his new position without further argument. As the season got underway, however, Soriano began to enjoy his new position, and by the All-Star break, he led the league in outfield assists and became one of the few players ever to start the All-Star game at two different positions. Soriano set a new career high in walks with 67 (previously 38). He also reached a career high in home runs with 46 (previously 39). On August 25, a week after reaching 30–30, he became the fastest man in baseball history to reach 200 home runs and 200 stolen bases, reaching the mark in 929 games (breaking the previous record of 1,053 games held by Eric Davis).

In September, he completed his 20th outfield assist, becoming the only player in baseball history with 40 home runs, 40 stolen bases, and 20 assists. On September 16, 2006, Soriano stole second base in the first inning to become the fourth player to join the 40–40 club, after José Canseco, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez. Six days later he became the first player to reach 40 home runs, 40 stolen bases and 40 doubles in one season.

Soriano only played one season with the Nationals, his best on a whole scale throughout his time playing in the National League. Soriano is a seven-time All-Star, all of which came consecutively from 2002-2008. He is also a four-time Silver Slugger winner and a two-time World Series Champion (1999 and 2000). Five times in his career Soriano has finished in the top-20 for the MVP award for either league with his best finish coming in third place in 2002 with the Yankees.

#11- If there was ever a face of the franchise for the Nationals; it’s hard to look beyond third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman grew up in Washington, North Carolina and played his college ball at the University of Virginia where he was an All-American and made First Team All-Athletic Cost Conference. He also started at third base for the 2004 USA Baseball National Team that won the gold medal in the FISU II World University Baseball Championship where he was also named the 2004 Dick Case (real name) Athlete of the Year by USA Baseball.

Zimmerman was drafted in the first round as the fourth overall pick by the Nationals in the 2005 Major League Baseball Draft. After being signed on the day he was drafted, he was sent to the Savannah Sand Gnats, the Nationals' minor league A-level affiliate and then quickly moved up to the Harrisburg Senators, the AA affiliate. Zimmerman was called up to the majors when rosters expanded in September 2005, and shared third base duties with Vinny Castilla, taking over the position on a more permanent basis between the time the Nationals were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and the end of the season. In his first major league at bat at RFK Stadium he muscled a double to right center. Over the course of 20 games, he posted a .397 batting average, 10 doubles, and six RBI in 58 at-bats. He was the only member of the 2005 team to hit over .300 in at least 50 at-bats all while wearing #25. He remained with the Major League club to start the 2006 campaign, taking over third base duties from Castilla, who was traded to the San Diego Padres. Prior to 2006 Spring Training, Zimmerman changed his jersey number from #25 (2005) to #11, his former college number.

Zimmerman started his first full-season with a bang in 2006, hitting .287 with 20 home runs and 110 RBI. He probably would have won the Rookie of the Year Award that year had Hanley Ramirez not stolen 51 bases and scored 119 runs for the Florida Marlins. Nonetheless, Zimmerman pressed on with his career and has only taken a brief injury timeout in 2008 and 2011 where he still played in at least 101 games in each of those seasons and at least 142 games in the other six.

Zimmerman has only made one All-Star Game appearance (2009) in his nine-year career, the same year that he won his only Gold Glove Award thus far and his first of two Silver Slugger Awards. He’s a fan-favorite, a walk-off artist and a Lou Gehrig Memorial Award winner (2012). The man is Nationals baseball.


  1. This is pretty awesome. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    I began playing baseball as a junior in high school in 2003 with little knowledge of the game or its history. As soon as I graduated, I took a job working at Lids, then known as Hat World. I remember when we got our first box of Nationals caps, narrow buckrams with a hard-curved bill and a velro closure that bared the now-vintage block letter 'Nationals' name. We sold them as soon as we opened the box.

    Fast-forward 2006.

    The Nats introduced the interlocking DC logo on their spring training unis and caps and later, the alternate red jerseys. As a store, we couldn't get them fast enough. And when when we finally did, I couldn't bring myself to wear any other cap. I just felt. . .weird without my DC. That season and next my buddy and I spent our summer days riding the orange line to RFK and hagling down ticket holders 10 minutes after the first pitch.

    Like you, I understand the team hasn't been here that long, but that time in my life seems like another world for me now. I have a poly DC from 07, too small to wear as I'll try on periodically, hoping one day it'll magically fit. Now, I'll pull it out and admire it and think about the RFK days of Nats baseball . . . the jumbo clock out in Center Field, $5 Homerun Ales, and a gold-ladened DC logo.

    1. Joe,

      I'm sorry it took so long for me to respond, but thank you very much for sharing your story. To be honest, as much as I enjoy writing these posts I would prefer to hear others' stories of these caps and the memories produced. I've never really found my life to be that interesting, although many would disagree. As a journalist I have always been fascinated with getting to know other people and their relationships with baseball, which I guess is why I make that comment about myself.

      I seriously wish I received more comments like this from readers such as yourself. It brightens up my day and motivates me to keep going. So seriously, thank you very much for this.

  2. Its crazy cause I was thinking about finding a Washington Nationals fitted with the DC instead of the regular W. I was able to find one in a tonal red "thermal" design from, and pretty excited about getting that one.

    1. Van,

      I know, it's crazy how hard they have become to find. It's easy to track down custom colored ones, but a Game-style is next to impossible.