It's Much, Much More Than Just a Hat
Before Game 1 of the 2004 World Series, Red Sox equipment manager Joe Cochran had bad news for Trot Nixon. Major League Baseball, Cochran informed the Sox right fielder, had mandated that all players wear a new hat for the start of the series. It was identical to the New Era 59Fifty, a navy blue wool model with a stylized red B, that the team had worn all season—only this one had a commemorative World Series patch on the left side. Nixon, who had worn the same hat all year, bristled. "That wasn’t going to fly with me," he recalls.
The issue wasn’t superstition. Nixon just thinks it’s impossible to find caps that fit right. So every year, after settling on one in spring training, he’d put his hat through an elaborate breaking-in process. The first step was digging into the front inside panel and pulling out the white mesh holding up the 59Fifty’s boxy structure. Then he’d beat the hell out of it: stretching the hat, sweating it through, sometimes simply leaving its gross, sweat-soaked carcass lying on the field during batting practice to dry in the sun. "The way I’ve always seen it, it’s a hardhat," Nixon says. "I really respect the guys who put their hardhats on every day and work their butts off. I didn’t want to be someone who had to be prim and proper."
Once the regular season started, Nixon’s hat endured further abuses. Before every game, he would jog out past his normal right field position, where Sox bullpen catcher Dana LeVangie tossed him a rosin bag. Nixon applied the adhesive to his brim; during the game he could tap his fingers against it to pick up the gunk. "I like for my hands to be tackified, be sticky out in the outfield," he says. While at bat, he’d fold up his cap and shove it into his back pocket. "It kind of gets pancaked and takes its own form back there." At year’s end, when the hat was admittedly "pretty rank," Nixon would present it to his father, who mercifully washed the thing and displayed it in a cabinet back home in North Carolina.
For Cochran to sidle up to Nixon and ask him to wear a new cap for the 2004 series, then, was something akin to Pakistan asking India to peaceably relinquish its nuclear arms. Cochran understood as much. "I said, ‘Joe,’" Nixon recalls. "And I looked at him. And he goes, ‘All right.’" So Cochran ironed the patch onto the side of Nixon’s old hat. Spared any headwear trauma, the right fielder hit .357 for the series, slamming a key two-out, two-run double in the clinching Game 4.