From a city’s initials to a snarling animal with a bat, baseball caps are quick way to make a statement and even tell a story. Of course, they can also just look really cool.
Over the years, Minor League hats have evolved to feature updated logos, the return of the retro and an emphasis on bright colors. Promotional nights get their own cap designs these days, while the Copa de la Diversión initiative has swept the nation with colors that pop. But through it all, one thing has remained constant: the unique way a hat can make you feel.
Across 160 teams, Minor League caps provide fans with limitless options. In celebration of National Hat Day, below are 10 of the top-selling caps from 2019, according to purchases through MiLBStore.com, and a brief explanation of why they’ve jumped off the digital shelves. (Click on each cap to shop the look!)
Wisconsin Udder Tuggers (Timber Rattlers)
(Class A Midwest League, Milwaukee Brewers)
Not since the Got Milk? campaigns of the ’90s has the cow been so glorified. With help from San Diego-based design company Brandiose, Wisconsin showcased the perfect cap for Salute to Cows night, a celebration of America’s Dairyland. Brandiose co-founder Jason Klein said they wanted to display “a simple cow” and “obviously, you’ve got to focus on the cow udders.” The fierce heifer, complete with cow bell collar, was quickly popular among fans, as all Udder Tuggers merchandise sold out within five hours of being released. But don’t worry, dairy lovers, the caps are back. With the udder-ly inspiring promotion, Wisconsin won the Golden Bobblehead for Best Theme Night. “I think the reason [it’s popular is], when you hear the name Udder Tuggers, your jaw drops,” Klein said. “And you’re like, ‘I’ve got to see that logo.’ And then when you see the logo, you’re like, ‘I want to buy that hat.'”
Los Veleros de Columbus (Columbus Clippers)
(Triple-A International League, Cleveland Indians)
After watching International League competitors have all the fun in 2018, Columbus joined the Copa de la Diversión program in 2019 and quickly made a splash. Referring to the city’s namesake, Christopher Columbus, the Copa identity switches from Clippers to Veleros, which literally means sailing ships. The club opted to shift its high seas adventure to a pirate ship, with its own take on a skull and crossbones. Columbus director of merchandise Krista Oberlander said the team took a cue from the latest trend of “crazy colors, crazy designs” to create an eye-popping look for this cap. “The bright teal colors and then the red bill was a great color combo, and then adding that sugar skull on there but with the crossed bats. The whole combination that we did is, I think, what made them sell.”
Norwich Sea Unicorns
(Class A Short Season New York-Penn League, Detroit Tigers)
Norwich caps were available for not even an entire month in 2019, but they were one of the hottest items. After 10 seasons as the Connecticut Tigers, the team announced a rebrand on Dec. 5. The centerpiece of the new logo, which also was designed by Brandiose, is a Sea Unicorn (aka narwhal) with a captain’s hat and spear. The creature has a rose tattoo in reference to Norwich being dubbed the Rose City and the Rose of New England. Completing the look, the navy background of the cap signifies the nearby naval submarine base. Klein said the Sea Unicorn’s expression has a deeper meaning than just intimidating the competition on the field. “[The Sea Unicorn] is not just fighting — he’s fighting his way back into prominence, restoring Norwich’s due right of prominence in American lore. Norwich was a very affluent city.”
Lehigh Valley Jawn (IronPigs)
(Triple-A International League, Philadelphia Phillies)
From the people who brought the bacon cap to the world: the Jawn. For those unfamiliar with Eastern Pennsylvania slang, “jawn” is a term that can be used for basically anything. Simply put, a jawn is a thing. So in honor of their Major League affiliate and hometown, the IronPigs celebrated Salute to Philadelphia Night in style. “[The club] said, ‘We want to be the Jawns,’ and I said, ‘Then this is going to be a love letter to Phillies fans,'” Brandiose’s Klein recalled. “And if we’re going to create a love letter to Phillies fans, let’s do it in Phillies colors and Phillies logo style.” From the white script to the navy star, this cap makes any City of Brotherly Love native say, “Where can I get that jawn?”
Wilmington Blue Rocks
(Class A Advanced Carolina League, Kansas City Royals)
Most of the logos on this list were designed in the past two years, but Wilmington has been rocking this cap since 2010. The hat features mascot Rocky Bluewinkle (a play on Rocky and Bullwinkle) looking “cartoonish but also aggressive,” with a little BR cap of its own on its head. Blue Rocks director of merchandise Jim Beck said the color change in 2010 was key. Aside from the University of North Carolina, the club realized Carolina blue wasn’t very prominent in sports. Cap sales remained steady over the decade with fans opting for the unique yet subdued color. “I think [the draw] is a combination of the logo as well as the color concept, that all-baby-blue look. It stands out,” Beck said. “If you’re looking through a catalog, you see that all-Carolina blue look. People are drawn to it.”
Rocky Mountain Vibes
(Rookie Advanced Pioneer League, Milwaukee Brewers)
In their debut season, the Vibes were a hot commodity, and anything with the Toasty Vibes mascot was sizzling. Another Brandiose creation, Toasty — with an energetic smile, big shades and flaming hair — has been compared to celebrity chef Guy Fieri. And in 2019, everyone wanted a piece of Toasty, with Vibes general manager Chris Phillips noting, he’s a “s’more I want to hang out with.” On this sought-after cap, Toasty takes center stage with navy playing the perfect backdrop for those summer nights. With an emphasis on the outdoorsy nature of local fans, Toasty is seen wearing hiking boots and ready for a campfire … just as long as he’s not on the menu.
Llamas de Hickory (Hickory Crawdads)
Class A South Atlantic League, Texas Rangers)
Hickory also joined the Copa movement in 2019, taking on the Llamas moniker. As the Brandiose team and the Crawdads thought about the right identity, they decided to head to one South American nation for inspiration. “Peru doesn’t get a lot of baseball love, so we had this idea of celebrating a llama, a unique animal with traditional Peruvian headwear [or ‘chullo’] and doing it in bright colors,” Klein said. “It was doing a Latin story that had never been told before. … Our job is to take a story that isn’t celebrated and should be and then broadcast it to the world.” The bright teal bill demands attention while the llama logo simply stares back at you. And while some may choose to use their imaginations about the object protruding from the animal’s mouth, the llama isn’t actually smoking anything. It’s chewing on a furniture leg as an homage to Hickory’s history as the furniture capital of America.
Class A Short Season Northwest League, Chicago Cubs)
The list features a lot of flashy caps that were worn for only a few games a year. But this hat finds its niche as the only road cap. In 2013, the tree-chomping sasquatch was introduced, with the idea that the black and green creature blended into the black background, playing tricks on your eyes as your mind wonders if the mythical giant is really there. And while that’s a cool idea, the Emeralds realized it might be better if you could see the logo more clearly, so in 2016 or ’17, they added the white trim. The refreshed logo instantly popped, and the rest is history. “It’s a fun logo. … I mean, it’s somewhat angry, but it’s a bit ridiculous. Like how big is sasquatch that he is biting through a redwood tree?'” asked Emeralds general manager Allan Benavides. “It’s just a fun logo.”
Rocket City Trash Pandas
(Double-A Southern League, Los Angeles Angels)
For the second year in a row, Rocket City makes this list — and it still has yet to play a single ballgame. Upon announcing that the franchise was relocating from Mobile, the team held a vote for a new name. The raccoon slang won out. “Looking at the stats, any way you slice it — ZIP code, age group, any demographic you could find — in every case, Trash Pandas dominated,” said Ralph Nelson, a managing partner in the ownership group BallCorps LLC. The Brandiose-created logo incorporates the town’s NASA roots while telling “the story of a raccoon with ingenuity, cobbling together all the elements he needs to launch a trash can into outer space,” according to Klein. And it doesn’t hurt that the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy” recently popularized the term “trash panda.”
Derby City Mint Juleps (Louisville Bats)
(Triple-A International League, Cincinnati Reds)
The Kentucky Derby has been bringing fans to Louisville since 1875. But it wasn’t until 2019 that the Bats joined the celebration in full force. Brandiose and the ballclub got together to plan the perfect design to honor the historic race. The team knew green had to be prominent, signifying one of the three ingredients in the region’s signature cocktail. Pink was added to honor the Kentucky Oaks, a race for 3-year-old fillies that’s run the day before the Derby since the 1800s. The cup is anthropomorphic with a horseshoe nose (turned up for good luck) and a little tongue sticking out. The combination of green top and purple bill make this cocktail creation really turn heads. Now, fans in Louisville can celebrate three local favorites at once: the Derby, the Bats and bourbon. “Every community has multiple stories waiting to be told,” Klein said. “The wonderful thing about the Mint Juleps is it allows Louisville to buy into a story that is different than the Bats.”
Kelsie Heneghan is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.