Editor’s note: On November 10, the Nationals unveiled sweeping changes to their uniforms for the 2011 season, including replacing their longstanding navy road cap with a new, red-brimmed hat. Over the weekend, BallWonk sat down for an interview with the 2005-2010 all-navy road cap to discuss his retirement, highlights from his career in Washington, and his thoughts about his successor.
BallWonk: Now that you’ve announced your retirement, we wanted to ask you -
Original Road Cap: “Retired” isn’t the right word. Look, if I had my choice, I’d be out there on the field in 2011. The Nationals didn’t pick up my contract, and my agent tells me there’s really not much interest this year from other clubs for a dark-navy cap with a curly W on it. The Nationals feel that a younger cap with a red bill will meet their needs better going forward. I respect that position.
BW: Right. So this wasn’t entirely your choice?
ORC: No, but like I said, I respect the Nationals decision. My agent says I could probably squeeze out a few more years playing high-school ball. A lot of schools use big-league ripoffs, you know? Like TC Williams and those old Twins caps. But I wanted to go out with my dignity intact.
BW: You were with the team from the very beginning. What was it like making the move to Washington?
ORC: Well, you know, I didn’t see any playing time in Montreal. But I was one of the first additions the team made when it prepared to move. Look, the big thing is that it was an incredible honor to be chosen. I mean, everyone knew that the Bud Selig was going to make an all-red curly W cap the face of the franchise. MLB could have made that the home and away cap. But someone saw some potential in me and chose to give me a chance from day one.
BW: You were the very first piece of Nationals merchandise BallWonk purchased, you know, back in fall 2004.
ORC: Really? Not the red cap?
BW: Nope. If you hadn’t noticed, BallWonk has the pale pink complexion of his Irish and British ancestry. Red ballcaps make him look pasty.
ORC: Yeah, I’d noticed that.
BW: You came back from surgery after the 2007 season. Tell us about that.
ORC: Ah, well, I was sticking up too much in front, like a billboard. I really looked like Elmer Fudd out there. So I went in to have my stiff backing removed, to see if I could gain some flexibility. You know, how caps would sit down a little lower with age back in the old days for guys like DiMaggio and Killebrew. Really turned my career around.
BW: You’ve got a cut just to the left and beneath the curly W. Is that from your surgery?
ORC: That? Yeah. The stiff backing has white buckram threads going side-to-side, and black plastic threads going up-and-down. When the surgeons went to work on removing the stiff backing, at one point they stuck an X-Acto knife right through me.
BW: Has that slowed you down any?
ORC: Nah. The scar is down low, in front of the sweatband, so you really can’t see that it’s there. And I fit so much better after the surgery that I’m willing to trade the softer profile for the little scar.
BW: You haven’t faded or stained as much as your all-red teammate.
ORC: Well, I credit my dark navy color. I just don’t show stains as much, particularly dirt and finger-grease. Red? He’s gotta be really careful. He picks up grime from people’s fingers like you wouldn’t believe. Plus, he fades in the sun more quickly. So just the luck of the genes on my part.
BW: What one memory stands out as the highlight of your career?
ORC: Ah, well, that’s, ah. Oh! No doubt. I hadn’t really thought of it in terms of one thing, but yeah. Opening day at Nationals Park. March 30, 2008. First, I didn’t even think I’d get the start. Big home game, the crowd all in red, you know -
BW: You were always going to get the start. BallWonk has a strict rule against matching jersey and cap from the same uniform, so the home jersey meant wearing the road cap.
ORC: Really? That’s a rule?
BW: Just for BallWonk.
ORC: Huh. Anyway, didn’t even think I’d get the start, and then the Nats were losing right up until the end, with the walk-off homer. Plus, I was in the Washington Post photo and poster. So many people wearing red caps, you could totally pick me out in the crowd.
BW: Some people say your replacement looks too much like the Braves cap to be effective for Washington.
ORC: Look, I can see where they might think that, but I hope people give the kid a chance. I remember when people said I’d never catch on, Washington fans were all Senators fans, and that meant the red cap. But there was a rich history of navy caps in Washington, and I tried to build on that. A segment of fans embraced me, and I stuck around for six strong seasons, even after they changed the road jerseys to red script.
BW: But there’s not really any tradition of blue caps with red bills here. That’s really more an Atlanta thing. Or maybe Cleveland.
ORC: Give the kid a chance is all I’m saying. And hey, first off, the Braves don’t even wear the red bill on the road anymore. Just at home. Their road cap is all-navy now, just like me. And two, Atlanta and Cleveland are both named for Native Americans. You know what’s on top of the U.S. Capitol?
BW: The statue of Freedom?
ORC: Right. Who is a Native American, and she’s looking down on Nationals Park every day of the year. So maybe that’s something.
BW: Any plans for retirement?
ORC: I know I won’t be on the field anymore, and I won’t be spending nearly as much time on fans’ heads at the ballpark. But I think I can be some people’s go-to caps in more casual settings. And especially when watching the Nats on TV. Like I said, red really picks up stains. So I hope some fans will save their red caps for game day. That includes my replacement, since the bill is the part you touch the most, so that’s going to pick up stains really quickly if you wear it too much. So stick with me for wearing around town or around the house. You know, I can come along when you run errands or do chores.
BW: Plus, you’re a vintage cap now.
ORC: Yeah, like a collector’s item. I hope my career will be recognized with induction into the Cooperstown Collection in a few years.
BW: What about going back onto the field as a throwback uniform?
ORC: Someday, sure. That’s a real dream. But I don’t expect it anytime soon. I don’t see a 2005 throwback for a while, at least not for the road uniform. On the road, you’re really at the mercy of the other team, and who’s going to be wearing 2005 throwbacks in the next few years? The Rays? In 20, 30 years, sure, someone will pick a Nats date for a throwback to the late 2000s, and I’ll be honored to get back on the field for the night. But that’s a long time in the future if you ask me.
BW: It would be appropriate to end by thanking you for the interview, and for your years of service to the Nationals.
ORC: It’s been a privilege to represent all Washington fans 81 games a year these last six years. Oh, and hey, one last thing. This is mainly for the kids. Please, please take the size sticker off the bill of your caps. If there’s one thing I could change about my career, it would be that.