In Search of: The Last Caps of Derby
After New Era announced last year that their Derby, NY plant would shut down in June of this year, I made it my mission to visit as many ballparks as I could to search for New Era's USA made caps before they were gone. I made it to nearly twenty professional ballparks. Unfortunately, the plague of imported caps replacing the USA-made caps was well underway. However, I did have some success. Please follow along to the story of my journey.
After attending MLB "fan fests" and memorabilia sales at the start of the year, I began the start of the 2019 season in Sacramento at the River Cats annual "Pre-Season Party" on March 3rd. I purchased their two new styles, both made in USA. The River Cats went on to become the Triple-A National Champions.
My first MLB game was with the Oakland Athletics. I found "Kelley Green" caps with the MLB 150 patch made in the USA, but in all other styles with the patch they were imported.
On April 7th, I made a trip to Orange County to visit my uncle and I attended my first Angels game. The Angels had plenty of made in USA on-field caps, with the MLB 150 Patch caps being the only exception.
For my first official minor league game, my local San Jose Giants had plenty of "Churros" caps made in USA, but they were replaced by imported stock throughout the season. The SJ Giants also had special caps made for their "Santa Clara County Sheriff's Night" that were made in USA.
I also visited the next-closest California League team, the Stockton Ports. Not a single made in USA cap except for the 2018 "Copa" caps.
The wife and I headed to Frenso and Visalia for Memorial Day weekend. Fresno had just re-branded and still had many USA-made caps. I bought two. We were there a couple of days before the AOC video fiasco. In Visalia, the Rawhide had all imported stock for their current caps but had a small amount of "Mudville Nine" caps that were probably close to ten years old, all made in USA. I had a good chat with the team store manager and he informed me that they still had Oaks caps from about ten years ago but he doesn't put them out on shevles, you have to ask. He also sells them for $50 each, they were 100% polyester and he even had a few mesh batting practice caps left. I also picked up a batting helmet while I was there, they were only $25.
On June 18th I went to Chicago to achieve my dream of visiting Wrigley Field. The various team stores had standard Cubs caps made in USA but all the rest were imported. However, it's worth visiting the store "The Grandstand" near the Chicago White Sox ballpark. It has to be one of the best cap stores in the country. Lots of USA made caps, and lots of 2016 Cubs World Series-related caps are still available.
From there, I traveled to North Carolina to visit my mom, who retired there. I was only there for a short visit, but we drove down to South Carolina for a Myrtle Beach Pelicans game on the 22nd. All of the standard Pelicans on-field caps were imported, but their American Sign Language caps were made at Derby. The Pelicans also had a small selection of caps available from the rest of the Cubs minor league affiliates, most of which were made in USA but in very small amounts. I purchased a Eugene Emeralds cap that was made in USA.
On July 5th I made my first visit to Dodger Stadium, and I can certainly say that the Dodgers still have tons of USA made caps in stock at their store. Out of all of the MLB teams, their store had the most available. The biggest highlight of that trip was when an earthquake struck in the middle of the game. Now THAT was interesting. For what it's worth, I was in the Bay Area when the big 1989 Loma Prieta quake hit. I was three years of age and slept through the entire ordeal on my grandmother's lap.
The next day, I returned to Petco Park in San Diego for the second time this year for a team store visit as the Padres were still in LA. Typically, I spend all day at the Padres fan fest "garage sale" until it closes so I don't get to visit the team store. The Padres had plenty of USA made caps left. However, sizes such as 7 1/4 and 7 3/8 (the most popular sizes) were all imported. The only brown and yellow bell panel caps left that were made in USA were 7 5/8.
Certain retro styles were USA made in certain sizes. Unfortunately, they have flag logos and Cooperstown-version "Batterman" logos.
Once I found out that the Seattle Mariners would be doing a 1969 "Turn Back The Clock" game as the Seattle Pilots, I became very excited. I had been looking forward to the next time Seattle Pilots uniforms would be worn and hoping I could get a USA made Pilots cap. The game was on June 22nd. I was disappointed when I found out that the retail versions of the caps would be made overseas. Since the last caps made at New Era's Derby, NY plant were for "special events" I held out hope that the team issued Pilots caps were made there. The day after the game, I messaged the Mariners game used sales department. Game used sales manager Shawn Wert responded and told me the game used caps would be for sale, and that they were indeed made in USA. The caps were not available right away, as many of the game used caps would be put up for auction on the MLB Auctions website together with the matching uniforms. After emailing Shawn back and forth for a few weeks and waiting for the auctions to end, Shawn agreed to sell me some of the remaining game used and team issued Pilots caps.
I planned a trip to the Pacific Northwest and drove up to Seattle to pick up the caps at a Mariners game on July 23rd. When I arrived, Shawn and his associates at the game used booth were extremely friendly and helpful. They also had the Orioles caps available, but something seemed not quite right. Despite the "Made in USA" tag, the Orioles caps didn't look or feel like a Derby-made cap. I suspect these caps were assembled at the Miami facility with some of the remaining materials from the Derby plant.
Another big thanks to Shawn Wert for being patient with me and helping me acquire these caps.
At the team store, there was an even mix of made in USA and imported caps. I was able to acquire a made in USA cap with the MLB 150 patch AND a "59Fifty at Fifty" visor sticker for a fellow collector.
Other ballparks I visited on my PNW trip included Salem-Keizer, Hillsboro, Tacoma, and Everett. The only team store that had any substantial amount of USA made caps was Hillsboro. The intern that rang me up at the team store seemed to be very interested when I explained the differences between the imported and USA made caps. Despite Tacoma having an absolutely massive amount of different caps in their store, the only standard on-field caps they had left that were made in USA was a small selection of "low profile" caps.
In mid-August, the wife and I visited Reno. While the Aces weren't in town, I stopped at the team store but they were in the midst of setting up for an MLS game. I browsed the Aces caps that were out, and they were all imported. Oddly, the Reno MLS caps in the store were almost all USA made.
On August 18th, I visited the last Minor League ballpark within driving distance that I hadn't yet visited, John Thurman Field in Modesto. There, I met up with a friend and fellow collector. I have been to at least one Modesto Nuts game every year since 2012, and the only time I ever found USA made caps at their team store was in 2018. Unfortunately, their USA made stock was all gone in every size when I got there.
In early September after "Player's Weekend" had come and gone, I received the list of available game used caps from the San Francisco Giants and inquired about the Player's Weekend caps. Now I know those were some of the worst-looking uniforms ever to be worn on a professional baseball field, but I felt that that only team that actually pulled it off was the San Francisco Giants. The Giants game used folks responded and told me that they were indeed USA made, however, they were most likely made in Miami. I previously covered this in a recent post. When I attended a Giants game on September 15th, I found that the Giants team store had very few made in USA caps left. However, I visited the game used store and found various special events caps made at Derby, including the 4th of July caps. I examined at least one of every different type of special event caps, and they were all made in USA.
Will Smith's game used 4th of July cap, made at Derby.
Oddly enough, the Giants team store had "Game of Thrones" patch caps made in USA.
In the end, I was very burnt out from traveling and exhausted. I had never worked to hard to buy baseball caps in my life. My finances were drained as well and my wallet is still recovering. However, I know that if I didn't do this, I'd regret it.
Now for the memorabilia sales and fan fests that are on the horizon and I will try to scoop up as many game used and team issued USA made caps as I can. From here on out, New Era will no longer get my money directly on a regular basis. I may make an exception on occasion, but for the most part I will only be buying team issued caps directly from the teams.
Below is the list of the ballparks I visited and the status of made in USA caps at their respective team stores.
A's - A mix of both USA and imported.
Angels - A mix of both USA and imported. The 1970s TBTC caps were all made in USA.
Cubs - Mostly imported with a handful of made in USA.
Dodgers - Plenty of made in USA.
Giants - Mostly imported with a handful made in USA.
Mariners - An even mix.
Padres - All imported in 7 1/4 and 7 3/8. All of the bell panel caps were imported except 7 5/8.
Everett - All imported except remaining 2018 "Copa" caps.
Fresno - Certain styles were all made in USA, others were import-only.
Modesto - All imported.
Myrtle Beach - All imported except "ASL" caps.
Reno - All imported.
San Jose - Mostly imported with a handful of made in USA. "Churros" caps were all made in USA early in the season, replaced with imported. There are some left in certain sizes.
Sacramento - New styles were made in USA, older ones were all imported.
Salem-Keizer - All imported.
Stockton - All imported except remaining 2018 "Copa" caps.
Hillsboro - Mostly made in USA with a handful of imported caps.
Tacoma - Mostly imported with a handful of made in USA.
Visalia - All imported except remaining "Oaks" caps that were the remaining stock before the re-brand as the "Rawhide." They are not on shelves, you must ask to see them.