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On Six Legs by Tom Turpin- Bug baseball caps

Spring training for major league baseball teams has begun. Every year in mid-February the would-be boys of summer gather in the warm and sunny climates of Florida and Arizona to prepare for the upcoming season. For many of us the presence of grapefruit and cactus league baseball is a sure sign that spring is on the way.

Baseball. The great American sport. The cry of "play ball" to start the game. The unmistakable sound when wooden bats collide with the ball. But not just any ball will do. According to official baseball rules, the ball is nine inches in circumference and weighs five ounces. It is covered with two strips of horsehide or cowhide tightly bound together with 216 stitches. Just like the one the pitcher hurled in the 1888 poem "Casey at the Bat."

Balls, bats and bases aside, one of the most iconic things about the game of baseball is the uniform, especially the cap. This type of headwear has become an item of apparel for almost anyone. Baseball caps can be seen on presidential candidates, fashion models, military commanders, rockers, truckers, bikers, farmers and even popes.

The baseball cap may be a fashion item, but its structure reflects more practical purposes. It is dome-shaped so that it stays on the head of the wearer when running to try to catch a fly ball or steal a base. It has a brim in front to keep the sun out of a player's eyes. Early baseball caps were made of material that would absorb sweat. In more modern times such caps included mesh portions to help cool the head of the wearer.

The really nice thing about a baseball cap was that the front panel of the dome portion was a wonderful place to display the team logo. Over the years the logos of the major league baseball teams have changed, but always the team caps displayed a logo. The St. Louis Cardinals have the namesake bird sitting on a bat. In Chicago, the Cubs have “Cubs” and the White Sox have “Sox” displayed on the front of their game caps.

The popularity of the baseball cap and the ability to promote an institution, government agency, industry or societal issue on the front of the cap has spawned a major baseball-cap manufacturing industry. According to hat industry statistics, over 44 million baseball-style hats are manufactured each year in an over $2 billion industry.

I have several such hats. Some I purchased, such as those with “Purdue” on them. Others were gifts handed out at sales meetings or promotional events like the one with “Beef, It's What's for Dinner” on it. I have caps with chemical company names or specific products on them. I have an “Indiana State Fair” baseball cap and one that says “This Space for Rent.”

Over the years I have to admit that I have done my part to support the baseball cap industry by encouraging the use of such a head topper to promote my entomological interests. The Purdue Department of Entomology has a cap appropriately adorned with “Purdue Entomology” and a beetle of the insect kind. A baseball cap with a cockroach on it was used to promote the annual pest management conference here at Purdue.

My professional society, The Entomological Society of America, once produced a baseball cap with a monarch butterfly logo that proclaimed “Entomologist and Proud of it!” It was inspired by a whole genre of baseball hats that were used to express pride in one's occupation as in “I'm Proud to be a Farmer.”

I also have a "Fireflies are Cool" cap and another one with ladybugs crawling across it. As you can see, my baseball style bug caps reflect the fact that I have a fondness for insects. Not everyone shares my opinion. At least it appeared to me that the young woman I once observed wearing a baseball cap with the words “Bugs are Icky” on it might have a different opinion!