The one that got away

On the top shelf in our basement, there’s a brown cardboard box with dozens of baseball hats in it. I don’t know the exact number, but if I say forty, I won’t be off by more than five, either way. And those are hats that aren’t in active rotation, because those forty or so, are in a metal basket next to our front door.

On my way out, I grab the one that matches my mood, if not always my clothes.

Nobody needs close to hundred baseball hats, of course. I didn’t want a hundred hats originally. All I wanted was one.

The Risto hat trick

The one I really wanted was blue, and it had a mesh back, and a logo of a hockey team on the front. It was a logo I had never seen, but then again, I had only seen a few NHL logos, and the St. Louis Blues weren’t the hottest or the most iconic of teams around.

But that was the hat a schoolmate of mine had. He had bought it on his hockey team’s trip to the US, something I hadn’t even dreamed of. Sure, I knew other teams had traveled to tournaments, too, and even my team had been in Sweden for hockey, but the coolest thing we found was a popsicle with two sticks. (Which was very cool).

The hat haunted my mind. I wanted a baseball hat, too, and when I noticed a tiny classified ad in the paper, I persuaded my mother to order “a real baseball cap” for me. Unfortunately, while it was surely “ a real baseball cap,” it was also completely white, with no logos in the front, and even worse, no mesh in the back. It was just a hat.

About a year after that disaster, a friend of Dad’s happened to play in an exhibition game against the New York Rangers and I guess the Rangers gave hats to the opposing team players because one ended up in our household, and on my head.

I’ve collected hats ever since. I’ve walked miles and miles in rain in Rouen, France to find a store that sold hats with hockey logos. I’ve got lost in Vancouver trying to find the Canucks store. I have hats with NHL logos, I have hats with my name on them, hats with Swedish teams’ logos, and a hat with the Women’s Olympic Qualification tournament logo on them.

But as with many other things, I’m often reminded of the one that got away.

In the mid-1990s, one of my teammates was a guy who had moved from Finland to Sweden as a boy, then back to Finland to do his military service, and then fallen in love and stayed there. He was a proud Finn, and an even prouder Gothenburgian.

Every year, he’d take his family to Gothenburg to visit his parents, and to eat the world’s best pizza. One time, he came back from Sweden with a hat. For me. It was a red hat, with the word “FRÖLUNDA” in green letters in the front. It was a Frölunda Indians hat, all the way from Gothenburg, and it became my favorite hat.

Those days, my gym was at a big sports center, the venue for boxing, gymnastics, and weight lifting in the 1952 Olympics. There are still basketball courts, and dozens of young gymnasts practice there so the weights and the workout machines are scattered around the arena. My workout always ended in the second floor, where the leg curl machine was, and where I’d do sit-ups and stretch. Well, not as much stretch as lean against the railing and watch kids play basketball.

One evening, as I was leaving home, I couldn’t find my favorite hat anywhere, and after some serious thinking, I deducted that I must have left it hanging in a hook in the dressing room at the gym. While I wanted to stay carefully optimistic about the hat’s fate, I also quickly deducted that I might have lost it forever, and the next time I was at the gym, the man in the lost and found quickly confirmed my suspicions.

“What? A Swedish hockey hat? Nope, haven’t seen it,” he said, without even looking at me.

“That’s what I was afraid of, but … thanks, anyway,” I said and went to change into my gym gear.

About 45 minutes later, I was up in the second floor, doing sit-ups and stretching, when I saw a kid on the basketball court wearing a hat that looked very familiar to me. I waited until he got closer so I could see better. He sank a three-pointer, and when he picked up the ball, I saw “FRÖLUNDA” in green letters on his hat.

I stopped stretching and immediately walked to the stairs, skipped down, and took a left and a right and confronted the young boy who was two heads taller than me.

“Hey, nice hat,” I said.

“Uh-huh,” he said.

“Where’d ya get it?”

“My cousin.”

“Oh yeah? From where?”

“Um, Sweden.”

“Where in Sweden?”

“Gothenburg, dude.”

I really thought he’d give it back to me once he realized that I was the hat’s obvious, real owner. Now the boy had passed my first three questions and had almost survived my inquisition. I had to nail him with my next one.

“I like it. Nice … nice colors. What does it say there … Frrööö…?,” I let the rest just hang in the air.

“Frölunda,” said the guy and bounced the basketball a couple of times. I could tell he was in a hurry to get away, but I had all the time in the world. All the time in the world. I smiled.

“Frölunda? What is that anyway?”

“It’s a hockey team,” he said and turned away.

“Oh…”

“I knew that,” I muttered.

As I walked to the dressing room, I watched him jog slowly to the other end of the court and make a layup, then adjust the Frölunda hat on his head.

On the top shelf in our basement, there’s a brown cardboard box with dozens of baseball hats in it, but no Frölunda hat.

How does that make you feel?