Meet Astros Fans Ready to Spend $80,000 on Custom Baseball Caps
In 2002, with his first paycheck from a job serving popcorn at a Tinseltown multiplex, fifteen-year-old Orlando Ordaz bought his first fitted Houston Astros hat. It was a black cap with a brick-red star, stylized with an open side – the main team logo from 2000 to 2012. Originally from East Houston, Ordaz had almost no choice but to fall in love of the Astros. Her mother worked in the restoration of the old AstroWorld amusement park, and since the family shared one car, Ordaz and her father picked her up almost every day. After picking her up, Ordaz’s father would sometimes take the whole clan to the side of the Astrodome and buy $1 mezzanine tickets for the game of the day.
At the time, the Astros were a National League team with limited success and not a single pennant to steal from the club’s decades-long history. Today, the American League Astros have made six consecutive trips to the League Championship Series and played in four World Series (including their current tilt with the Philadelphia Phillies) in those years, winning it all in 2017.
Meanwhile, bespoke Astros hats have become collector’s items, thanks to the rise of streetwear fashion trends, a few famous people like Travis Scott, and the success of the team. As with sneakers or the latest gaming console, fitted hat collectors line up for hours and sometimes days to get exclusive new designs. Hats typically range from $50 to $70 at retail, but Astros caps often resell for $250 in the secondary market, and rarer editions cost over $400.
But for Ordaz, it was never about hype. He loved baseball and loved cheering on the Astros, and that passion led him to collect New Era gear. He made sure to pick up limited-edition caps, such as the on-field hats produced for the now-defunct annual MLB Civil Rights Game in 2014, which took place at Minute Maid Park. Ordaz also recovered the hat that José Altuve wore during the Japan All-Star Series in November of this year. Both are adorned with commemorative side patches.
“A certain hat will be like a time machine in those days,” says Ordaz, who is now 35 and works as an electrician for the Galena Park School District. “I see this patch from 2017, and it gives me the joy of winning a championship.” Likewise, the navy and gold headgear recalls his childhood at the Astrodome, and the brick-red star reminds him of the seasons the team spent languishing at the bottom of the division.
Twenty years after buying his first fitted cut, Ordaz estimates he owns at least two thousand hats. He doesn’t know the exact number, and he doesn’t want to, he says, because he doesn’t want the total to fall short of his expectations – and, more importantly, he doesn’t want to think about exactly how including a lot of money he spent on his collection. (The total is surely in the tens of thousands of dollars.) He and a few other friends even started a band they call the Houston Hat Crewwhich meets monthly to discuss baseball and members’ latest headgear acquisitions.
As the popularity of fitted hats grew, with New Era always offering more styles and partnering with designers and retailers to offer custom colorways, the scene welcomed new collectors like Manny Isidro, a 43-year-old pharmacist from Houston. Isidro has been an Astros fan for decades, but only fell into collecting baseball caps in 2020. Since then, he’s amassed around 1,600 hats, a collection he says likely cost around $80,000. “I was already in the shoes,” he says. “A co-worker of mine got me addicted to Astros outfits, different colors, themes and patches that I didn’t know existed. Even though it’s the same type of hat with one thing changed, like the visor, I like to collect them all.
In recent years, Ordaz and Isidro have noticed that hat-collecting culture is shifting to favor fashion over fandom. New Era caps as sewing items have a long history – perhaps most notably, the one of a kind red Yankees hat that Spike Lee wore at the 1996 World Series. Houston’s headwear received similar celebrity boosts. During his 2005 charity softball game, NBA legend Allen Iverson wore a personalized green Astros cap and matching retro jersey. Rapper Travis Scott posted a series of stylized Astros montages in 2019 to coincide with a series of tour dates. Bun B, one half of Houston’s iconic rap duo UGK, collaborated with the Astros to release several custom designs, one of which retailed for $713. Some of the most coveted caps paid homage to Houston’s history, like the style that borrowed the color scheme from the album cover for UGK. Rolling dirtyor another in the colors of the Houston Oilers.
Hat Club, a retail chain with locations in New York, California and Arizona, has been a collector’s paradise since its inception in 1992. Ordaz has been shopping in their online store since 2008, when he purchased for the first time a simple navy cap (today called a “plain Jane”) with the Astros script logo. For years the community consisted mostly of diehard collectors like him, but there have been several key turning points in the recent growth of the hobby.
Benjamin Christensen, Hat Club’s social engagement manager, recalls that customers began to favor gear with commemorative embroideries tied to World Series appearances, All-Star Games and team anniversaries around 2018. next development came the following year when Hat Club worked with New York. rapper Frosty Preme to design a Yankees cap with a pink undervisor to honor the rapper’s mother, who died of breast cancer. The concept was a success, and soon hats with unconventional underlays were flying off the shelves. This explosion of interest grew along with the popularity of sneaker culture, and hat designers began creating headwear in colorways that perfectly matched specific shoes, especially Travis Scott’s Nike. line.
Hat designer and former Manhattan Hat Club storefront manager Justin Farnham is credited with a bit of marketing magic that took sales to a new level. “Justin is the one who really understood that it’s one thing to use a color scheme, but it’s another thing to give it a name, to give it a story and for people to connect with it”, Christensen says. These innovations included collections like the campfire series, with every MLB team getting a burnt orange colorway; the Sandstorm collection, made up of fawn caps with desert pink and turquoise accents; and the Diamond Crossover Series, which saw MLB hats produced in the colors of the corresponding basketball franchises of the teams’ home cities.
While rigs in general have boomed in popularity — Christensen says Hat Club has increased production from tens of caps to thousands to meet demand for certain colorways — Houston has become a hotbed for collectors, served by local stores like Correct, eight oneand Bigg City Ceiling Area. Of the cities where Hat Club does not operate a storefront, Houston is neck and neck with Los Angeles as the company’s largest market. Online, Astros caps often have more stock and sell out faster than any other team’s caps, usually within seconds.
Christensen credits Houston’s market strength to loyal fans and the franchise’s success over the past six seasons. Earlier this year, Hat Club held an all-day pop-up event at a downtown Houston brewery, and more than a thousand people showed up, some arriving twelve hours early for the chance to buy rare designs.
The success of this event brought Hat Club back earlier this month for a second pop-up. This time he made its debut nine new styles of Astros gear based on the flavors of Blue Bell ice cream – a nod to another Texas favorite. The concept, dubbed Sundae Service, was developed by Houston Hat Crew member Rudy Torres. “It lets us know we’re part of it,” says Ordaz. “They don’t just take our money and say, ‘Here’s a product. They make us feel like part of the community.
At that pop-up, held the weekend before the start of this year’s Astros playoffs, Houston saw another huge congregation of hat collectors, from “old heads” like Ordaz to new collectors. to resellers who wait hours just to return $50 caps for three or four times the retail price. Once again, customers waited all night to be able to purchase caps, and even latecomers who missed the sale walked away with free scoops from Blue Bell. Paul’s wall even came to buy a hat.
Ordaz marveled at how the scene had grown. He thought back to all the times his friends had made jokes about his obsession with headgear: “You have so many hats, but you only have one head,” they said. Now other aficionados come to him for advice and treat his collection with admiration. He doesn’t care if a collector has been working there for two decades or two weeks, and he doesn’t even care about dealers. It’s just fortunate that fitted hats have their moment and are reaching an ever-growing number of followers.
“Now,” he said, “there are people like me.”