In the summer of 1985, my parents took me to a garage sale where I found nothing to my liking. Nothing at all — except a Pittsburgh Pirates pillbox hat.

Now, I have never been a Pirates fan aside from maybe a playoff series here or there, but that hat called to me.

Part of it was that I lived and breathed baseball in those days (things really change, huh?), so any sort of baseball bauble would have caught my eye. But part of it was that the hat looked so classic — antique, almost.

It was the same sort of hat I’d seen on those Pirates cards from the late 1970s, when Willie Stargell and Dave Parker and Kent Tekulve were all a family on the way to the World Series.

And it was the same sort of hat I saw on the cards of some young guys making a hobby name for themselves as the whole card world boomed. Guys like Benny Distefano and his 1985 Topps card, for example.

So I cajoled my dad into coughing up the fifty cents or whatever, and I absconded with my sweat-smelling treasure, then nearly killed my mother with shock when I plopped it on my own head.

“You’ll get lice!”


But I did get superpowers.


When we got home that night, I dragged Dad out into the side yard so we could toss the baseball around like usual. Except, nothing was usual.

With that Bucs cap glued to my head, I flew around the yard like a bat, jumping off knolls, diving left and right, rolling, bobbing, weaving, snagging everything Dad kept in our area code.

I was the next Benny Distefano, middle infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

And the theme held for the next several years. Sure, I was a Red when I swung the bat, but I was a Pirate every time I took the field, and I was spectacular.

At the same time, the real Pirates ran through a string of up-the-middle guys who started to blend together in my pubescent, non-Pittsburgh mind.

So …

One day I was Distefano, one day I was Rafael Belliard, one day I was Ron Wotus.

Very often, I was Sammy Khalifa, especially after I got a gander at his 1986 Donruss card.

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After all, here was a good-looking guy, the way I liked to imagine I was. And Khalifa was smiling, happy to be holding a bat, just like I always was.

And, maybe most of all, Khalifa was wearing my hat, even though he was “hitting.”

So, yeah, I was Sammy Khalifa.

That was pretty much solidified when I saw his 1986 Topps card, where Sammy stands bent over ready to swipe a base. He’s young and fit and agile and speedy and crafty and diminutive and ready to fly.

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Just like me.

Except … Sammy wasn’t really small, not like I was. He towered to five-foot-eleven, for heaven’s sake. I was (am), uh, a bit short of that mark.

And I was sort of not so fit.

But gosh darn it, when I put Sammy Khalifa’s 1986 Donruss hat on my own head, I began to dance around (like Frosty) and moved like Jagger (or something). I could stop any darn thing, and I had my sights set on Khalifa’s job as the Buccos shortstop.

Of course, Belliard beat me to that, and so did Al Pedrique.

And then Jay Bell.

By then, my Pirates hat had turned mostly white with the salt from my own sweat (ewwww), and I was a late teen, too cool to be flying around the side yard anyway.

And I can’t foresee a time when I’ll root for the Pirates again, unless 2020 harbingers even more world-crushing inversion, and Pittsburgh ends up facing the Cardinals in the NLCS or the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

So, like, never.

Still, some days when it’s cold out and I wake up with stiff joints and feeling my age, I really wish I could find my old dilapidated Pirates hat.

Because I’m pretty sure it could turn me into young Sammy Khalifa at least one more time, and I could fly around again, looking as good as a 1986 Donruss baseball card.

Hobby Wow!

Not a Pirates fan? Doesn’t matter. Every collection deserves a Pittsburgh pillbox cap. Luckily, you can find them lots of places, including on eBay …

Christmas seems like the perfect time to let your inner Sammy Khalifa shine, don’t you think.

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1986 Topps Baseball Cards You Pick! Free Shipping!

End Date: Saturday 03/09/2024 15:26:13 EST
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