Tom Rauen was positive Bryce Harper’s new hat would cause a stir. He just didn’t know when the reigning MVP would show it to the world.
About two weeks ago — after Harper’s comments to ESPN the Magazine about infusing his sport with joy sparked national headlines — Harper reached out to Rauen with a request: he wanted a “Make Baseball Fun Again” hat.
“Sure thing,” the owner of Envision Tees replied.
The next day, Rauen ordered the hats. Two days later, he sent a pair of models — one red, and one white — to Harper at spring training in Viera, Fla. Then he waited.
“I thought he was going to wear it right away,” Rauen said. “But he knows that if he would have wore it last week after a spring training game, it might have been picked up by a couple people. The fact that he timed it on Opening Day, after he hit a home run and he was already going to make some media headlines, it kind of just put together the perfect media storm.”
That’s why Harper, and his hat, were on every sports website Monday night. It’s why tweets about the hat were shared thousands and thousands of times. It’s why ESPN did a segment on the hat Tuesday morning. It’s why Rauen started receiving a flood of emails, asking why the hats were not for sale.
“I wasn’t planning on selling it,” he said. “I was lying in bed [Monday night], and I was like ‘All right, I’ve got to get this thing up.’ People were bombarding me with emails.”
So now you can buy the original model, from its maker. Envision sold dozens Monday night; during our 11-minute chat Tuesday morning, the company sold two more. But while the demand might have surprised Rauen, the interest didn’t.
“I knew for sure [it would cause a splash], just because of the timing, with the elections coming up and everything that’s going on,” Rauen said. “I knew as soon as he wore it that it would be a hit.”
Rauen’s Iowa apparel company — Envision Tees — has been making shirts for Nats giveaways for a decade, after submitting a bid from afar. He started traveling to Washington and forging relationships with players and agents, so that “if there was anything they wanted on a personal level, we could be their go-to guy.” The company made those wristbands Harper wore last season, featuring a caricature of his face. Envision once made Teenage Mutant Ninja Hurlers T-shirts for the Nats pitchers. Toward the end of the 2013 season, at Harper’s request, Envision made red-and-black camo T-shirts reading “To the last minute. To the last second. To the last man: We FIGHT!”
Of course, there’s a separate history to these Harper hats. Because after the ESPN the Magazine attention in early March, Brady Phelps was touched by inspiration:
Then it hit me. Trump’s stupid MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hats were everywhere. What if I made a hat for Bryce Harper that said MAKE BASEBALL FUN AGAIN? It was perfect. I’m not so hot at photoshop (super-hot at MS Paint though), so I hit up my buddy @nick_pants with the idea. Within hours, Nick came through like a champ with this.
I fired out the tweet, tagged Bryce, and said to myself, “This hat is awesome. I should actually make these. They’d sell like hotcakes. You could even change the colors around for your team. I should even send one to Bryce! How funny would that be?” Did I do any of that? No, of course not. I did nothing.
Phelps saw history pass him by. Others, though, spotted an opportunity more quickly. Barstool Sports, for example, is also selling the “Make Baseball Fun Again” hats.
So I like to think of this as a giant baseball collaboration: of an idea from Brady Phelps, and a Photoshop from @nick_pants that the outfielder might or might not have seen, and marketing savvy from Bryce Harper, and an apparel company from Dubuque, and a dramatic win from the Nats (thanks to several bungled plays by the Braves), and then all of us social-media-obsessed hat-and-slogan-loving weirdos agreeing that this was something the world needed to see.
“I was kind of sitting back and waiting, waiting, waiting. And I think he timed it perfectly,” Rauen said. “It was pretty cool to see the media just go crazy on it.”