(Sports apparel store in Brussels loaded with MLB hats in various colors.)
LONDON – Truth is, this column started on a plane home from London after a three-week European journey that started with my engagement and ended with covering the Olympics. The idea and text sat nicely on the top right hand corner of my laptop until three weeks worth of “to-do list” items were successfully demolished.
It was supposed to be a long needed vacation where I actually didn’t do any work. No laptop, minimal cell phone use – which was bound to happen thanks to data charges from Verizon in the long run – and undivided attention to my fiancé and Europe in that order.
We started off in Paris, I proposed under a glittering Eiffel Tower. I know, I know, I can’t help myself. A true romantic. She said yes. We celebrated.
The next morning, enjoying a plate of croissants, my attention was immediately diverted back to work, or at least the thought of work and American sports as a gentleman walked past with a New York Yankees hat on. I started to think:
“How many people wear things like this in Europe?”
“How many Yankees hats am I going to see?”
“Which North American sports team is most popular overseas?”
That was all I needed. From that point on I kept a running tab in the notepad on my iPhone on every visual I could record of North American sports sightings in Europe; hats, shirts, items on people and in stores, billboards and souvenirs. I was off, conducting my own study on North American sports in Europe.
Although I was in Paris for about four days, the only other items I saw were a Dodgers hat and a Lebron James jersey. Luxembourg only lasted a day, but in that time I saw another Yankees hat and a Washington Redskins cap. Only a Heat hat and Blue Jays cap made appearances in Geneva, Switzerland. On a side note, a clothing store called “New York American” sold snapback lids of multiple American teams from the Mariners to Syracuse athletics. They even had a Phillies batting practice jersey in the front window.
Things picked up slightly in Prague. The most notable sighting was the entire University of North Carolina woman’s basketball team on the Charles Bridge near the Prague Castle. Aside from the occasional spotting of a Jaromir Jagr Czech Republic national hockey jersey, there wasn’t much else beyond the norm in Prague. Then suddenly I stumbled upon a nesting doll store. Yes, those dolls that stack one inside another and originated in Russia.
(These nesting dolls were all over Prague, but one store specialized in sports figures.)
The store had hundreds of them, all based around North American sports; one from every team with every player. I picked up Mets and Islanders ones. If the person in charge knew a thing or two about baseball, they would have included David Wright and Johan Santana, instead of Lucas Duda or Kirk Nieuwenhuis. They did include Ike Davis and R.A. Dickey at least. It was easily one of the most unique souvenirs I brought home from any trip, ever. As a bobble head aficionado, this was the closest thing I came to a bobbling souvenir since I did not find one in any European country during my travels.
In Germany one fan at a Heartha BSC pro soccer game actually had a black Mets jersey on in the stands. It was the most odd and random place to see an MLB jersey, but by this point I wasn’t surprised.
Amsterdam provided a flurry of hats and shirts and it became clear that most were tourists, possibly from America. At the Van Gogh museum it was so ironic to see a Thomas Eberle Edmonton Oilers jersey tee-shirt, considering Van Gogh was no stranger to oil himself - only on a canvas, not the ice. There were 21 sightings in Dutch country. Belgium topped that with 22.
London proved to be the largest cross-sector of sports fans. It helped that millions were on-hand in the city for the Summer Olympics. The most unique: Albuquerque Isotopes (Dodgers Triple-A) hat, Roberto Clemente throwback Pirates jersey (at the woman’s 20k race walk event across from Buckingham Palace), and a tee-shirt from the Bears-Cowboys game that was played at London’s Wembley Stadium in 1986. There were 88 total in London that I wound up seeing, none of which included Team USA items from the men’s hoops squad that features all NBA stars.
Of the 151 team-related items I saw , a large majority were Yankees hats. In fact, I saw 46 Yankees hats or shirts during the trip, which accounted for 30.4 percent of all teams I saw, the most by far. It’s safe to say the Yankees have more of an international reach than any other North American sports franchise. It wasn’t just the traditional navy blue hat either. They came in every color combination on the heads of people of all races and ages. They were even sold in corner souvenir shops, which is more of an interesting note considering there was a time in our countries histories where the term Yankees meant a whole lot more than just a baseball team name.
When I originally started the project, I assumed the NBA would have a large international reach. With professional basketball very prevalent in European countries it makes sense. The NBA came in second in my poll with 32 items. Considering the NHL does have a large international base of talent, hockey teams only accounted for seven sightings in roughly three weeks.
It was the Yankees who stole the show. It was a constant reminder of where I’m from, that even though I’ve never rooted for the boys in Pinstripes, they serve as a piece of American culture and a shining light of red, white and blue in far lands.
Oh, stay tuned for the next study … during my honey moon.
Here are the final stats:
- France 3
- Luxembourg 2
- Switzerland 2
- Prague 7
- Germany 6
- Amsterdam 21
- Belgium 22
- London 88
- Total: 151
- MLB: 95; Yankees 46
- NBA: 32
- NFL: 11
- NHL: 7
- NCAA Division I programs: 6
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-By Chris R. Vaccaro