Aron Baynes was born in New Zealand, grew up in a small town in Australia and has traveled the world playing basketball on the game's biggest stages. Along the way, he found that through Minor League Baseball, he didn't feel so far from home.In his 12th professional season playing in
Aron Baynes was born in New Zealand, grew up in a small town in Australia and has traveled the world playing basketball on the game's biggest stages. Along the way, he found that through Minor League Baseball, he didn't feel so far from home.
In his 12th professional season playing in the United States and abroad, the current Phoenix Suns center has played more than 450 games in the NBA and may have enough hats -- including a huge contingent of Minor League ones -- to match that total.
"I liked hats but didn't have an affinity for anything in particular," Baynes said. "It's not like I grew up over here, so I didn't have a die-hard allegiance to one team or not. It kind of gave me some freedom in what hats I wanted to go out and (get). At first, I just picked hats based on look. Every now and then, something would be more comfortable than the other but more so it was just by the look."
By his estimate, Baynes' collection has swelled over the years into the hundreds, including dozens of Minor League lids as the centerpiece. Although he may have been motivated by their look at first -- as it goes with many collector-collections relationships -- the caps have steadily turned into something deeper for Baynes.
"Where I grew up in Australia was a small town, and so the thing I figured about these MiLB teams is they're in smaller areas," he said. "They're not the mainstream big cities that everyone knows, so when you go out and get these hats from smaller locations, wherever it is, those people have such a strong interest. The people that know them, they're proud of their home city or town or wherever they are. They have a strong allegiance to them, and everyone else who doesn't know where it's from, it's a talking point as well. No matter who it is, both sides want to talk to you whether they're from there or they've never heard of it. It's an ice-breaker."
Though basketball has taken him far from home, Baynes has come to appreciate the community connections of the Minor Leagues.
"Up in Portland, Maine, they have the [Sea Dogs]," said Baynes, who threw out a first pitch in Portland last summer after his second season with the Boston Celtics. "Everyone knows about it from that area. No matter what type of hat I'm wearing -- the Albuquerque Isotopes [for example], everyone knows from there who they are. Outside of it, a lot of people come up to me and are like, 'Is that a rip on "The Simpsons"? What is that?' I think it's a cool way to interact with people, so that's kind of why I started collecting hats.
"It's funny, because I've never been to some of these places. But I have the hats, and I've met people from all over because of that."
Baynes was raised in Mareeba, Queensland, which has a population of about 10,000 and a sporting history that embraces traditional outback sports far above baseball and even basketball. But the latter provided Baynes a route to the international stage. After attending the Australian Institute of Sport and heading to Washington State University to play hoops, he spent four years on the hardwood in European pro leagues before latching on with the San Antonio Spurs in 2012.
In 2015, Baynes found himself with the Pistons for the first of two campaigns in Motown, where his cap collection took on an even greater significance.
"When I was playing in Detroit, I got one of the [West Michigan Whitecaps] hats," Baynes said. "That was one of the first ones. Another reason as to why I started wearing them was my son was also born when I was in Detroit. I had hats with 'B's' on them for Baynes, but then I was looking for a hat with an 'M' for Mason. It kind of developed from that as well. Then I saw there were other 'M' hats and I was like, 'You know what? This is cool.' I started looking at all the Minor League teams for different 'M's' and all that."
Baynes went from a casual fan of Minor League hats to an aficionado, the collection not only tying in his small-town roots but becoming an outgrowth of his love for family. From M's for Mason (who's now 4), Baynes' collection has swelled with I's for daughter Isabella and R's for wife Rachel -- among others.
"Sparingly, [I'll get] an 'A' for myself," he said with a laugh. "Got to rock an 'A' every now and then for Aron."
Aron Baynes' hat collection includes (clockwise from top left) the Round Rock Chupacabras and Lexington Leyendas of the Copa de la Diversión, the Portland Sea Dogs and Salt Lake Bees.
Baynes doesn't know the exact tally of his collection of fitted Minor League game caps, but, when adding in adjustables and other additions, "we're into the multiple hundreds."
"My wife is upset with it, so it's split up in multiple locations," he added. "I probably have 50 or 60 Minor League ones that are in rotation, and I have a bunch of every team I've played for in the NBA. I have a bunch of Major League ones, but those ones are in a different room, not front and center like all the Minor League ones. I definitely keep those out and rotating."
The nearly-seven-footer is most often size 7 5/8 in New Era's legendary 59Fifty, the on-field game cap of every Minor League team, but like any true New Era obsessive, he knows that size can change. Sometimes he's a 7 3/4 ("depending on how it was stitched").
Baynes nabs a new hat whenever he finds himself in a Minor League market that happens to be on his NBA calendar. When the Baynes family was recently in Connecticut, he snagged a Hartford Yard Goats hat.
"If it's a state we haven't been to -- and Connecticut was one that we got to together -- it was one of those things where my wife and I don't get to many states for the first time together, so I made sure that I got something to think about that with," he said.
Mason selected something different with a Hartford tie, picking out a Whirlybirds hat while his dad was shopping online.
"My son's getting a bit older, and he actually helps me go through hats. He'll tell me which hats are cool to pick. He likes turtles, so I have a [Daytona] Tortugas one," Baynes said. "I'm not sure if he's ever going to be a hat person. He wears a hat for about 10 minutes, and it comes off. But if he does [get into it], then that's a cool thing as well. Same with my daughter -- if she gets into hats, I'll be happy as well."
Hat collectors field a range of questions that feel impossible to answer, most obviously, "What's your favorite?" Baynes couldn't pick but did identify one that fits with his favorite qualities.
"Less is more, but with some subtle color, one that I do like is Augusta GreenJackets," he said. "It's a clean hat. It's not overly dressed. It's subtle enough but has something to it."
More than style, Baynes loves a hat that sparks conversation.
"It's more often when [I'm approached by] not someone who knows what it is, but someone who's curious what it is," he said. "Like when I wear the Greensboro Grasshoppers, it's bright orange hat, and it's got a grasshopper. No one knows what that hat is, but it gets everyone's attention. A lot of people will ask me about that one. I'd say more often than not, it is people asking about it, but the amount of energy I get from someone who knows what it is, they're hyped. They're stoked. They're like, 'Why are you wearing that hat?' and usually I've got a good story. It's not just, 'Oh, because I like the logo.' When you have that connection with someone straightaway, it's pretty cool to see why they recognize that hat, like they grew up in a small town and that's their team and that's their town pride."
It doesn't stop in the States, either.
"Last time I went over to Japan, I got some of the Japanese league," he said. "I think that's cool, as well. I have some Mexican League hats and Mexican soccer, as well. When I go to a country, if there's a team sport that has hats associated with it, that's another great talking point, not only for people who don't recognize it in America and want to know what type of hat that is but people who are from that country. It's an instant connection."
Tyler Maun is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun.