After the Indians make the third out of an inning, Tom O'Toole hoists the blue duffel bag from beneath his seat and reaches in for his next hat, which is invariably neon. He's a man of many neon hats, and while his face may be unfamiliar to Indians fans, those hats certainly aren't. The glowing hats have become a staple of telecasts from Jacobs Field. For when the camera cuts to a tight shot of a left-handed batter, to display stats or highlight concentration, O'Toole is often visible in the seats over the hitter's shoulder.
But only a lefty with gaudy numbers can garner attention away from Tom and his hat, which could be pink, yellow, green, etc., depending on the inning. "Look out there in the bleachers and what do you see?" Tom asked during a recent Tribe game against the Twins. "Nothing. It all blends together, so I just thought I'd get something that would be a little bit snappy." He has been in Row 1 behind the visitors' dugout, making it snappy alongside his wife, Joanne, since the Indians moved to Jacobs Field in 1994. "This is the only time in my entire life that I wear a hat," he says. "I never wear a hat otherwise." The O'Tooles have been season-ticket holders for 40 years, but Tom was hatless during the seasons at Municipal Stadium. "They didn't have the same setup with the cameras and all that," he says. "I just do it to be part of the game, you know. Add a little color." Quite a lot of color, but not for every game. The O'Tooles make it to 20 or so each season. "I can't go to 81 games," Tom says. "I'd drive myself crazy. [The players] go to all the games, but [many of them] make a couple million dollars." He notes that some fans like to hold bets, guessing which hat he'll go to next, and a savvy trend-spotter would realize that money could be made here, as the hat rotation is the same each game. Underneath the bill of each hat is a sticker, indicating which inning it is to be worn. It's the same hat, same inning, each game he attends. And like old-fashioned scoreboards that were prepared for maybe 11-inning games and revert back to inning one, if necessary, he starts his hat rotation over if the game goes a few more than the expected nine. His 10th-inning hat, an orange one, came out of the bag on Sept. 5, and just before the Indians mobbed Ryan Garko after his game-winning RBI, Tom returned to his seat, and Joanne returned his hat. She had been wearing it, which is their routine when he takes a break from the action. "Fans get upset if they look over here and don't see the right color at the right time," she says with a smile. The couple, residents of Willoughby, rarely miss a Friday game. When they go to breakfast the next morning, Tom says they often hear something along the lines of, "Tom went to the bathroom in the sixth inning because Joanne was wearing the hat." Willoughby denizens often alert Tom the day after spotting him at a game, but the hats are getting plenty of attention from Indians fans far and wide. "People come down [to the seats] from all over the country," Joanne says. "And they bring their phones down to ask, 'Will you talk to my mom?'" "Yeah," Tom chimes in, "and then I have to come up with a conversation. I have a good time doing that." Fans also bring their own hats down to that first row above the visitors' dugout, asking for signatures. But a more surprising request came during the 1997 World Series, when Gov. George Voinovich, an acquaintance of the O'Tooles, asked Tom if he'd mind wearing a State of Ohio hat. Voinovich also wanted Joanne to wear a sweatshirt with "See Ohio" written across the front. Of course, the O'Tooles complied, and in fact, many of the hats are gifts from friends. His seventh-inning hat is a yellow Indians hat with a red bill. Tom considers this his best hat. It was a gift from a friend in Baton Rouge, La. Is that also his luckiest hat? "I don't think there's any luck connected with this," he says. His first-inning hat, a canary yellow number, was a gift from the guys at the post office in Willoughby. But what if the couple shows up late to a game? Does he rush the hats in, maybe more than one change per inning? He scoffs at this hypothetical scenario. "Late for a game?" he asks incredulously. "We're never late." And when they arrive, they sit and quietly enjoy the game. "Even though I go through this hat routine," Tom says, "I'm a very conservative guy."
Joe Gartrell is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.