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Play ball! Blue Jays caps a surprise hit in N.Y. Add to ...

The Toronto Blue Jays' starting lineup may look downright dreadful but the news is not all bad. Suffering fans can take comfort in the fact that, in the area of style at least, the team is near the top of the league.

Jays caps are flying off the shelf in New York, where young men across the city are rocking the Toronto logo and, in some neighbourhoods, the caps are outselling even the hometown Mets.

Toronto's team has even made it big on Harlem's fabled 125th Street.

"I would say they're in the top three," says Diallo Thierno, a salesman at Jerseyman Cap USA at 125th at Malcolm X Boulevard. "First it's the Yankees, then the White Sox and then the Blue Jays."

Various styles of Jays caps occupy about a third of the store's window display and others figure prominently inside.

Alas, it isn't the Blue Jays no-name roster that is leading New Yorkers to embrace the team.

The team's sudden popularity is driven in part by new looks on the sneaker scene. This year, blue is big for shoes and Toronto caps are providing an ideal accessory. Both the old-school logo with the bird and maple leaf as well as the new large J logo are selling well as young people look to dress up their kicks.

"The blue goes with many types of sneakers that are coming out. That plays well," says Thierno.

He adds that a number of the must-have Nike lines for urban youths are styled in blue this year. Among them are the Air Max '95, the LeBron and the Half Cent.

A salesman at hat shop Lids in Times Square confirmed that sneakers are driving the popularity of Jays caps which he estimated to be in the top-ten of sales. The salesman also suspected the hats had received a boost after Toronto rapper Drake wore one on the cover of Vibe magazine last December.

During a recent phone interview, the Blue Jays front office admitted they were not aware of the trend but did not sound displeased. The VP of marketing and merchandising, Anthony Partipilo, explained that the team received team-by-team sales data only in Canada, where Jays' caps account for the majority of the market share.

Partipilo was aware of the Drake cover, saying the Jays' brass "didn't fail to notice" and was appreciative for the shout-out on Vibe. He also noted that, although the logo's popularity in New York was news to the team, marketers are aware of the importance of "hook-ups" - matching the colours of one piece of sportswear with another.

"The phenomenon of hook-ups is very much in play in Canada," he said.

So as another baseball season commences, the Blue Jays do not have a viable first baseman, closer or lead-off hitter.

But, for now at least, they do have style.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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