There are several obvious contributing factors to UK Baseball’s historic run to the Super Regional: the relentless enthusiasm of first-year head coach Nick Mingione; talented pitchers like Sean Hjelle and Logan Salow; All-Americans Evan White, Tristan Pompey, and Riley Mahan; and the team’s remarkably quick transition to Mingione’s system. Yet, there is one unsung hero in this bunch that deserves some recognition: Austin Keen’s rally cup hat.
Constructed entirely of paper Powerade cups and tape, Keen’s creation is modeled after a Viking hat. It first drew attention when Kentucky faced elimination vs. Indiana on Sunday of the Lexington Regional. Desperate times called for desperate measures, so Keen, a redshirt freshman pitcher, crafted the hat out of the materials available and it worked. Kentucky went on to beat Indiana and, a few hours later, NC State to advance to the final showdown with the Wolfpack Monday night.
“Of all the guys and everything that happened in our program, who and what from the University of Kentucky got on ESPN?” Nick Mingione joked today. “The cup hat! The guy that poured himself into the team the most. I want you to think about that. It wasn’t the grand slam, it wasn’t the dog pile, it wasn’t any of that. The guy that got on ESPN was the guy that had the cup hat.”
Heading into Monday night’s big game, the hat was bigger and bolder then ever, gaining new accessories like a propeller so that it resembled a giant flying blue and white traffic cone. Its shining moment came at the top of the sixth inning when, with the Cats down one, a foul ball rolled into right field near the dugout and Keen took off a sprint to retrieve it. His hat magically staying in place, Keen flipped the foul ball into the crowd and dutifully sprinted straight back to the dugout.
Mingione has embraced the hat as a metaphor for his team’s selfless, one brick — err, cup — at a time mentality.
“By the way, what was [Keen] doing? He was chasing a foul ball to serve his team. That’s the guy that got on SportsCenter. Oh and by the way, that just happened to bleed over to our team and we just happened to win a championship and do something that’s never been done before. I’m about to share this with our team. That’s how life works. Who’s the guy that everybody wants to pull for? The guy that’s the most selfless person. How do you not want to root for that guy?”
You can’t. It’s impossible. Today, senior Connor Heady and junior Riley Mahan credited the rally cup hat and the rest of the dugout for keeping the team loose during the stressful postseason.
“Fortunately for us this weekend, it was pretty loose,” Heady said. “You guys saw some of the things we had going on in the dugout with the rally cap, the cup hat that Austin Keen made. Just guys wearing sunglasses the whole game in the dugout for the night game, backwards hats. They had it all going on. Our dugout was really loose this weekend and they brought a lot of energy, a lot of positive reinforcement for us that are out there playing the game.”
“When you have stuff like that going on in the dugout, it keeps everybody loose,” Mahan said. “That really helps from both ends and keeps everybody loose and reminds everyone it’s just a game and go out there and control what you can control and have fun playing the game.”
To answer the question you surely have by now, yes, the cup will travel to Louisville for tomorrow’s Super Regional showdown with the Cards.
“It’s ready to go,” Mahan assured reporters today. “I think he might have some more tape on it to make it more stable, but it’s ready to go.”
Want to make your own? Hopefully we won’t need it, but it’s best to be prepared.
How to make your own Rally Cup Hat
- Paper cups (preferably blue, white, and/or black)
- White tape
Step 1: Cut several paper cups down the side and remove bottoms
Step 2: Tape cups together to form initial ring
Step 3: Layer and tape rings until you form a cone
Step 4: Add horns
Step 5: Add other accessories at will
Go ahead, get crazy. It’s Louisville, and the rally cup hat hasn’t failed us yet.