By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

If you watched pro or college football this past weekend, you had plenty of opportunities to see the American flag, which appears on the back of NCAA and NFL helmets (plus there's Jeremy Shockey's tattoo, although that wasn't visible yesterday because the Giants had a bye). But if you flipped channels over to the baseball playoffs, there were several flags on display there, too -- you just had to look a bit harder to see them.

Uni Watch is referring to the small but growing number of MLB players who send shout-outs to their homelands by wearing their flags of national origin somewhere on their equipment. It's an interesting trend, and it makes sense because baseball is an increasingly international sport, as opposed to football, in which almost all players are American. Flag-clad participants in the divisional playoffs, all of whom are Dominican, have included David Ortiz (who wears the Dominican emblem on his wristbands), Vlad Guerrero (on his glove), Ervin Santana (also on his glove) and Albert Pujols (look closely -- it's on his shoe tongues).

The flags tend to be pretty inconspicuous, and Uni Watch has no doubt missed some of them. But here's at least a partial rundown of which players have worn which flags on which accessories over the past year or so (with thanks to readers Ryan Brett, Alex Belsky, Christian Oliver, Graham Barron and Mark Mihalik, who all contributed key information):

The Dominican flag: This is the foreign flag most commonly seen on MLB diamonds. The first to wear it might have been Pedro Martinez, who had it on his glove last year (although he switched to a flagless model this season). In addition to the aforementioned Ortiz, Guerrero, Santana and Pujols, other players who've worn the Dominican colors in 2005 include Jose Lima, Eude Brito and Sammy Sosa.

The Mexican flag: Esteban Loaiza, who hails from south of the border, wears the Mexican flag on his shoe tongues, and Sergio Mitre, who grew up in California but whose parents are Mexican, wears it on his glove.

The Texas state flag: OK, so Texas isn't a country, but just try telling that to anyone who hails from there (especially these guys). And besides, it used to be a country. Anyway, Nationals pitcher John Patterson was wearing the Lone Star flag on his glove earlier this season, although he switched to a flag-free glove later in the year.

The Venezuelan flag: Indians catcher Victor Martinez doesn't actually wear the Venezuelan banner, but he does something more subtle: He wears a Livestrong-ish bracelet adorned with his homeland's colors.

As Uni Watch noted last month, MLB teams have often worn the American flag during wartime, and they continue to do so on major holidays. Plus the Blue Jays have worn the Canadian flag on Canada Day. State flags are rarer: To Uni Watch's knowledge, only the Texas flag has been worn on MLB uniforms, first by the Colt .45s and currently by the Rangers.

But state flags have had a slightly higher profile in other sports. In the NFL, the Maryland flag (whose unusual design is explained here) is echoed on the Ravens' sleeves, and the Arizona flag used to appear on the Cardinals' white jerseys (although not anymore).

And over in the NHL -- where players have often worn their national flags on their chests and sleeves during all-star games -- the Colorado state flag was the basis for the old Rockies jerseys back in the late '70s, and the Ohio flag (which of course is the coolest of all the state flags, because it's the only one that's not rectangular) is now showcased on the Blue Jackets' alternate jersey.

As for international flags, they'll no doubt get elevated way above shoe-tongue status next March, when the World Baseball Classic gets under way. Lots of flags were featured on the WBC uniforms that appeared at a recent press conference, although Uni Watch has been told that those were just placeholder designs that were whipped up quickly for photo-op purposes. The final designs might end up looking more like the ones used in the 2004 Olympics, in which some of the baseball uniforms had flags, but others looked more like they were flags.

One final note: Remember when MLB teams wore those futuristic uniforms back in 1999? The weirdest thing about that promotion was that the Phillies augmented their futurist jersey with a sleeve patch of a 77-star American flag. Uni Watch has long wondered about this -- were the Phillies predicting a revival of Manifest Destiny? The balkanization of Pennsylvania? The spirit of, uh, '77? If anyone has any insights, speak up, and Uni Watch will print the best responses in a future column.

Paul Lukas enjoys pointing out that not a single U.S. state flag includes the color purple. His full-length "Uni Watch" columns run on alternating Thursdays, while "Uni Watch: Weekend Update" appears each Monday. Archives of his columns are available here, here, and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list? Contact him here.



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