Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Who Remembers Recycleman?

Back of card from the 2001 Rochester Red Wings team card set.
Even superheroes  find their status relegated to that of a historical footnote. Times change and a community's embrace of heroes change with them. For a period of three years, I worked part-time as a Triple-A baseball mascot for my local International League team, the Rochester Red Wings. During that time, which was among the most rewarding and difficult of my life, there was another "mascot," with who I worked the games that has since disappeared from the public consciousness. Beyond the fact that he was neither a furry nor mute, the unique nature of this mascot made him an original. He went by a few official monikers but was most recently referred to simply as Recycleman.

Ogden "Recycleman" Whitehead's
autograph circa 2001.
While taking in a 2013 home Rochester Red Wings baseball game early in the season with my son, it became apparent to me that despite all his years of service, Recycleman and his antics had been lost to the sands of time. Though veteran season ticket holders would certainly still recollect his trademarked signed-version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"  from year's of seventh inning stretch performances, anyone 17 or younger had no idea who Recycleman was. It is almost like he never roamed the stands shouting "Dub-dub-dub-dub-DOUBLE PLAY!" But I can tell you he did exist and was a memorable part of summer games for years. I know this, because I was there. I can't help but wonder: what ever happened to the world's first hearing-impaired superhero?

Recycleman was never a mascot in the traditional sense. In the first place, he owed this final iteration of his name purely from corporate sponsorship. His costume (a smallish baseball uniform in the company's green and black color scheme with cape) promoted an eponymously named waste management group (translation: refuse collection) headquarter in the region. Perhaps the most dramatic departure from "regular" mascot, was the fact that he did not perform in any sort of mask or with artificial musculature; he has accurately been described as a "black, pot-bellied, forty-something superhero."

Front from the 2001 Rochester
Red Wings team card set.
Recycleman did not face some of the performance limitations that other more traditional mascots did, and so was free to communicate and interact verbally with fans. In addition to being a man-in-tights or size-to-small baseball pants, Recycleman was also a hearing impaired, African-American. More than simply deaf, he was an advocate for those who experienced the same disability. Recycleman  did not need to act at, but a practical "disability" he dealt with through personal experience. This was his heroic quality.

His antics at games were the topic of conversation at many games: an online Campus Times article entitled "Red Wings Defrosted and ready to play from March 2001 (a game I think I worked) tells us "Recycle Man leads the cheers in the stands and often from atop the Red Wings dugout while throwing favors in to the crowd and encouraging fans to recycle." The same post also reminds of another common occurrence at games, as " fans are usually entertained by the Red Wings unofficial mascot Super Wasteman, formerly known as Recycle Man. Recycle Man leads the cheers in the stands."

Ogden, August 9, 2010.
In previous incarnation he was called Wasteman, which clearly was not the most enlightened name for a superhero, Super Wasteman and eventually Recycleman . In truth Recycleman was not so much a unique "character," as an extension of the only man to have ever portrayed him, Ogden Whitehead. Unlike Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker, Ogden was in many ways a more interesting character, than his caped persona. tracking down modern appearances of either Recycleman (a pseudonym likely trademarked by the company that sponsored him--and has not been used since his abrupt departure from the team) or Ogden have been difficult to come by online. Pictures of Ogden in costume have proved even more challenge to find. During the heyday of his tenure (this was while I worked there, so I'll call it a "heyday"), both my character and he were part of the team's baseball card set. I recall his giving me a number of his cards (as employees we rarely received any promotional items for free), which I gave to my own children at the time because "Recycleman was cool."

The few more recent articles I did come across mentioning Ogden gave little indication as to his current whereabouts, though following his tenure as assistant director of administration for the club, they do suggest that he stayed with his passion. In 2008, Ogden appeared at the Eastern Regional Black Deaf Advocates Night of The Stars. In 2010, according to a short article on Cincinnati.com, Ogden Whitehead signed the National Anthem and performed the 7th Inning Stretch at The Hearing Speech and Deaf Center of Greater Cincinnati's first "Dummy" Hoy Night on August 9, 2010, at a Red's game.

After that, the trail on Ogden "Wasteman Super Wasteman Recycleman" Whitehead goes very cold: I knew Ogden had family in Buffalo, where I suspect he may have relocated briefly, but I could find nothing to verify his ever having lived there. I searched online obituaries (morbid, I know) and found nothing conclusive. Like old heroes and superheroes, I and other Red Wings fans have only our memeories, htough it is unfortuanet that there are no indicators at the park he wonce prowled, cheering the team he loved, that he had ever even existed.

3 comments:

Teddy said...

I was a youngin when he was around, but I remember him clearly. He was awesome! Great article.

Barb Carges said...

I remember and still miss him. I asked someone from WM where he was about a year after he left and they said that they believed that he went to Albany. Where ever he is I hope that he is well and doing fine.

Anonymous said...

Ogden "Recycleman" Whitehead is now living in Bear, DE. I see him on occasion and have his contact information if anyone is interested.