Thursday, November 14, 2013

Minor League Mascot Memories, Part 1

In a past lifetime, fifteen years ago now, I was a professional minor league baseball mascot. Even now, long after my "retirement," it is odd to write about. The challenge for me remains not wanting to violate the unwritten code that came along with the position. When I was a working character, I took my job very seriously, and as a result, was proud to be told I did a much more than adequate job of it. Part and parcel of being a professional  mascot (unless you are one of the few touring characters that are permitted to do so) is not communicating verbally with anyone (fans, handlers, or staff--within earshot of fans) while performing. Other than family and close friends, I rarely talked about the role outside of the stadium.Even now, as I sit here typing many years removed from the experience, I am uncomfortable exposing myself to the three people who actually read these posts. After so much time has passed, it does, however, feel good to put "pen to paper" and reflect on the experience. In the final analysis, I was a serious young(-ish) person, in an over-sized fur suit, who walked away form my time with many memories...

Gifted to me at home plate (in costume) at my
final game, the last of the 2003 season.
Most folks working in fur suits across the country on any given day, whether at restaurant chains, college sporting events, or for minor league teams, are employees or volunteers who (either by choice or via short straw) end up sweating out a few periods, innings or appearances as a character. It is a way "in" for many, and at the professional level it often gives the eager upstart the opportunity to demonstrate his or her motivation to achieve. In the years preceding my assumption of the regular role of my character, there had been many interns, part timers, freelancers and grand-kids of the few full-time team employees playing the character who filled in.

In the end, I performed as the character for three full seasons of home games (over 200), as well as at numerous public appearances. On the rare game days I could not work, or at appearances that were too unappealing, I was always concerned that the person filling my place would do a good job. Truth is, most people didn't know the difference. But, I did (and those who were season ticket holders or ballpark regulars, did, too). Nearly all characters have a built-in fan base and, short of knocking over young fans or using expletives, there was very little one could do to ameliorate that affection. I always sought to increase it through good performances, and working for (what was at the time) a team that did not play well on the field, this was a significant role with the team, or at least I'd tell myself that as motivation to perform well.

Original costume care direction that came with the
new suit I wore for all three seasons.
Like many interesting and unique experiences (as well as being a common theme in my life), this was an opportunity I very much fell into. At the time, I was working as a consultant teacher at one of the local Board of Cooperative Educational Services schools. While not very professionally rewarding, it was a "teaching job" that did not have most of the responsibilities of a "real" teacher such as grading homework, staying after school for student events, and it provided quite a bit of down time (I didn't have a traditional classroom) for sitting at my desk or computer. I was, however, responsible for popping into a number of vocational classes and working with trade teachers on implementing academic content into their courses.

One such program I worked with was a business class, and one day after a particularly good lesson, the teacher, Frank, asked if I would be interested in earning some extra money. Frank then shared with me that after his own time in college as a volunteer mascot, he had been freelancing from time to time as a professional mascot with a local team. That team was looking for an actor to fill the role for the upcoming season. He had done quite a bit of appearance work for them but had tired of the day-to-day, game-to-game grind of mascoting and had been asked to think of anyone who might be interested. For whatever reason, it occurred to him that I might be good at it, so was gauging my interest.

Two days later, I picked up a large duffle bag at the organization's front desk. Inside the bag along with directions for care of the costume and suggestions for performer dressing, was an over-sized plastic mold head, foam torso with arms and a fur suit costume. I was directed to return two days later with a routine. This would be my try out--in costume--and as someone who had never really performed in front of anyone with the spotlight on them (not to mention dance and clown), I thought to myself, "What the hell are you thinking?"

To Be Continued...

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