Thursday, May 07, 2015

Minor League Mascot Memories, Part 3

Hanging with the indoor lax team's old mascot Lax-calibur during
one of the many Mascot Kickball games that would be held prior to
home games. I think my parents had brought the kids and took some pics.
Fan picture from 2002.
Time sure does fly! It's been over a decade now since I last laced up the over sized bird feet and worked the local minor league baseball stadium for cheers, hugs and the occasional hot dog. Though the subject doesn't come up frequently in conversation in my current "real" life, other than to suggest to students that I was at one point "a professional cheerleader," there are many moments during spring/summer that I fondly recall this unique work experience. When, after three complete seasons of working home games for the team, I walked away from the experience, I did so in much the same way I hope to when I am ready to retire from my teaching career: I placed my belongings from my locker into a backpack, said a few thank yous and goodbyes, and never looked back.

Unlike the way I envision my post-teaching days, however, I do return to my prior place of employ from time to time: I love going to the ball park to experience the Americana of minor league baseball. For a few years after I left the team, when I did make it to the stadium for a game, some of the ushers and team employees with whom I interacted regularly would exchange pleasantries with me. But, time soldiers on. Eventually, I was happy to once again be an anonymous fan in the stands, albeit one with a little more insight as to what goes on behind the curtain of the day-to-day entertainment side of minor league baseball.

The bobble-head of the character I
played for 3 seasons. I think this
was released in summer 2002, my second
 season. I remember that night at the park
was very well-attended, and I
signed oodles of the white boxes
 in which they were packaged.
Not many mementos of this time remain. This was long before regular folks had cell phones with cameras, and every moment of life was not yet documented incessantly with digital images. I also adhered strictly to the secret code of not allowing myself to be photographed with some aspect of the costume off, thereby exposing my "human side." There are no "head-off" photos with overly muscled torso and four fingered furry hands out there. As a result, the only images I have of my time as a minor league mascot are those that family and friends took during appearances or games, as well as the small amount of tchotchke and memorabilia that I managed to collect. Like most collectibles, such as comic books and trading cards, these things have little value beyond the experiences they represent.

Most of what I do have is thanks primarily to kind stadium ushers or team staff who worked the games and would acquire things for my kids, at the time, semi-regulars at home games. They even were lucky enough to get out on the field to change the bases during the seventh inning stretch a few times. The baseball organization was beyond wonderful at allowing my kids to be a small part of the work I did for them at games.

Cards I posed for (and would often give out at
appearances) during my tenure.
At the time I was mascoting, I was also teaching full-time at an urban charter school for which our annual evaluation was a portfolio of artifacts and student samples. While putting together lesson plans and worksheets, I also did my best to compile some choice artifacts from the stadium, too, a few of which appear in this post. Always nutty about organization, I also kept a binder with pages of detailed directions for certain goofy dances (the Macarena was never as easy as it looked in videos), as well as my evening schedules for between inning games and appearances. This was the very early days of the Internet, so I printed out and stored in binders any research I could collect online about the art of mascoting, much of it prepared by the actor who portrayed the Detroit Tigers mascots, Paws.

The "relationships" those who portray mascots for extensive periods of time (no disrespect intended to the interns who participate in the time honored experience of slipping into the fur suit out of necessity) one develops with fans despite brief, mute interactions can be powerful. After a while, season ticket holders become attuned to those movements and signature moves (thumbs up, pratfalls, etc.) that become associated with you and your interpretation of the character to the point that they know when it's you, or when it wasn't you the previous game. Among my fondest memories are quiet moments of acknowledgement from the team's fans I met along the way. Many children would come to the park with personal drawings or notes for the character which I would occasionally hang in my locker during the season for inspiration.

After sharing with the team brass that I would be stepping down at the conclusion of the 2003 season, I was honored to receive (in costume as the character, of course) the plaque to the right during the team's end-of-year awards. Given out at home plate prior to the final home game of the season, it was just the last of many kindnesses afforded me from an exemplary organization during my years of service.

Now that my own kids are much older and have less interest in mascots and the like, nearly all of the related collectibles have migrated to the attic with other memories. The three summers from 2001-2003 I spent at the ballpark performing at nearly every home game (I was told I had a remarkable attendance record--I hated to disappoint fans that came to expect me) now seem many worlds away.

Last home game of the 2002(?) season with fan favorite Howie Clark. Notice how
far digital photography has come! Not sure where Howie is now
(I think he was briefly with the Blue Jays after leaving the Red Wings, but he was
one heck of a nice guy.
For previously published posts, click the links below:
Minor League Mascot Memories, Part 2
Minor League Mascot Memories, Part 1

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