Occasionally at a baseball game, we can enjoy a brush with greatness.
And on rare occasions, we can assist those who are great. For me, this would be that day in 1990 when I had the pleasure of assisting the Famous Chicken with his act.
For this to make sense, you need to realize that I love mascots. We all have our guilty pleasures, our moments of shame.
For reasons I can’t fully comprehend I am drawn to the fuzzy costumed beings that roam the stands inspiring smiles. I am compelled to give them high-fives and when possible pose for a photo – or compel my kids to do so.
When my previous employer, The Flint Journal, created a mascot costume, the marketing types knew who would be the first volunteer. The costume was a giant rolled-up newspaper that I named “F.J. Scoop.”
And yes, inside the character is hotter than Busch Stadium Astroturf in August. Here’s an insider’s secret: The costumes come with a vest with long pockets that hold gel-like plastic strips that you stick in the freezer. You’ll still perspire enough to soak through your clothes, but it makes the heat tolerable for about 45 minutes.
My baseball buddies are aware of this attraction, and humor me by snapping photos. But they say my nadir was forcing them to snap a shot of me with Foto, the Fuji Film mascot at Comerica Park’s Photo Day in 2003.
So naturally, I hold a soft spot for our own Mr. Met. You might not realize it, but our baseball-headed hero was the first of the live action mascots to appear at games. I didn’t see him much in the 1970s – I blame M. Donald Grant and Dick Young. If those two could conspire to trade Tom Seaver, there’s no limit to the evil they could inflict upon us.
My buddy Bob recently tried to raise a ruckus over on the Baseball Truth discussion boards by relating how he took his kids to a park recently and they saw statues of Phil and Phyllis, two kids in colonial garb who were trotted out as Phillies mascots for a while during the 1970s. His kids remarked that they thought Phil and Phyllis were much better than Mr. Met.
Bob’s a teacher, so I was surprised he missed an obvious teachable moment.
The proper response is that the couple were soon jettisoned because they were in fact lousy mascots, violating all sorts of rules. Yes, like the responsibilities for fans we discussed last post, there are some basic responsibilities for mascots.
For the sake of Bob’s kids, let’s review.
1) Be a recognizable thing.
We know what Lou Seal of the Giants is supposed to be, as well as Dinger of the Rockies and even Billy of Marlins fame. Mr. Met of course is a guy with a cool baseball head. But what in the heck was Youppi, the embarrassment that no doubt contributed to the demise of the Expos? Existing as a Muppet reject on steroids is not the basis for suitable stadium entertainment.
2) Be funny.
The Philly Phanatic is an unidentifiable life form, but at least he brings a chuckle. He’s got that motor scooter thing that zips around the yard and he goofs around with players and umpires. He can enhance a game without upstaging the players. Bernie Brewer has his cool chalet and slide that he uses when a Brewers player hits a home run. Compare that to, say, Paws, the Tigers mascot who aimlessly wanders around Comerica Park for no apparent reason.
Zimmer's a mascot, right? I mean, what other purpose could he possibly serve?
3) Have a costume.
The Yankees once had a mascot called Dandy, but he didn’t last very long. They had another, called Don Zimmer, who was around for most of the 1990s. Dandy had a costume, Zimmer for some reason didn’t. He didn’t even wander around the stands, just kind of sat there in the dugout. Pedro went through a brief anti-mascot phase and threw Zimmer to the ground. Luckily he’s over that now.
Condi consults with Mr. Met on matters of state
4) Be a foreign policy expert.
Mr. Met has many skills, including some that we don’t dwell on a lot. But as you can see from this photo, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought out Mr. Met for his knowledge of world affairs. Now you know why the Mets host that International Week every year.
The Famous Chicken of course adheres to all these rules, making him the Willie Mays or Tom Seaver of the mascot world.
You can imagine my excitement when I learned that the Chicken would be performing in Rochester during the weekend that I was spending chronicling the life of Mickey Weston, a pitcher from the Flint area who had several cups of coffee, including one with the Mets in 1993.
Before the game I was introduced to the chicken’s alter ego, Ted Giannoulas, who looked a lot like Sonny Bono. We chatted a while, and he seemed like a really nice guy. I was going to ask him about the situation in the Middle East, but his time was short and I’m not a secretary of state.
During that game I abandoned the press box in favor of he photo bin, which was really just a section at the end of the dugout. Needless to say, I learned more about baseball that afternoon than I had in a previous lifetime of fandom.
About halfway through the game I heard a muffled “Dave!” and felt a poke in the back.
It was the Chicken, in full costume, holding a broom.
“When I get on the field, can you hand this to me?”
Can I? You know the scene in “Wayne’s World” when Alice Cooper invites Wayne and Garth to hang out back stage with the band? “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”
So at the appropriate time, the Chicken ran out the dugout steps, turned and said “OK” and I handed him the broom, a prop for one of his gags.
It was my brush with mascot greatness.