Behind the fur: A baseball mascot tells all

Illustration by Verónica Grech

By Jessica Palombo Gustafson

This person, a mascot performer for one of the top 25 teams in Minor League Baseball based on merchandise sales, requested anonymity because mascots are not supposed to publicly acknowledge who’s inside the suit.

Where do you appear besides ballgames?
We got invited to our first wedding this year. We do, by my estimate, the most mascot appearances in all of Minor League Baseball: over 500 a year — a 5K run, a school’s back-to-school night, a birthday party. It takes a small army to do all that, plus 70 home games: a rotation of seven people in the suit.

Why is it taboo to identify yourself?
People shouldn’t be able to identify you at the supermarket: “Oh, that’s Johnny over there. That’s so-and-so’s mascot.” You’re representing the team as a character. You’re not doing it to further yourself.

What are the job’s challenges?
Most mascots are exerting just as much energy as the 18 guys playing on the field. And they’re doing it under worse conditions: trying to keep their head on a swivel, making sure that they don’t kick toddlers.

Not only are you trying to entertain, you also have to be mindful that your center of gravity is off and that people could do the unexpected. Your vision is limited. It’s a billion degrees outside, and it’s a billion plus 20 in the suit.

“You have to be mindful that your center of gravity is off and that people could do the unexpected.”

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened while you were in costume?
I’ve had my crotch grabbed more times than I’m comfortable. But definitely the weirdest one: I was visiting one of the luxury suites — and this is probably my fourth or fifth game in baseball — and a little granny had had a little too much to drink. Not only was she curious if I was a guy or a girl, when we went to take a picture, she definitely wanted to probe my backside.

People fail to remember there is a person in there. Just because somebody’s wearing a costume doesn’t mean you can do something risqué. If you wouldn’t do that to any mild acquaintance in the middle of a mall, why are you doing that to somebody who’s just trying to do their job?

Amidst the hysteria over Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers mascot, do you feel pressure to be an internet phenomenon?
Yeah, you want to go for those cool moments, but you’re not doing it for Instagram. You’re doing it to entertain whoever’s right there at that moment. It’s only been 45 years since the San Diego Chicken debuted. He’s the godfather of everything — him and the Phillie Phanatic, who still runs a mascot boot camp in Pennsylvania.

In the age of social media, mascots are more visible, but I can’t imagine the day-to-day stuff has changed. You’re still out there entertaining, trying to be ridiculous and over the top.

When you’re in suit, it’s just turning your personality up to 10 — nothing really else to it. For most of us, what you see is who that is.

If you weren’t doing this job, what would you want to do instead?
I’m not an office person. I get paid to run around and act like a jackass. I have a job where I can go outside, be energetic, be fun, joke around with people, and just be myself. I don’t know what else I’d be doing.

Jessica Palombo Gustafson is news director for WJCT, the NPR station in Jacksonville, Florida.

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Originally published at expmag.com on August 28, 2019.

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