Tuesday, April 26, 2011

30 for 30

In honor of my 30th Birthday, I'm writing a quick recap of 30 of my most memorable mascot moments.  I 'm including a wide range of events, games and memories that really stand out.  I'm sure that some memorable ones will be left out, but there is no way to include them all.  They will also be done by character, not by most memorable for me.  It's impossible to count down from 30 to 1 for me, they've all been equally important in one way or another.


1.  My senior year in 2003, I had the honor of performing at the UCA Mascot Nationals in Orlando, FL.  This was my second trip to UCA Nationals and first year performing.  The previous year, our program placed 12th and everyone left pretty disappointed.  It was in 2003, in my opinion that the Sparty mascot program started living up to it's potential in the arena of comparison to other top collegiate mascot programs.   It was a true team effort and the "aha" moment of recognizing what it took to win at that level.  I placed 5th my senior year, but haven't been prouder of many things.

Here's the 2002/3 "Motown" Skit

Never been prouder of finishing 5th.
2.  I left/graduated from the Sparty Mascot program in 2003, Sparty won his first of his 3 National Championships in 2004.  Addition by subtraction right?  Just kidding.  I really felt a part of this championship because of the ground work laid the previous two years.  It helps when it was your close friend who won it as well.  Getting the phone call that Sparty had won was one I'll never forget.

Here's the Entry Video from 2004:

The "Precious"

3.  My first year at UCA Mascot Camp in Milwaukee.  This event opened my eyes to just how much fun being a collegiate mascot could possibly be.  Between the road-trip there and back from East Lansing and all the shenanigans in-between, I couldn't imagine a more fun time as a young college kid.  I won't post many of the traditions because that would take away from the novelty of them.  But it was a good time had by all.

Some Big Ten mascots doing the final field walk in 2001.
4.  The first game that came to mind for how cool it was to do, was the 2001 MSU vs. UM football game.  I did the first half and got to run out of the tunnel pre-game and then was on the field for this.  I was in the dogpile at somepoint.  Most exciting sports moment for me so far.

5.  The creation of Willy the Wolverine.  Talking to some former Spartys awhile back, we started laughing that after all we accomplished in our time, we live on the most in the "mascot" we made for the University of Michigan.  "Willy".  Michigan lives by the theory that they're too good for a "mascot" on the field.  Needless to say, that didn't sit well with a lot of other Big Ten mascots.  The Sparty's decided to take action.  Willy was created, tackled at a couple games versus UofM and promptly banned from the field.  The best reactions were the Michigan "fans" wondering why Sparty was beating up their mascot and not being smart enough to realize it was a stooge.  Fast forward a couple of years later and Willy made his appearance on HBO during a special on mascots that filmed at UCA Camp in Milwaukee.  Needless to say, Willy got banned from camp as well.

Go to the :30 second mark for elusive footage of Willy and the segment that got him banned.

Willy out for the count.
Willy 2.0

Here is the original "Fake" Willy, manned by Erik Stubenvoll.  This photo was in the Detroit Free Press and was taken about 5 minutes after I had laid him out flat in front of 75,000 people.

6.  My senior year I was fortunate to draw the first round tournament games for Men's Basketball.  I was even luckier that the first round was to be played in Tampa Bay.  It was even better after the team won the first round game and extended our stay in Florida by an extra 2 days.  This meant more free time.  As a college kid from cold Michigan, Tampa was warm sunny and fun.  Even better, the director of the Michigan State Band worked out a deal with George Steinbrenner to get the MSU band to play the anthem and 7th inning stretch at a Yankees spring training game.  The Yankees showed us great hospitality by letting us on the field, meeting a couple players and giving all of us $20 in Yankee bucks to spend at the game.  It was just a surreal sports weekend.

MSU Band doing the Anthem at Legends Field..

Off Day at the Beach in Tampa - Tough Life

7.  Michigan State vs. Wisconsin Football Game.  Halloween weekend in Madison.  If you've ever experienced a Halloween in Madison, you know what I'm talking about.  Combine that with two other Spartys, all your high school friends and you have a great combination.  I am overdue on thanking Johnny and Erik for driving all the way back to East Lansing on Sunday.  I slept the entire way back after demolishing two full dinner plates at Perkins.

Halloween Weekend in Madison.  Giddy up.

8.  Andy T's.  One of the events I remember most about college.  The Spartys decided to continue our process of reaching out to the cheerleaders and dancers and create a unified front of Spartan sideline entertainment.  This not only helped with skits and camraderie amongst the spirit squads, but it was a blast as well.  Andy T.'s is a pumpkin patch about 25 miles outside of East Lansing that you can rent out for parties, hay-rides, bonfires, etc...  We rented it out and had a blast.  I know that for at least the next 6 or 7 years this tradition has carried on as a way to unite the cheerleaders, dancers and mascots.  It's commonplace now, but in our days there was little tradition amongst the squads.  This was a way to bridge that gap.

Andy T. with members of the 2002 - 2003 Dance Team.

The crowning of the "Booty Shake" competition.  Note Andy T. and a certain sombrero.
9.  Graduation.  I was able to finally let classmates, friends, etc... know that I was Sparty.  I wrote Sparty on my cap when I graduated and it was priceless to see people's looks when they found out after knowing me for 4 years that I had been the one in the suit.  Plus, I was happy to be done with school.


10.  Being selected as a JJ Jumper was a huge thrill because this meant that my career as a professional mascot had begun and I had a job out of college.  It was my first professional audition and my first time "mascotting" for a paycheck.  It was at this moment that I started understanding the business side of being a mascot.

11.  After training in Indianapolis, I headed to the East Coast to attend a friends wedding.  It so happened that on the flight out to the East Coast, I had a seat next to Dave Raymond and got to sit down and get to know him for the first time.  It was just a funny coincidence that led to many opportunities down the road.

Dave Raymond wants you to tickle him.

12.  My performance highlight as JJ Jumper was definitely the 2004 Final Four in San Antonio.  Between working the fan-fest with the 4 schools, partying on the Riverwalk, having John Salley emcee a bull-riding contest, getting to attend the gala which honored Jud Heathcote and attending the Championship game, it was definitely a week to remember.
Celebrating JJ's Birthday with a fan.

JJ's not a frog, but here's a picture of him hopping.

John Salley, Monster.com mascot, some college characters and JJ Jumper.


13.  I distinctly remember my in-costume interview for the Delmarva Shorebirds.  I was flown to Philadelphia and interviewed by Dave Raymond, Steve Yaros and Frank Miceli in the Spectrum.  It was my first experience in an REG suit and I was amazed at the movement of it and the view from the neck.  I had a sit-down interview and an in-costume interview and then offered the job a few days later.

14.  The Jason Fransz incident.  I don't have pictures big enough to post, but I do have a story.  Sherman would make his entrance onto the field on his ATV during Mid-1, drive around and toss a couple rubber chickens into the crowd and then make his way off.  During the first inning there were two outs and then a simple liner and a easy toss to first.  It was a definite out.  So I had my assistant open the gates and out I went on my ATV to toss rubber chickens.  It wasn't until I had gotten almost all the way around to 3rd base before I realized that Fransz had dropped the ball and the game was still being played.  I don't think I've ever been more embarrased.

Thanks for dropping the ball, Jason.

15.  Being Michael Phelps Boss.  One event I really regret not getting pictures of was when Michael Phelps came to Delmarva to "discuss" his mistake at a Shorebirds game.  Rewind a couple of months and Phelps had been busted with a DUI in Delmarva when he was down partying with some friends from Baltimore.  Now, as part of his community service, he had to do some public speaking engagements.  This was in 2005, so he was an Olympic athlete, but his was before he had set his record of 8 Gold Medals.  Seeing as how this was the minors, I was not only the mascot, but in charge of game entertainment and scripting everything out.  I was put in charge of handling Phelps.  He showed up and acted like someone who had to be there, he acted like what he was, a 19 or 20 year old doing community service.  On our way up to the radio booth, I cracked a joke to him, asked him what it was like having a Spartan telling him what to do.(He was enrolled at UofM at the time)  He just laughed and said "Oh, you're a Sparty"  I responded to him, "Damn straight, I'm a Spartan".  When the game started, I had Sherman present him with 8 gold medals during the pre-game ceremony and put them around his neck.  So, in a way, I was the first person to ever put 8 medals around the neck of Michael Phelps.

Hey SI, a Class A Mascot was way ahead of you on this shot.

 16.  Notre Dame Norbie.  I formed a great relationship with the old Director of Community Relations, Norb Sadilek.  Being such a young kid, it was always nice to talk to Norb, who was an older guy about life and especially talking trash to him about his beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  He always had time to listen and really helped me keep my wits about living paycheck to paycheck and working for peanuts at the Class A level.

This is me, dressed as Norb. I then proceeded to walk behind him the entire pre-game.


17.  Parker's Very First Intro.  All the work was done, the helicopter entrance was planned, skits had been practiced and everyone had been prepped.  It was a massive undertaking to get everything done correctly.  So what happens on Opening Day?  Torrential downpours.  The helicopter can't land on the field due to the rain & tarp.  So we improvise, I get a police escort to Grizzlies Stadium (now The Chuk), come out on an ATV and the rest is history.  Did you know that a documentary movie was made about Parker and myself?  It actually features footage from the rained out Opening Night and some of the planning that went into Parker.  There's some video on this link of the very first time I laid eyes on the Parker suit.  http://www.funforhiremovie.com/parkerpage.html

These are the three mascots and performers highlighted in the documentary.

18.  One of the years for Parker's intro we decided he should parachute into the stadium.  It was a blast getting that all set up.  Here is some amateur footage of it.

19.  One of the perks of being a mascot is getting to travel around and perform at other stadiums.  When I was Parker, I had the opportunity to go to Tampa Bay for Raymond's B-day party and spend a few days in Florida watching baseball and performing.  It was a great way to meet some other mascots and help build up the rep for Parker amongst other professionals.

20.  It was during December of 2007 that I was notified that Parker had been named Best Mascot in the Country for 2007.  We hadn't been aware of the nomination, so it had come as a pleasant surprise that all the hard work we'd done in establishing the character was starting to show.

21.  Mascot Wrestling.  We did this promo on the basis of knowing it's hilarious to see mascots wrestling, no matter what.  This promo was a culmination of the five years I'd spent developing relationships and character branding and really was an eye-opener as to what's possible when your main mission is fun.  The best part of this video is the take-out of Derek Franks at the 2:28 mark, who sold the stiff arm better than any professional wrestler could've.  Enjoy!

22.  Parker vs. The Phillie Phanatic.  One of my most memorable nights as a performer.  We used the notoriety of The Phillie Phanatic to leverage how good we knew Parker was.  It really developed Parker a rep amongst other teams and showed our fans that their own mascot stacked up against the best.  It was a great show, all the way from pre-game to the in-game competition between us.  We called it "The Best Mascot in Minor League Baseball vs. The Best Mascot in Major League Baseball".

What a night!
23.  Bobblehead Underwear Day.  Parker had become such an icon in five years, that we could get away with giving away a bobblehead of Parker in his undies, which is an image inspired by the Evolution of Dance Skit.  Check out the pic and video for further clarification.

24.  "I Hate the OffSeason, Seasons 1 & 2"  At the peak of creativity and teamwork for the Grizzlies, we had a weekly off-season show highlighting Parker and some of our off-season initiatives.  It was such a success that it was widely copied throughout professional sports.  Some of the videos were direct rip-offs, but it was still a compliment that other teams copied it.  Here are three of my favorite episodes.

25.  The 2010 Triple A All-Star Game in Lehigh Valley.  I was fortunate enough to get to work the All-Star Game as Parker and a Drag King.  It was exciting to get Parker on the MLB Network.  We did a great promotion with the grounds crew of Lehigh Valley.  This is the hype video we made for it.

26.  Dan Rohn.  The three most fun years I've had as a mascot are a direct result of Dan Rohn.  For those of you who don't know who Dan is, he has been a minor-league manager for years and years.  He's also from Michigan.  He is one of the nicest guys I've had the pleasure of getting to know in baseball.  He is a teller of tales and lover of fun.  From my standpoint, he was great to work with.  Always willing to chat after games and come out with the staff after them.  We forged a great friendship.  He would routinely steal my ATV key and make me push the ATV off the field before giving it back.  Our prank wars culminated at the end of every season.  One year he dumped buckets of water on me after having players tackle me.  The next year he and some players had me hog-tied and drug off the field by the Groundskeeper.  One of the years I had him thinking he was going to jail and the next year I pulled a legendary clubhouse prank.  Here are some of my favorite photos of "Rohny".

Celebrating Opening Day together.  He slapped me about 15 seconds later.

Here's Rohny stealing a base.

Here's Rohny mid-toss.

Here's the end result.  Note Parker on the dugout cheering wildly.

27.  Mascotting the perfect game.  It was July 4th, 2009.  I had a pre-game entrance, 4 skits, a Drag King Routine and post-game autographs.  They all went off perfectly.  Thus, the perfect game.

28.  Parker is named "Best Mascot of the Decade".  This past fall, GameOps.com named Parker one of 3 "Best Mascots of the Decade".  It was bittersweet because I had been restructured out of my job and I found it interesting that the Grizzlies never made it public.  Either way, it was a huge honor and nice to be considered among the best of the best. 

The Best of the Decade Honorees.

29.  Parker Highlight Videos.  Our old Director of Entertainment would put together an end of the year highlight videos that recapped all the Parker highlights of the season.  They were great fun and really showcased what an entire season of mascotting entailed.  Here's my favorite one.


30.  My MLB debut.  What a day and experience.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

First MLB Homestand Recap

My last blog was February 21st.  A lot has happened since then.  Moving, New Job, Pregnant wife, etc...
But the focus here is going to be a recap of my first homestand as an MLB mascot and the comparisons that I can draw after seven years in Minor League Baseball.

I know it's cliche...but the trick really is to dance like no one's watching.

Since I started on March 16th and Opening Day was on March 31st, I had a whopping 15 days to learn a new staff, new PA person, new music guy, etc...  That's one of the first things that stood out to me at the MLB level is just how specific people's jobs are.  Gone are the days that the person running the music was a marketing intern that also did ticket sales and PR appearances on the side.  In MLB, the music guy is the music guy.  The mascot is the mascot.  The tickets sales department just sells tickets.  You get my drift. 

In my minor league days we would have our production "Channel 8" meeting approximately 3 or 4 hours before game time, due to the necessity of working gates, handing out promo material, handling parades, etc...also because our staff wanted to make sure that things were done the right way.  In MLB we have our production meeting 1.5 hours before first pitch.  Our MiLB meetings would have about 5 or 6 of us, my first MLB pre-game production meeting had 36.  There are so many different things I need to learn about production at this level.  Things such as High 1, High 3, Low 1, Low 3, intro graphics, timing and the sheer amount of production that goes into a show that highlights the world's largest outdoor HD Board.  Don't get me wrong, the mascot is important to the Royals, but picking your spots and getting maximum exposure at this level involves a lot more people and I quickly learned that means being a lot more efficient in communication.

During the games it was obvious to me just how family friendly the personality of the character was.  The past seven years I've been an edgy performer with a big belly and a carefree attitude.  Here, I am facing a crowd that for the past 15 years has seen a mascot that didn't take many risks.  It'll be a process of working in those risks at the appropriate times and begin to shift the mindset of what the fans and management can expect on a nightly basis from the character.  With that being said, I don't plan on abandoning all the hard work put in by my predecessors, I'd be a fool to do so.  The reception I've gotten at all the events around KC has really shown me that the character is a hit.  My challenge and goal is to make the character more well known outside of KC, while at the same time growing the base of fans in KC as well.

Another glaring difference is the way my timing/communication is done.  I wear an earpiece like a lot of newscasters and security people wear on the inside that allow the producer to talk to me during skits and crowd work and allows my assistant to help me navigate through crowds of fans and keep me abreast of where the game is at.  It took a couple of games to get used to, but I'm becoming a fan of the increased communication. 

Getting the crowd involved at this level is a completely different animal than at the minor league level.  First off, the stadium is just so big that you can only really get 4 or 5 sections paying attention to improv crowd work.  Secondly, there are a lot more baseball purists at this level who just want the mascot out of the way so they can watch the game.  I literally have to get out of the way of these fans during every play and work in-between plays.  It's proving to be difficult.  I come from the mindset where every fan is important to the survival of the franchise and I want to keep it this way.  I'll find ways to get around this, but it's going to take time.

I'm also finding I have more energy during the games, due in large part to being able to just focus on mascotting and the creative side of it and not worrying about 25 other things during a game.  It's really refreshing.  I truly believe that anyone who is successful in Minor League Baseball for 7+ years can do anything.  While I miss MiLB, this is a great challenge for me and I constantly remind myself of how lucky I am to still be doing what I love to do.  Getting that taken away from me at my last job was tough, but it has solidified my ideology in the power of fun and the process of chasing your goals.  I'm a passionate person when it comes to this type of work and I know that is one of the foundations for my sucesses.

As I look forward to the next homestand and the rest of the season, I'm constantly reminding myself to keep learning.  Just because I had great success at the Minor League level, I need to adapt to be successful at the MLB level.  I feel that as long as I'm learning and making daily progress towards my goals, those goals will be reached.  It's the only way I know how to do it.