I"ve been a raccoon, a cookie, a grizzly bear, a red bear, a carrot, a man-eating plant and, most recently, a lemur. My "friends" are dogs. And polar bears, leopards, firebirds, dancing cartons of milk, leprechauns and loafs of bread. I"ve worked with the Panther only once and I"ve never met the Chicken. I"m a mascot, for hire, and I"m proud.
And yes, it IS hot. No matter the role, no matter the costume, the head has to come off about every 30 minutes so I can cool down and drink another couple bottles of water. People ask if the costume has a fan or some "air conditioning." It doesn"t. It is heavy and hot and you can"t see a thing. I"ve heard rumors that the costumes at Disney World have cooling systems, but I"ve never seen one myself. I think this is just a mascot myth. My regular mascot gig is as a back-up Rowdie for the Indianapolis Indians. For the record, Rowdie is a bear, not a dog. If you don"t believe me, check the Rowdie coloring book for his complete bio. I perform at one or two games during each homestand. Indians interns usually fill in for the rest. Shannon Nagle, who had been the primary bear since he was just a cub, is my hero for making Rowdie, well Ö rowdy! Before Shannon "retired," most season-ticket holders and ushers prided themselves on being able to guess who Rowdie was each night based on how we walked and what our hand gestures looked like. I bend my knees more and strut; Shannon was more Euclidean in her walk, with smaller paws, er, hands - but after four seasons most people can"t tell the difference. Now and then someone will grab my butt, or something else, to see if I"m the "Girl Rowdie" or "Boy Rowdie," forgetting there is actually a person inside the fur they are fondling. Depending on who it is, I don"t always mind - but it still amazes me that the fur gives people the license to grope. Two years ago, there was a bowling conference in town and one of the senior women"s leagues came to a game I was working. They wanted me to have a picture taken with them. During the time it took to focus the camera, no less than three ladies, old enough to be my grandmother and not entirely sober, copped a feel. Last season, a frat-boy got quite the surprise when he actually grabbed my crotch to prove to his friends that Rowdie is a girl. Most of the time though, it"s wonderful to be Rowdie. Rarely does a game go by without a parent introducing me to a child at his or her first game. For these kids especially, having a mascot to cheer for is what makes a baseball game a great memory. During the July 4 game, I met a whole family from New Zealand attending their first American game. I gave them hugs and high-fives and then took turns placing Rowdie"s super-size ballcap on their heads for pictures. As a theater major in college, I never would have guessed that the majority of my paid performances would be in the fur. A while ago, I was the popular lemur Zoboomafoo for the zoo"s opening of the new lemur exhibit. Prior to the appearance, they offered to loan me videotapes of lemurs to practice my moves. It was a nice gesture, but honestly, once you"re in the fur you don"t spend a lot of time trying to accurately reconstruct a specific animal"s characteristics. You bend your knees, bob your head and make big hand gestures - lots of high-fives, thumbs-up and finger-pointing. I admit that I did spend some time at the zoo"s lemur exhibit before I put the fur on that day, thinking that maybe I could learn something new. But once the fur is on, all you think about is surviving the heat. Recently, I went to a game as a spectator. It was over 90 degrees and I was scheduled to work the next night, which was supposed to be just as hot. Late in the game I said hello to Shannon. She immediately grabbed a Rowdie photo and scribbled a note for me on the back of it in pen (even between fellow mascots, once the head goes on the lips are sealed). It read, "START DRINKING WATER NOW!" If you want to be a mascot, there is no better advice.