Commentary

A mascot's blood, sweat and fur

Originally Published: July 15, 2009
By Jim Caple | Page 2

It isn't easy being green. Or red. Or purple. Or whatever color Cleveland's mascot Slider is supposed to be.

Off Base

You think your job is tough? Try filling the size 18 shoes of a baseball mascot. Those dedicated birds, dinosaurs, swinging friars, moose and assorted other creatures brave suffocating 90-plus heat that leaves your feathers, fur and scales coated with sweat that is almost toxic within five minutes of walking onto the concourse. Then you have to maneuver around the narrow ballpark concourses even though you're 8 feet tall with a 76-inch waist, kids and adults alike are swarming you, and (despite your 10-inch-high eyeballs) your vision is restricted to what you can see through a bugle-shaped mouth.

Which helps explain why Slider dislocated his knee after falling off the fence during the 1995 playoffs.

"You're constantly climbing up chairs. Climbing up on dugouts, jumping up, jumping down," says Dan Kilday, who has been Slider's head trainer for 19 years. "You'll be running in the stands, and all of a sudden a seat will be down when all the others are up, and you take that right in the knee or wherever. The worst case is pulled ligaments. People hurt themselves shoveling the driveway, so you can imagine what can happen when your vision is impaired and you run into different obstacles that you're not prepared for. People think you're protected and padded, but you're just as liable to any injury."

I had the pleasure of hanging with several mascots at the All-Star Game festivities this week. Now, Ted Giannoulas is happy to talk about his career as the famous Chicken, but for some strange reason that no one has ever adequately explained to me, teams are reluctant to acknowledge that their mascots might actually be people wearing costumes. And since I would no more imply that sports mascots are humans wearing costumes than tell a 4-year-old that there is no Santa Claus, the people quoted in this story are not the actual mascots but merely (wink, wink) their agents, close friends, trainers, handlers and major domos who somehow know the job like the back of their green, webbed hands.

According to Tanner Leggett, the mascot coordinator for the Texas Rangers, big league mascots can earn anywhere from roughly a teacher's salary to six-figure incomes for the most popular (especially in the NBA). That may sound like a fair wage for waddling around and posing for photos, but it can take years of working your way up the evolutionary ladder from minor league grasshopper to big league elephant. Plus, it isn't cheap for a horse mascot to stay clean while performing daily in the 100-degree heat of a Texas summer.

"You can wash it, but you really want to deodorize it," Leggett says of mascot hygiene. "One mascot was talking about using lemon-scented or orange-scented ammonia. I'll use bleach. The head is its own thing. I'll use shaving cream on the outside and a Listerine-wash on the inside with a spray bottle, about 6-to-1 Listerine to water for the smell and the bacteria. Some people have it dry-cleaned."

Mustard stains, after all, can be tough to get out of a lion's mane.

The heat is also a major problem. Imagine walking across the Sahara in wool snow pants, several layers of heavy fleece and a deep-sea diving helmet, and you can get a slight idea of what it's like for a mascot. Only it's much worse.

Chris Bergstrom, the agent for Wally the Green Monster, says mascots need to limit themselves to an hour or less between breaks on hot days. Kilday says the key is hydration.

"Drink as much water as you can before you perform because that's going to come out as sweat when you perform," Kilday says. "And take breaks. You have to recondition your body to be able to take the heat, but then you get smug about it and it can creep up on you. The legs will be the first to go. There are a lot of people who pass out. They go beyond what their body can do. That's really a rookie mistake."

And passing out isn't even the worst part. No, the worst part is giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a horse or a bull or a moose.

"It's tricky," Kilday says. "You have to have a very large mouth."

But the hazards aren't restricted to the mascots. Fans and breakable objects are also at risk thanks to the largest rear ends in baseball since Rich Garces retired.

"This back here is a mascot wrecking ball. It will take out everything in its path," Kilday says while pointing to Slider's rear end. "You bend over to say, 'Hi, little Jimmy,' and you have just dragged mustard and hot dogs over five laps and knocked over 10 beers. Seriously, you're shaking hands here and down the row people are going, 'Hey, what's the deal?' You've started a tidal wave of beer coming towards them."

One final challenge for mascots: Finding a cap that fits the head of Mr. Met or Mr. Red Legs.

BOX-SCORE LINE OF THE WEEK

Since our last award, San Francisco reliever Bob Howry produced this head-scratching line: 0 IP, 1 H, 1R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1 HR. How does a pitcher face only one batter and allow a game-ending home run without it being earned? It isn't easy, but Howry did so because San Francisco's Pablo Sandoval dropped a foul popup, allowing Colby Rasmus another chance to swing, and the St. Louis outfielder then homered to end the game.

But this week's winner goes to his teammate, Jonathan Sanchez.

The Giants have Tim Lincecum, Randy Johnson, Matt Cain and Barry Zito in their rotation, which would make Sanchez about the least likely Giant to throw a no-hitter. And yet he did just that after spending the previous three weeks in the bullpen. The only reason he was starting is because Johnson went on the disabled list. And he came within one error of pitching a perfect game. His line:

9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 11 K

The no-hitter improved Sanchez's career record to 16-26 with a 5.07 ERA and one complete game.

TELL YOUR STATISTICS TO SHUT UP

• No further proof that the closer role is the most overrated in sports than the presence of Ryan Franklin in this year's All-Star Game. Franklin was a failed starter with a 51-67 career record and an ERA before becoming a "closer'' this season, but now he's an All-Star because he has 21 saves? Please. It just goes to show you how easy it is to find someone to fill the role.

• Now that baseball is successfully cutting down the length of the games (this year's All-Star Game lasted just 2:31, the shortest in two decades), can we also please have a moratorium on overblown All-Star game pre-game tributes? Honoring regular folks who do good work was a nice gesture but the pre-game show lasted an excruciating 50 minutes.

• Anaheim's Chone Figgins made his first All-Star team Tuesday. Barely. When Evan Longoria was knocked out due to an infection Tuesday morning, the American League wanted to replace him with Figgins but couldn't reach the Angels infielder. "[Angels PR director] Tim Mead called me, but I was asleep and didn't get the call," Figgins said. "So they got ahold of Garret Anderson and Garret called my uncle, who called my mom. Then my mom called my uncle and he knew that one of my good buddies, Keith Johnson, who coaches the A-ball team for the Angels, was staying with me because his team had an off day. So the Angels got ahold of him because he had to have his phone as a coach, and he ran in banging on my door, and I woke up in a panic that something happened." That was about 9:30 a.m. Figgins left the Los Angeles area at 12:30, and his flight landed in St. Louis just in time for him to arrive at the clubhouse about 10 minutes before the player introductions. He dressed quickly and made it to the foul line to hear his name called as an All-Star. He did not play in the game but said it was a great day anyway.

• Among the players on the World Team at Sunday's Futures Game was Mariners third-base prospect Alex Liddi, who grew up in San Remo, Italy. Liddi, 21, is hitting .355 with 20 home runs and 73 RBIs at Seattle's Class A High Desert affiliate. His father lived in America for awhile and passed a love of the game on to Alex. Liddi says there was a baseball league where he grew up, and he also played in the European academy that Major League Baseball runs. He hopes to reach the majors and spark a surge in baseball interest in Italy. "That would make baseball more popular in Italy and maybe get more people playing baseball," he said.

• While the new Busch Stadium has some nice qualities, it's somewhat disappointing. The biggest drawback is the inability to see the field from the concourse other than in the outfield. Being able to walk around the ballpark and see the field from almost every spot is pretty much a prerequisite for new ballparks.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com