My life as a dog
The Monitor's Seth Stern dons a dog suit at mascot boot camp, where he learns to play charades and make his belly roll.
Scampering down the street, I lower my snout to the ground and sniff a fire hydrant.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
No, I'm not looking for a bathroom - though it wouldn't be out of character, given that I am dressed as a dalmatian.
As Scoop, the Monitor newshound, I'd reported for training at Mascot Boot Camp at the University of Delaware two days earlier, my tail wagging and paws held high.
I'm a big baseball fan with a photo album full of pictures of me posing with mascots at stadiums nationwide. This is my chance to prove I, too, can make it in the big leagues.
It isn't quite like spring training. Instead of push-ups and batting practice, I'm playing charades with large stuffed animals. But for someone with the dance moves of a wooden board, the thought of performing at a halftime show seems as daunting as a 96-mile-an-hour fastball.
Not to say mascots have it easy. The job is a mix of cheerleader, clown, cartoon character, and comedian. It's all physically taxing. A fellow trainee's dragon costume weighs 45 pounds. Aptly, his character's name is Heater.
Even in my lightweight costume, I'm sweating. Imagine a baseball stadium in August. Mascots say they can lose 10 pounds in a single game.
"People think you're just running around," says Michael Walsh, who portrays Rapidman for the Colorado Rapids soccer team. "They don't realize how hot it is, how much it can weigh, how ... in shape you have to be."
Victor Thomas, the dragon, says he'll hug 1,000 people and give 560 high-fives at a typical minor-league baseball game in Dayton, Ohio. Each season, fans spill an average of 35 beers on him and ask him to help with 16 marriage proposals.
Before arriving at boot camp, I rented a dog costume and practiced a few dance steps set to "Funkytown" in the newsroom. Sure, the editor-in-chief stared at me oddly. Writing with four paws proved nearly impossible. And looking down required scrunching up my shoulders like some sad hunchbacked puppy.
That's just a dog's life.
But my confidence really sinks as I suit up with my 15 fellow recruits, including Heater and Buddy, a purple bat from Louisville, Ky. They sport bigger heads and tails. Their muscles bulge and pot bellies roll. They bring signature moves like bouncing antlers and wormy head gyrations. All I have are a few faded spots and eyebrows drawn on with a magic marker.
It doesn't take long for me, the rookie, to earn my first demerit: going out in the hall half-dressed. "Never walk around in public without your head on," a veteran mascot warns. "It's either all in or all out."
In real life, the dragon is a special-education teacher, and the assorted other creatures include a professor, a mortgage broker, and a guy from Maine studying to be a funeral director. Only two are women.
Mr. Walsh has just graduated from the University of Colorado, where he was a mascot, and he now dreams of reaching the NBA. "My mom thinks it's crazy. My dad thought I'd grow out of it, but I still haven't," says Walsh, who fantasizes about parachuting in costume into a stadium on opening day.
I just want to make it through our first assignment: performing my skit in front of the class. I wag my tail. I do the robot. I hit my nose with a rolled up newspaper. The crowd claps politely.
Boot-camp organizer Dave Raymond, a former Philly Phanatic, gently tells me during the group critique that it's not easy choreographing a dance routine. On a scale from a high of 1 to a low of 5, one generous mascot gives me mostly 2s. Others are less kind. "Good work for a reporter," one writes.
Watching others strut, I realize a good routine is less about choosing the perfect dance step and more about what you do with your body. Most mascots don't speak - beyond an occasional "yo" - so they use their feet and hands to express emotions.