The man behind the Phillie Phanatic
Tom Burgoyne makes green fur a marketing coup as pro sports' top mascot.
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The Phanatic is always sizing up the park, searching out his foil – an overly lively dance partner who can be pulled atop the dugout after the seventh inning, for instance, or a loudmouth who's telling him to sit down. "That's a person who wants to be in the act," Burgoyne observes. So the Phanatic will plop down next to him, or on him, maybe pull his shirt over the guy's face, or otherwise get in his space. Similarly, "I can sense a vibe" when someone wants to be left alone.Skip to next paragraph
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"You try to respond to what's given to you," he says, and then the fun begins. Will the umpire stand, stoic, while he gets belly-bumped? Will he walk away? Will the old-timer coach ignore the green creature circling him, or do a little dance in acknowledgment?
The Phanatic was designed by Harrison/Erickson (creators of Miss Piggy) when management noticed the San Diego Chicken and wanted something of its own. It's a rare species of bird said to have come to Philadelphia from the Galapagos Islands, a bird with the personality of an 8-year-old child who constantly gets into trouble but whom everyone loves because of his big heart. In search of an entertainer, not just window-dressing, the Phils allowed the creature wide creative berth. While some clubs bar their mascots from the field or dugout, the Phils don't. While some are expected to "brief" umpires in advance, Burgoyne isn't. The one requirement is that the humor be in good taste.
The role that he has played since 1993, now "fits like a glove," says Burgoyne, who was his high school mascot. He told the school paper at the time, jokingly, that what he wanted to be in 10 years was the Phillie Phanatic. Who knew?
After graduation from Drexel University in 1988, and eight months in the business world, he saw a blind ad "mascot wanted," and responded on a lark. At the audition, dancing in the 35-pound green fur suit, the belly distended by Hula Hoop-like hoops, he recalls "gasping for air, thinking 'this is terrible.' " The rest is history.
Since joining the team in 1989 as a backup to Dave Raymond, who originated the Phanatic role, he's donned the costume an estimated 5,000 times, for 81 home games a year and outside appearances. He's ready for anything, on-field and off, thanks to a large closet stuffed with costumes and props. Need a mini piano? Got it. An oversized barbell? A tuxedo? King Tut's headdress? No problem. And he boasts the only bathtub in Citizens Bank Park, a suggestion of his wife, who'd pulled her share of green fur from the drains at home.
Burgoyne is as talkative as his Phanatic is mute – an affable, full-time Phillies employee, team player, company man, and booster, who brushes off suggestions that the good-hearted-but-devilish character could ever cause trouble for management with those who don't share his sense of fun. He, as much as anyone, is smitten with this marketing concept made good.
As the baseball season opens – with time off rare, and sweltering 14-day home stands observed through the green mesh neck of his closest friend, his only air conditioning the occasional ice pack strapped to his chest – he laughs in anticipation. In his mind's eye he's already the great big kid who will kiss the pretty girls and goose the big shots.
"I feel like I'm reliving my childhood."