People love mascots. We just do. Sports aren’t sports without a furry creature goofing off on the sidelines; racing the bases; dunking after the first quarter; doing the worm at the 50-yard line during halftime. They’re animated tokens of team spirit. But who hides behind the grinning bears, felt pirates and mustangs with shag-carpet manes? Who are these men and women who—like Clark Kent shredding his fitted button-down—drop their identities and don funky-smelling bear suits? And why do we like our mascots so much?
It’s a particularly sunburned afternoon in July when I arrive at Dr Pepper Stadium in Frisco. I’m armed with a towel and the largest water bottle money can buy. Frisco’s beloved RoughRiders are playing the Springfield Cardinals, and I’ve scored the best and…let’s say most original seat in the house. Today I’m going to become a mascot. (It’s like Extreme Makeover, but instead of a Stella McCartney dress and snappy new ‘do, I’m getting a furry fat suit the size of a small planet.)
The RoughRiders actually have four mascots: Deuce and Daisy—a male and female pair of prairie dogs—Ted E Bear and Bull Moose. I have chosen Daisy.
“Drink as much water as you can and then drink some more,” I’m told by one of my three advisers, the usual mascots. I’m calling her “Heatstroke” to protect her real identity. Everyone on the crew goes by nicknames anyway. Heatstroke plays Ted E Bear, a cowboy-bear with a huge smile that she admits has scared off kids before. Ted is an homage to the RoughRider logo which resembles Teddy Roosevelt.
“Don’t do it with a sunburn, try to stay out of the sun.” Merc adds. He has played Bull Moose, the jock of the gang, for five years. He’s as cool as John Travolta in Grease, by far the most mobile of all the mascots and a favorite among middle-aged women.
“When you’re playing Daisy and Deuce you’re actually looking through a hole in their necks. Angle your head down and look at people’s feet so that the mascot’s face is looking at people. You’ll see feet approaching and that’s when you wave and offer high fives and stuff.” Thumper plays Deuce, the RoughRiders’ original mascot, a lovable orange prairie dog. He always wanted to be a mascot and after a season as an understudy, he is now a leading man/prairie dog. For three people with probably the oddest odd job in the world, they’re all actually very normal, enthusiastic and full of helpful advice. And they all love what they do.
“There are times I’m on the field and in the zone, and I get so into it…like last year, we had an All-Star Game, and I did this relay race as Bull Moose,” Merc describes. “I don’t think I’ve ever run so fast in a suit before.”
“I don’t think he’s ever run that fast as a person before,” Thumper chimes in.
“I was beating on my chest, getting in their faces, I was Bull Moose. It was awesome.”
Each mascot has a personality as unique as their individual autographs which every mascot-wearer must learn. Daisy, for example, has a special place in the hearts of her fans. Perhaps it’s the flower in her hair or her unassuming eyes, but kids who aren’t comfortable with the other mascots run to Daisy. The others don’t take it personally and, instead, find it cute.
“People would come up to her rather than us. Especially little girls, they feel comfortable with Daisy,” Merc says.
“Instead of some old man bear,” Heatstroke says. “They go wild for her.”
“And she loves to take pictures,” Thumper adds. “She’ll take pictures all day.”
Once I’ve learned the walk and the not-able-to-talk, it’s time to climb into character. First, there is a fat mesh orb which gives Daisy her pudgy belly. Then comes the furry outer layer. Daisy’s fur is more golden than Deuce’s and has a curly little perm (from that one time she was accidentally put in the dryer). The pudgy orb must be put inside the bodysuit and clipped in at the shoulders before the wearer steps in. One leg goes in at a time and then it’s heaved up around me and clipped at the neck. It’s like being swallowed by a furry python.
Daisy’s custom RoughRiders dress is pulled on next, her tail fitting neatly through the skirt and I push my shoes into Daisy’s oversized marshmallow sneakers. Her hands, which each have a squeaky ball hidden in a fingertip, are easily snapped on, and finally, a massive head with a bike helmet hidden inside is buckled around my chin and clipped to Daisy’s body in several places. The whole process takes about ten minutes, with help, and I’m finally free to explore my newly evolved form.
It’s instantly apparent that everyday actions like breathing, seeing and hearing are now fun challenges. I can turn my neck a total of three inches either way and the outside world is filtered through a mesh peephole the size of a DVD case. Daisy has a mincing little walk but my fashionable new shoes—with pom poms!—are so wide that it’s more of a mincing little waddle. And I might as well be wearing ear muffs.
But the other mascots are fully prepared to baby me through this entire process. “Once you get over the heat, it’s so much fun,” Thumper—now Deuce—assures me.
Merc, who makes a towering Bull Moose, agrees: “The hardest part is getting the costume on.” Underneath his too-big helmet he has secured a blue hand towel to his head with an industrial-sized rubber band. These are the juicy secrets one learns backstage.
Heads on, it’s time to greet the crowds gathered at the gate. Even backstage in the air conditioning, the costumes are as humid as the Everglades. But the second we’re out in the sunlight it’s so much worse. I can hardly see anything beyond my handler’s bright blue shoes. That’s another lesson I learned today—every mascot has a handler who speaks up for them because they can’t. The handler also recognizes when mascots are overwhelmed, which is indicated with hand signals. Handlers then whisk the mascot away from frenzied children and the occasional gropey adult.
Once I’ve got the hang of walking with pillows clamped on my feet, the suit starts to feel natural. I greet people while looking at their feet, squeak at them and pose for lots of pictures. Kids really do go wild, rushing the four of us. One of my most important lessons is not to high-five people—but let them high-five me. With my limited line of sight, I’d probably clobber someone in the face.
Mascots are celebrities, even if they aren’t exactly people. Daisy does love pictures and it’s easy to get the hang of her delicate movements: smoothing down her fur and her dress, waving at excited kids, giving dainty hugs and dancing around the gate. Twenty minutes in the sun goes by in a flash. We’re ushered onto the field as people continue to trickle in before being smuggled away backstage and finally freed from our heads for a water break. Sidenote: walking upstairs as a giant prairie dog is a great cardio workout that I’d recommend to Jane Fonda if she ever wants to make a comeback in the workout video arena.
A few chairs and a powerful fan await along with the first of many sweating water bottles. At this point, the other mascots and I let the films of sweat dry on our skin and, to be blunt, into the folds of the suit. It’s kind of sticky.
But shockingly, despite the headache or the distinctly wet feeling inside the pudgy orb, I feel really good. People are just genuinely happy to see us, kids shouting our names like we’re Disney Channel stars.
We tromp back out into the solidly hot air to tour around the bases and autograph posters and baseballs. While the national anthem is sung, we stand perfectly still at attention, so that every breath, every drop of sweat feels more laborious. Wind kicks up, breezing through the suit and nearly bringing me to joyful tears.
On the field, the crew suddenly gathers and leads us through a dance that I was in no way prepared for. But a mascot costume comes with superpowers. Not only are you able to consume elephantine amounts of water and still be dehydrated, you also become immune to embarrassment. No matter how dumb you look, it’s all part of the show. So even if you’re twerking against the grain in the group dance, it doesn’t matter. People love you anyway. Every mistake is part of the show.
I was in the costume for two hours before I gave the mantle back to the regular Daisy. I couldn’t make it the whole night though the rest of the mascots clip on their heads at 5 p.m. and don’t unmask until 11. Sometimes they even work two gigs in one day.
Yet, for all the difficulty, awkwardness and body odor, the people beneath the suits spend hours making people happy and are genuinely happy to do what they do.
“Deuce is always smiling,” Thumper explains. “No matter what kind of a day I’ve had, Deuce is always smiling.”
“Yeah, at first you feel like you’re dying. But then there will be that one kid,” Heatstroke says.
“Having to portray that character puts you in a good mindset,” Merc adds. “There have been days when I’ve wanted to throw the costume out my car window. But I put it on, go out there and then some kid goes crazy over Bull Moose and gives me a huge hug and suddenly I feel great.”
A mascot is the heart of the team, a huge, furry friend, and the people inside not only don’t have to be there, but are there purely for the fans. The joy they get out of the job comes from making people smile.
Perhaps I would have been more comfortable floating in the Choctaw Lazy River which overlooks the field. It’s summer in July, and I’m not insane. But I still had more fun hanging out with the mascots.