What You Can Learn from Sports Mascots

They’re silly, they’re sweaty—and they’re surprisingly smart

If there’s one essential fashion tip to be gleaned from the flamboyant world of professional sports mascots—you know, the slapstick San Diego Chicken or the green and goofy Phillie Phanatic—it is this: wear a cup. In Yes, It’s Hot In Here: Adventures in the Weird, Woolly World of Sports Mascots (out today)ESPN.com columnist AJ Mass charts the history and legends of sports mascots, including vivid, outlandish tales of his own tour of duty as Mr. Met between 1994 and 1997.

Here, Mass reveals what motivates a man to don a sweaty animal suit every day—and the hard-work lessons you can learn from the guys who do.

Men’s Health: This is a book full of amazing sports history and stories most fans wouldn’t even think to ask. What are the origins of the book for you? 

AJ Mass: I don’t know if I would’ve come up with the idea for writing this book had I not had the first-hand experience of what it’s like to be inside one of those costumes. The mascot world is a different kind of job than any other job I can think of. The mascot exists in this middle-ground area; the fans see us as part of the team and the team sees us as part of the fans. We’re the only person who has a leg in both worlds. That makes it unique.

MH: Theme park characters are the closest equivalent we can think of. But that’s not quite right, is it? 

Mass: In theme parks, there’s almost a wink and a nod from the parents. It’s like the Mall Santa situation: We know it’s all make-believe, but we won’t spoil it for the kids. With mascots, the grown-ups buy in, too—in both positive and negative ways. The little kids come at you for a hug, but you’ve also got the drunk fan from out of town who’s angry that his team is losing and wants to take it out on you.

MH: Bottom line: Sports mascots are about ticket sales and merchandising, right? 

Mass: Today, yes, it’s more of a financial cash cow, if you will. It’s a marketing tool. A lot of teams see it only in that regard: How much money can we get out of this? But you also have to have a reliable person in that costume. Some of the teams are happy to just put the “intern of the week” in the costume and send him out there, but would you actually let the intern make trades for you or handle payroll or do press relations? Being a team mascot is a big responsibility. It’s about playing a role, building good will, and giving the fans a good time.

MH: Baseball is a superstitious game. Does the mascot have anything to do with that?

Mass: That’s where a lot of the mascots came from in the early days. A player comes up to bat, sees a small kid in the stands that’s smiling at him or something, the guy gets a nice single, and he wants the same kid at the park the next day. The lucky charm. The mascot. The kid’s obviously good luck, right? Mascots, in the old days, were witches. That’s where the word “mascot” comes from. They could cast spells. They have these immense powers. There’s nothing essential to the game in having a mascot, but there may be some superstitious power there.

MH: For the Mets, it’s not having Mr. Met, necessarily—it’s having you. They’ve not been doing so well since you left the team.

Mass: No comment! [Laughs] I’m a little over-the-hill for that job now. It’s a young man’s game, for sure.

MH: Yeah, you probably can’t live on minimum wage at your age.

Mass: It was a little better than that. By my fourth year, it was essentially a full-time job. But they wouldn’t give me health benefits, and that’s when the whole thing came crashing down. I was on the field more than their back-up catcher, and all I wanted was health insurance. They insisted I was only a seasonal employee, but they demanded I be there 24/7. You can’t have it both ways.

MH: So how hot is it inside that suit? 

Mass: I would say the Mr. Met suit was probably a good 30 to 40 degrees warmer than outdoors. You’d lose a good 8 to 10 pounds at a normal game, easy. It is hot in there. It really is. And you’re working, in baseball, a 16-day homestand sometimes. Sometimes double-headers. There’s no time limit. You don’t know how long you’ll be at work each day. It’s a serious job. You have to be almost as in shape as the ball players themselves.

MH: What was your worst day on the job as Mr. Met? 

Mass: Bat Day. Now you’ve taken these sugared up, prepubescent children who generally don’t have the greatest adult supervision, and you’ve armed them. With weapons. That are meant to hit the baseball. And when you’re Mr. Met, and your head is a baseball, you’re a perpetual target. Arming the people is always a bad idea.

MHDid Mr. Met wear a cup?

Mass: I never did. I probably should have.

MH: Do sports mascots have groupies? 

Mass: I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve certainly seen enough kids and their moms run down the ramp chasing after a mascot, so I know there is a lot of passion. But I was never propositioned. I’m not a member of the furry community or the plushy community, but I’m sure it’s happened. There’s someone for everybody. Isn’t that what they say?

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source by menshealth

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