The Wacky World of Mascots

April 7, 2009

By Greg Lindberg

Sports Journalism class at USF St. Petersburg

A furry green bird-looking creature dances the night away to “Shake Your Booty” in Philadelphia. A giant green fish does a jig with a father and son in Miami. What do these two creatures have in common? They’re both mascots.

Dave Raymond and John Routh have both played sports mascots for close to 30 years. In 1978, Raymond was hired by the Philadelphia Phillies to play the Phillie Phanatic, the team’s first-ever mascot. He held the job for 16 seasons. Routh portrayed the Florida Marlins’ mascot Billy from 1993 to 2002. Raymond said being a mascot can lighten up everyone around you.

“It’s kind of the opposite of being a mortician,” he said. “Nobody’s ever upset when you show up. Everyone is happy to see you.”

Raymond now runs the Raymond Entertainment Group, a company in Newark, Del. that trains people how to perform in a costume and creates actual characters. The company also holds a “Mascot Boot Camp” every year, according to its Web site.

Raymond said there are a few basic requirements to be a mascot.

“You’ve got to be able to move, dance, have rhythm and communicate non-verbally,” he said. “Once you get good at that, you can say anything in a costume without saying a word. Think of a mime.

“But it’s hard work, especially in the heat. It’ll keep you in physical shape.”

Raymond said the most rewarding part of the job is putting a smile on the faces of people with physical and mental challenges.

“It’s amazing how people respond,” he said.

Routh started his mascot career when fraternity brothers pushed him to audition to play Cocky, the University of South Carolina’s character. He said being a mascot can take a big toll on the body. He has broken fingers and toes, sprained ankles, fractured ribs and had five surgeries on his left knee.

“My motto was, ‘Sacrifice the body for the laughs,’” he said.

The injuries were a reason he gave up his full-time gig as a mascot. He now sells sports memorabilia on the Internet and occasionally trains up-and-coming performers.

Routh described how challenging it is to work for a losing team. Coming off their World Series win in 1997, the Marlins lost 108 games the following year. Routh recalled an afternoon game late in the season that had about 500 people in the stands.

“My attitude was to go out and have fun, and if I was having fun then people around me would have fun,” he said. “But when there’s nobody there to have fun with, it’s kind of difficult.”

Some costumes are over 7 feet tall and weigh up to 40 pounds. Performers usually see out of their costumes through a screen or small hole in the mouth or neck of the creature they portray. Raymond said most outfits can be adjusted with a range of three to four inches in height for a person to comfortably fit into the costume.

According to Raymond, there are more men than women in the profession. But a handful of females work in professional sports. A woman currently portrays the Chicago Blackhawks’ mascot, and Kelly Frank, a woman, played Raymond for the Tampa Bay Rays for five seasons.

Hockey and basketball are the most enjoyable sports for performers, Dave Raymond said. The mascot can actually go onto the ice during intermissions or onto the court during timeouts.

Dressing up as an animal can affect one’s personality. Routh talked about how he acted differently when he morphed into his role as an entertainer.

“The character is my personality,” he said. “But you kind of exaggerate everything. You do things that you want to do in costume. Even though you know everyone’s looking at you, you know you’re protected by that layer of costume.”

He said he always dances to music as a mascot but never does the boogie when he is not performing. He also feels he has become more shy as a person over time.

Raymond agreed.

“In the costume, you can be a wackjob,” he said. But acting professionally is required in more formal work settings.

Salaries for mascots vary greatly. Starting pay at the pro level for a full-time performer is about $20,000 a year, Routh said, and it goes up from there. The Phillie Phanatic now makes about $150,000 a year, while the person behind the Baltimore Orioles’ character The Bird is only paid $50 per game.

As a mascot, Raymond said he had “unlimited access” to players and coaches during his time in Philadelphia. He would play practical jokes on rookie players who were just coming up to the majors. The older players would tell him about a rookie’s quirks or personal habits, and he would tease the players about them during games.

He also built relationships with the umpires, so he knew what was acceptable to do during the action on the field. They would tell him the ground rules of various ballparks and where he could perform in the stadium.

After the Phillies won the National League pennant in 1993, Raymond received a championship ring – something he now wears proudly. He said it was uncommon for teams to give rings to their mascots at the time. Routh got a ring from the Marlins’ World Series championship in 1997 and also has rings from titles at the University of Miami when he played the Miami Maniac and Sebastian the Ibis from 1984 to 1992.

One thing is for sure about being a mascot, Raymond said.

“It certainly keeps you young.”