Life as a mascot is no day at the park.Most days, I self-identify as a husband, a son and a brother. Other days, it’s as a guy who writes stuff about things, or as a half-knowledgeable observer of the sports I chronicle for a living.
But on this cool afternoon, as I dash onto the field during the halftime of the Moravian College–Ursinus College football game clad in floppy shoes and a gargantuan prosthetic head, I have one identity and one identity alone: that of Striker, a soccer-mad hound brimming with competitive fervor and a yen for what a detached bystander might call madcap antics.
I take my place among 12 comparably attired peers and wait for the cue from the 30-strong marching band assembled behind us. When the first brassy notes of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” sound, it dawns on me that I have reached a crossroads in my professional life.
How did I get here? By offering myself up as a lab rat for the Keystone Mascots Training Camp in Bethlehem, Pa. The camp, which runs for two days on and around Moravian’s campus, offers both working and would-be mascots a chance to hone their skills in character development, choreography and more. It promises to survey everything from health and liability concerns to mascot self-marketing. It also promises to celebrate the virtues of broad, family-friendly entertainment amid a sports climate wallowing in incivility.
My instructor is Erin Blank, a lifelong “mascoteer” who has worked for the Detroit Tigers (as Paws) and the Washington Capitals (on skates, as Winger). While Blank only occasionally dons a suit of faux fur and latex nowadays, she’s recognized as one of the mascot community’s pre-eminent trainers and costume designers. “I’m 41, so I’m beyond the age of a prime mascot,” she says. “But it gives me a great joy to share the information I’ve gained.” She ran four camps during 2010, including one in which the graduation performance crescendoed with a Silly String assault on WWE legend Sgt. Slaughter.
After regaling me with tales from her days toiling for minor-league baseball’s St. Paul Saints as “Mudonna T. Pig” (“a combination of Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell and the cop from Fargo: The idea was that she didn’t know she was a mascot or a pig”), Blank informs me that I’ll be inhabiting, literally, a character she once played: Striker, the Hanna-Barbera-ish mascot of 1994’s soccer World Cup. Glancing at the suit, I am at once intrigued and intimidated. Intrigued, because it will take some creativity to revitalize a dormant character. Intimidated, because the costume head appeared to be five times the size of my own.