The players may get to take center stage every night, but anyone who's been to a Minor League ballgame knows that the mascot is the true star of the show. But which mascot is the star of stars, that shining example against which all other costumed characters should be judged?
Mascot Mania, a bracket-style tournament debuting today on MiLB.com, will, finally and definitively, answer this question once and for all. Voting for the first round of the tournament runs through May 29, and five more rounds will follow before the winner is declared on June 18.
This winner (whomever he, she or it may be) will emerge from a talent-laden field of 64 contenders, one comprised of mascots representing all leagues, levels of play, regions of the country and Major League affiliations. This eminently furry squadron of three score and four have already gained elite status due to their mere presence in the tournament, and over the coming days and weeks they will engage in matchups without precedent in the annals of all recorded history.
For where else will you see a spicy Japanese condiment (Vancouver's Chef Wasabi) battle a dog dressed like a train engineer (Round Rock's Spike), or a party-loving sea cow (Brevard County's Manny the Manatee) take on a bug-eyed freshwater crustacean (Hickory's Conrad the Crawdad)?
Truly, we are in uncharted waters.
The teams involved will no doubt campaign vociferously on behalf of their mascot, and most fans will probably go to the virtual voting booth with a few favorites already in mind. But MiLB.com, like Thomas Jefferson, believes that an informed electorate is the bulwark of democracy. Go to the bracket and simply click on each mascot's name to read an accompanying informational blurb, one that sheds light on his, her or its core beliefs and reasons for being.
Ask the expert
Any competitive event worth its salt needs a color commentator to shine some light on the action taking place, and in this case who better to provide an opinion than an actual mascot performer? Dave Deas, aka "Phinley" of the Clearwater Threshers, took the time to break down some of the best first-round matches and give his picks. In doing so, he'll provides plenty of debate fodder for mascot enthusiasts.
Boomer (Trenton Thunder) vs. Boomer (Williamsport Crosscutters): "In this contest, you've got to go with the weird, but Boomer vs. Boomer is weird vs. weird. I'll go with the Crosscutters, because the team even made some fake leaves to put in his hair. He literally looks crazy ... someone who just stumbled in from the woods."
Thunder (Lake Elsinore Storm) vs. Tipper (Visalia Rawhide): "Thunder, he's green like the [Phillie] Phanatic, and he's got that same attitude. He's really popular with the fans, and not afraid to create some havoc. He recently had his four-wheeler stolen, and people actually cared. I don't know if any other mascot would get media coverage for something like that, but Thunder is a real well-known personality. In Visalia, with Tipper, I'm not sure that there's the same buzz."
Hornsby (Tulsa Drillers) vs. Fang (Wisconsin Timber Rattlers): "Hornsby, he's the kind of character who will create moments outside of the ballpark -- he'll even skydive! Fang, I think he might scare some kids. I thought I was scary as a shark [mascot], but a giant snake? It's like he's the devil's messenger, tempting you with the forbidden fruit."
Chopper (Gwinnett Braves) vs. Marty Marauder (Bradenton Mauraders): Chopper's a lot of fun for everybody. He's got a giant tooth in front and a head that can spin 360 degrees. Marty's good, too, but mascots that look like people are tough. Kids don't understand why they can't talk."
And, finally, Deas compares his Phinley character to opponent Bolt of the Winston-Salem Dash. A biased opinion, surely, but expressed diplomatically:
"I really like how the Dash went outside the box with Bolt ... because what is a "Dash," and how do you embody speed? He looks like [superhero] the Flash and has lightning bolt ears -- he's really a cool character. But Phinley? He's the most well-known mascot in the Florida State League and is always out doing crazy stuff like para-sailing and jet-skiing. And the look! There aren't many sharks or fish out there that look cool, but Phinley pulls it off. Phinley will prevail."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog.