When news broke on Monday that Phinley had officially earned his Mascot Mania crown, the Threshers got a phone call. It was George Cretekos, the mayor of Clearwater, Florida.
"He was maybe more excited than I was," said Dave Deas, the man who has worn the Phinley costume for the past 12 years. "He was excited, he said it's good for the city. We have a good relationship with the mayor."
Phinley's decisive win was a sign of his popularity both in Florida and around the country as he officially edged Cedar Rapids mascot Mr. Shucks to claim the 2014 Mascot Mania championship, a title won in recent seasons by Columbus' LouSeal and Albuquerque's Orbit. Phinley, a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing shark, defeated 13 other finalists, including Savannah's Gnate the Gnat, who finished third, Trenton's Rookie, an actual, living dog who finished fourth, and Gwinnett's Chopper, who was one of two Triple-A mascots in the top 10.
"We're very excited, we've been trying the last three years, so third times a charm," said Deas. "We couldn't be happier, actually. We're really appreciative of the fans and the Phillies organization for supporting Phinley. After we were the only mascot left from the organization, they stepped up and supported us from top to bottom. It means a lot to us and Phinley -- we worked really hard and it's nice to get some recognition."
Mr. Shucks, a contender until the end, fell about just short on the final day. Still, the Kernels, Minnesota's Class A affiliate, were happy with the run.
"We want to thank our fans, we had a tremendous effort this year -- it was great to win the Midwest League championship and finish second to a great mascot in Clearwater," said Andrew Pantini, the Kernels' media and communications director. "We look forward to competing again next year and hopefully wining all."
For Deas, the win was both a crowning achievement and a relief. Being a mascot isn't easy, nor is campaigning for weeks.
"I thought, 'Thank God we can stop voting today,'" Deas laughed. "I can go home and actually sleep. But it's a lot of fun. We're all really excited -- all the other mascots all supported me. It was really cool. Cool experience."
Indeed, Phinley had help from other mascots in Philadelphia's organization, including the iconic Phillie Phanatic.
Phinley rebounded from a close defeat last year to LouSeal, a loss made even more unsettling considering Phinley is a shark, LouSeal is a seal and the loss came during Discovery's annually celebrated "Shark Week." This year, with "Shark Week" having just begun, it made the win only that much sweeter -- or bloodier, if you're a shark.
"It was tough last year losing to LouSeal -- that was rough going through after beating Double- and Triple-A teams and coming up just short, it was really tough," Deas said. "We were really focused and ready to go from the moment we started. We were ready to mobilize and get the word out to our fans and community. We were just focused on definitely not coming up short this year."
Mr. Shucks employed similar tactics, using social media and harnessing the power of the Twins' fan base for support.
"I think this year we upped our social media effort on Twitter, and that worked well," said Pantini. "It's our second year with the Twins affiliation, and we got the rest of the Twins affiliates and fans behind us on this one, it seemed we had a lot more social media support this year. We did a video and promoted it at our games, we really made a much more stronger effort to get it out social media-wise, and we happened to hit it at a good time in our schedule to promote it at the ballpark."
Deas said fans, beyond just casting votes, played a close role in this year's contest. Most of Phinley's social media campaigning came straight from an artistically talented Threshers season-ticket holder named Rusty Morris, who whipped up graphics and images that both promoted Phinley and played up current trends in social media.
"It started because of Comic-Con -- that was the first weekend -- so we had Phinley as Captain America in one, and we jumped on Comic-Con social media stuff with that," said Deas. "Then it went to [SyFy's] Sharknado the next week, we were watching and doing live tweets, and [Morris] is throwing pictures at me right and left. That was a huge part of it. We tried to think of any silly or fun pictures anyone might get a kick out of -- Game of Thrones and Uncle Sam saying, 'I want you to vote.' Fun social media stuff that people would get a kick out of. Jaws was last night for 'Shark Week,' with Mr. Shucks swimming at the surface -- it was a lot of fun. Rusty was a big part of the social media."
Clearwater even got Mayor Cretekos to film an endorsement video, while Deas admitted his girlfriend kept him on the campaign trail even when the nights were long and draining.
"Some nights I'd say, 'I'm over voting.' We did an appearance, we just ended an eight-game homestand, and my girlfriend would say, 'You're going to put the suit on and promote Phinley for an hour.'"
The persistence paid off in the form of a Mascot Mania title and a belt that will be heading to the Florida State League.