Minor Leagues need more 'idiots'

Vero Beach Sports Village to host mascot boot camp

Interacting with the crowd is one of the lessons at the boot camp. (Ken Weisenberger/MiLB.com)

By Benjamin Hill / MLB.com | September 29, 2010 4:37 PM ET

LAS VEGAS -- Minor League Baseball needs more professional idiots.

That, in a nutshell, is the message self-described "idiot" Dave Raymond delivered Wednesday morning at the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar. And Raymond knows of what he speaks, having elevated professional idiocy to new levels during the 16 years he spent as the Phillie Phanatic.

Raymond took the podium to announce that Vero Beach Sports Village, operated by Minor League Baseball, will host its first-ever Mascot Boot Camp in February. He has been running the boot camps for the better part of the last two decades through his company, the Raymond Entertainment Group, but the version taking place at Vero Beach will be unique in that it will be geared entirely toward Minor League Baseball mascots.

"There's no question that understanding your environment and the pace of your game is an important competency to have when you're in costume," Raymond said. "What's so cool about this is Minor League Baseball is stepping up to the plate, pardon the pun, and saying, 'Mascots are important to us, we want them to be great.'"

Indeed, Minor League teams have a strong economic incentive for their mascots to be great. Raymond cited a recent sports marketing study that found that only 17 percent of those in attendance at a Minor League game are actively interested in the action on the field.

"What's happening between the lines is only important to 17 percent, so the mascot is going to be an integral part of the entertainment to a large group of fans," he said. "And that's why the camp won't only be dealing with in-costume performances but also with developing mascot programs that help sell group and individual tickets, brand your team in the community and get sponsors involved. ... Mascots can help to drive the brand in creative, interesting and memorable ways."

A mascot program won't succeed, however, unless the costumed character in question is an accomplished and versatile performer, and the instruction at Vero Beach certainly won't neglect the fundamentals.

"We'll be teaching dance, non-verbal communication, spontaneous crowd interaction and, outside the costume, how to develop great skits and routines," Raymond said. "The message is, 'OK, you're Minor League Baseball mascots, this is your environment, how do we maximize what you're doing out there?'"

The development and celebration of these skills will be a key component in another initiative that Raymond is planning -- a nationwide contest to determine Minor League Baseball's best mascot. Each league would choose its top mascot, with the 14 nominees competing in a head-to-head two-day battle royale.

"The competition would be designed to highlight the best performer," said Raymond. "Let's say he's a moose. The moose would get the trophy, but because of what the performer did in the moose costume to get him noticed as a great performer."

Raymond sees both the camp and the contest as ways to say thank you to an industry that has been a key part of his livelihood for several decades.

"I look at this as a giveback to Minor League Baseball," he said. "It's cool that we're able to partner on something that is mutually beneficial and will be able to turn some heads. But churning out good, solid performers is ultimately the biggest part of this."

In brief

Simply the best: Per tradition, Day One of the Seminar kicked off with representatives of all teams in attendance sharing their most successful promotions of the season. A few of the many highlights:

Altoona Curve — The team ran a daily comic strip, entitled "Curve, PA," in the local newspaper throughout the season. The result was much synergy, positive publicity.

Connecticut Tigers — Despite the negative connotations, the Tigers gave away a bobblehead featuring Norwich native Benedict Arnold.

Missoula Osprey — The team raised the alertness level in the ballpark via a "Bring Your Glove, Catch the Excitement" promotion, featuring a $50 reward to the first fan to catch a foul ball with his or her glove.

Peoria Chiefs — Witty musical repartee was a key component of "Dueling Pianos Night" featuring ivory-ticklers situated atop both dugouts.

Sacramento River Cats — As part of "River Cats Go to Hollywood," the team laid out a red carpet for fans entering the stadium, had interns dress as movie celebrities, staged a "Star Map" ballpark scavenger hunt, and decorated the concourse with movie posters.

Everything's sponsorable: Wilmington Blue Rocks general manager Chris Kemple was one of Wednesday's speakers and his presentation included a section on creative sponsorship. The team's radio broadcast disclaimer is sponsored by a local attorney, for example, while bases-loaded situations (i.e. "ducks on the pond") are courtesy of wetlands conservation organization Ducks Unlimited.

The thirtiest Thursday of them all: The Lake County Captains offered a "Nickel Beer Happy Hour" prior to every Thursday home game, a satirical tribute to the Cleveland Indians' notorious "10 Cent Beer Night" promotion. The Captains' nickel beers are only available for one hour and in five-ounce portions.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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