On Friday, I traveled to San Antonio's Wolff Stadium to see the hometown Missions take on the Corpus Christi Hooks. The next day, I received an email from a reader named John Hartwell. It read, in part:
You were in San Antonio last night? ... You undoubtedly saw what in my humble opinion is the GREATEST MINOR LEAGUE MASCOT OF ALL TIME, Henry the Puffy Taco. One of my buddy's sons got to chase the Taco last week, which I believe officially counts as one of the Greatest Honors of All Time.
Yes, there's a Missions mascot named "Henry the Puffy Taco" and, yes, he inspires that kind of adulation. Henry, who possesses a head of lettuce and a yellow, green and red midsection of radiant foodstuffs, very well may be the strangest-looking mascot in Minor League Baseball. During every game, at the conclusion of the sixth inning, he appears on the field and is chased around the basepaths by a young fan. Henry inevitably gets tripped up and the young fan inevitably overtakes him, celebrating victory by standing on his suddenly immobile corpus -- it's a San Antonio tradition! (Although, there was one memorable occasion in which Henry the Puffy Taco actually won -- and revenge was two decades in the making.)
In 2000 the Missions added another mascot to the mix, one "Ballapeño." Though Ballapeño has a stronger ballpark presence than his puffy counterpart, he nonetheless is, as the team puts it, "green with envy" over Henry's popularity. As his baseball card states, "Ballapeño has been rumored to specifically pick the Taco Chaser every evening, and unconfirmed reports have spotted him laughing in the dugout as Henry bites the dust night after night."
Some clarity is needed here. Who, really, are these mascots, and how did they come to be? When I was in San Antonio on Friday, I spoke with Missions assistant general manager Mickey Holt and received the answer to these pressing questions.
MiLB.com: Let's start with Henry the Puffy Taco. What's his ballpark origin story?
Mickey Holt: When the Missions were down at their old home of V.J. Keefe Memorial Stadium, there was a restaurant just around the corner called Henry's Puffy Tacos. They claimed to have invented the first puffy taco.
MiLB.com: Okay, but what is a puffy taco?
Holt: A puffy taco is a corn tortilla that's been dropped in the fryer. It doesn't get to the consistency of a regular tostada that's crispy like a chip. They fry it just enough where it's got a consistency -- it's shaped like a taco shell but still tastes like a tortilla. When they fry it and drop it in that grease, it puffs up and you've got two layers but a pocket in between that's just air. It's a unique thing to San Antonio.
• Check out more photos of Henry the Puffy Taco and Ballapeño »
MiLB.com: And Henry's invented it?
Holt: They claim to have invented it, but there's a couple other restaurants here in town that make the claim, too. But they were around the corner and they really wanted to promote their mascot, this puffy taco. One of our assistant [general managers] at the time worked with them to create this taco race, where the taco always loses. He always gets close, but he never wins.
[Henry] wasn't even our mascot, but he became our mascot. … We had the Puffy Taco for years, but it got to the point where we were sending him out on appearances to promote the Missions. Nothing against the restaurant -- we love the restaurant -- but we realized we needed our own identity, our own mascot.
Our president [Burl Yarbrough] said "San Antonio -- jalapeño. Why not have a baseball jalapeño?" So we debuted Ballapeño in 2000 as a baseball-playing jalapeño. ... He's a mischievous sidekick to the Puffy Taco that he always felt like he was playing second fiddle to. Ballapeño's grown through the years, and that's who we send out on appearances now. But we still get requests all the time for Henry the Puffy Taco. It's always a fun day to send a new worker out to an appearance dressed as the taco, because every kid wants to tackle him. I've been to events where over a hundred kids have ran and tackled the taco all at once.
MiLB.com: What's the relationship between Henry and Ballapeño these days? Has it improved?
Holt: It has improved. They used to really have this hatred for each other, but they've grown together. We even have a junior jalapeno that will come out once in a while, and they'll all dance together. They respect each other now -- they're both food items that everyone wants to beat up.