In recent years, there has been no shortage of athletes who have split their time between Minor League Baseball and the football field. Examples include Pat White, Russell Wilson, Brandon Weeden and Matt Szczur, and to this list one can add Derek Moye.
Well, sort of.
Moye, a wideout, enjoyed a standout career as a member of the Penn State Nittany Lions. He grabbed 144 passes in his collegiate career -- including 18 touchdowns -- and his 2,395 total receiving yards ranks third on the school's all-time list. He signed with the Miami Dolphins as a free agent at the end of last month and is currently in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., preparing for his first training camp.
But before entering his senior season on the gridiron, Moye suited up as a member of the New York-Penn League's State College Spikes -- not as a player, mind you, but as an integral part of the "Spikes Squad" promotional team. For several months during the 2011 season, one of the most recognizable figures on campus could be found engaged in the day-to-day promotional lunacy that is a hallmark of the Minor League Baseball experience.
A unique "Situation"
Moye's stint with the Spikes was an internship, one tied in with his parks, recreation and tourism management major.
"I was always interested in baseball, so I figured that [working for the Spikes] would be a common sense thing to do," said Moye. "It all ended up working out for the best."
It certainly was convenient. Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, which the Spikes share with Penn State's baseball team, is literally located in the shadow of Penn State's Beaver Stadium. Its capacity of approximately 6,000 is large for the New York-Penn League, but downright Lilliputian in comparison to the 106,000 paying customers that Beaver Stadium can accommodate on football Saturdays. The more intimate dimensions result in a far more intimate gameday environment, of which Moye was a part.
"I'd often have no clue what I was doing each day, until it got to be game time," said Moye. "I'd be handing out game programs, or watching over the between-inning contests. Other times I'd have to dress up. It really depended on what the day was."
Perhaps most memorably, Moye suited up as the Chik-Fil-A cow (a barely literate bovine who tries to stave off the slaughter of its own species by exhorting consumers to "Eat Mor Chikin").
"I don't ever want to get back in [the mascot suit]," said Moye, a man accustomed to practicing football in full uniform during brutally hot summer weather. "I wore it during one of the hottest days of the summer, and I was sweating so bad. I just couldn't wait to get out. I had no peripheral vision in that thing, and when we ran [an on-field] race, everyone else played a trick on me. They told me to run one direction, and then they all went the other. I looked like an idiot out there.
"But I guess it's true that when you're dressed as a cow, you're always going to look like an idiot."
"Derek really got involved with all of the on-field silliness, and I was very impressed that he was so willing to do all of that stuff," said Spikes general manager Jason Dambach. "But there were a couple of times where we had to say, 'Maybe he shouldn't be doing that.' One time we had him in the dunk tank, and as he's getting dunked I started to worry about him getting hurt. We pulled him out of there, like, 'Let's not ruin a college football career because of a dumb dunk tank.'"
Besides, there were plenty of other "dumb" things for Moye to take part in that represented less of an injury risk. During the Spikes' "Jersey Shore" theme night, he spent the evening dressed as Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino. Not that it took much for him to look the part.
"I did my hair how I normally do it, and then put on sunglasses and a tight button-up shirt. It kind of worked," recalled Moye. "Do I have a style like his? I would hope not. But a guy and girl came up to me and asked if I was really The Situation, and said 'Can we get an autograph?' I've had people ask me for an autograph before, but here it was like, 'Whose autograph are you asking for? Are you asking me or The Situation?'"
But in a football-obsessed region such as Penn State's Happy Valley, Moye was a bigger celebrity when out of costume.
"I think that it took the fans a little bit of time into the season to realize that, 'Hey, that's Derek Moye!'" said Dambach. "But the situation never got uncomfortable for him, because in a small town you get used to seeing these guys all the time. But he'd take pictures with the fans, and we'd have our season ticket holders asking if he could be introduced to their kids."
From Lion to Dolphin
Moye had to depart his "Spikes Squad" position before the season ended in order to transition back across the street and begin preparing for the football season. Of course, it turned out to be a season enveloped in controversy and scandal, as child abuse charges leveled at former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky eventually led to the ouster of coach Joe Paterno.
"It was a rough experience for us as players, but it brought us a lot closer together as a team," said Moye. "You just wish it had never happened, but that was the positive that came out of it for us."
Meanwhile, Dambach hopes that the relationship between the Spikes and Penn State Athletics is one that will continue to grow and prosper.
"We'd love to make it a tradition, not just with football but with any sport," he said. "It's a win for us, and a win for the student-athlete."
And while Moye wasn't selected in April's NFL Draft, shortly thereafter he signed a free agent contract with the Dolphins. As such, he's one of the few people on a professional football roster who has spent time racing in mascot suits, getting dunked on the concourse and dancing on dugout roofs. Does he worry that, in the cutthroat world of the NFL, any of this will be used against him?
"It doesn't matter to me, I had a good time doing it," he said. "If someone laughs at me, I'll just be laughing with him."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog.