Baseball’s official opening day came and went months ago. When America’s pastime finally does begin, the game could look very different. There’ll be masks, disinfectant, handwashing stations, and temperature checks. Strangely absent? High fives, bat boys and girls, spitting (good riddance), spectators, . . . and mascots.
Mascots have become as much a ballpark staple as hot dogs. The New York Mets’ ball-headed “Mr. Met” first appeared at the plate in 1964. Since then, fuzzy fist bumps, goofy relay races, and between-inning antics have helped hook fans old and young on the game. (See “Famed and Favorite Mascots.”)
Mascot guru Dave Raymond finds the idea of no-mascot baseball ridiculous. “Every mascot should be essential,” he says. Raymond is founder of the Mascot Hall of Fame and the first person to don the green 6-foot-6, 300-pound, 90-inch-waist costume of Phillie Phanatic, one of baseball’s best-known mascots.
This year, Major League Baseball has submitted new proposals for playing ball. They involve hygiene standards based on health experts’ advice for limiting coronavirus spread. Among other things, the guidelines ban the game’s furriest, funniest, and sometimes most disorderly fans from the park. That means favorites like Phanatic, San Diego Chicken, Mariner Moose, and a whole squad of large-noggined American presidents (Washington Nationals mascots: George, Tom, Abe, Teddy, Bill, Cal, and Herbie!) are likely gone from baseball, at least for a while.
Since retiring from the Phanatic costume, Raymond has become a mascot consultant. He creates, brands, and trains hundreds of stadium characters. Raymond believes mascots are one of the reasons folks flock to the ballpark. “We’d be losing one of the draws that brings in people,” he says.
Teams worldwide agree. Mascots have remained a baseball staple in Taiwan, South Korea, and China, where the Chinese Professional Baseball League prohibited spectators over concerns of spreading the coronavirus but welcomed cheerleaders and mascots.
In America, out-of-work mascots will need to find new ways to stay connected with fans. Some remain active in their communities with food drives, firetruck parades, or other upbeat efforts.
Many mascots say the best connection is engaging through social media. Mascot Mania has gone wild on Instagram and TikTok. Mr. Met cleans windows. D. Baxter the Bobcat teaches crosswalk safety. Wally the Green Monster records virtual messages for charity.
As baseball prepares for a revised summer slate, Raymond wonders: What’s a game without a mascot? He says, referring to the global pandemic, “This is the most important time to leverage fun.”