SPORTS: Mascot Camp and Phun with the Phanatic

Dave Raymond’s 18th Annual Mascot Boot Camp took place this past weekend at Vero Beach Sports Village.  I had the opportunity to hang out there for a few hours, where I soaked up some sun, see some baseball at Bud Holman Stadium, and watched nine mascots work the 75-or-so people in attendance.

Watching nine mascots work the crowd at one time was certainly a sight to behold, let me tell you.  A pirate, a panda, a groundhog, a shark, and a few other unidentifiable creatures took the stands by surprise–almost the entire crowd was there to watch kids in their early teens play travel baseball, so you can just imagine.

I, of course, knew this was going to happen because I was covering the camp.  Dave Raymond, the camp’s headmaster, was there shooting video of the scene.  Many know Raymond better as the original Philadelphia Phanatic, who is one of three mascots to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

As the Phanatic from 1978-1994, Raymond built on the success the San Diego Chicken had on the West Coast before him.  By the time he handed the big purple suit over to his understudy, Tom Burgoyne (who still holds the job), Raymond had made the Phanatic the best mascot all of professional sports.

The Phanatic was also known as public enemy number one to Tommy Lasorda, the Hall of Fame  ex-manager of the Dodgers.  Their rumble on national television in the summer of 1988 was nothing short of epic.  The Phanatic, true to most Philly fans, hated the Dodgers and when the two teams squared off in Philadelphia, the Dodgers knew they were in for a long day of boos and heckling from the crowd.

As for Lasorda, he knew the Phanatic was going to try to get the obnoxious fans riled up by making fun of him.  From abusing a dummy with a Lasorda jersey on it, to taking a baseball bat to a giant can of Slim-Fast (which Lasorda promoted for years), the Phanatic did everything he could to infuriate Lasorda.

Let’s take a look at some of the give-and-take between Lasorda and Raymond over the years as told by Raymond:

-I actually ran into Tommy at the winter meetings in December, after visiting Vero a few months earlier with my wife to take a look at the Vero Beach Sports Village.  I saw him in the lobby of the Swan and Dolphin, and I walked up to him.  His eyes got really big and I thought he was going to yell at me, because he loved doing that.  And he said, “How’s your dad doing?”  Tommy is from Norristown, PA and my dad is the longtime football coach (College Hall of Famer Harold “Tubby” Raymond) at University of Delaware.  I told him that he was doing great after his hip replacement.

He says to me, “You’re lucky you’re alive.”  Then he went over and brought everyone in the lobby around us.  “This son of a bitch, this guy was the Phanatic.  Do you know how many time I wanted to kick his ass?

Then he told the story of how we were in Japan in 1980.  I was just a kid, but I wanted people to remember the Phanatic was there–so I started signing baseballs.  I got to the locker room before everyone else did because I had to get dressed before the players arrived.  I saw the baseballs and I started signing them in the ‘sweet spot’, where Lasorda was supposed to sign.  When he gets to the locker room, he goes, “What the hell are you doing?”, just screaming at me. He made me sign baseballs for the rest of the trip, and we were there for a month.  I’d be ready to leave the ballpark and he’d say, “Wait Dave, you’ve got six-dozen baseballs to sign before you leave today.”  I got to the point where I hated it.”

“That’s what was so cool about Tommy, the guy had an amazing sense of humor.  He played along with the Phanatic, but when it got to the point where I was defaming the Dodger uniform, or making fun of him with the dummy, I’d taken it a step too far.  He told (several) stories for (involving us) for 15 minutes in front of everybody in the lobby.

Tommy heard that I was here, and he mentioned how fond he was of this facility.  To him it was an oasis, and the organization liked it because there weren’t very many places for the players to get into trouble.  The people around here liked it because they felt like they were a part of the Dodger community.  That history is reflected here.  It is great that Minor League Baseball has taken over this place.

Raymond on holding his camp at Vero Beach Sports Village and other topics:

-I’m psyched about (Vero Beach Sports Village).  I heard that (Vero Beach resident and Hall of Fame umpire) Bruce Froemming was here the other day, he was one of my favorite umpires to work with.

The way we’ll capitalize on this space is when we hold an elite mascot seminar.  We could have mascot competitions between about 20 minor league mascots.  All of them would have to submit a skit, a portfolio featuring the good they have done within their community, spontaneous crowd interaction, dance, non-verbal communication, and have a panel of judges.  After three days of competition we decide on a winner and they get a trophy.  It becomes a built-in promotion.  We think we’ll see a point where February in Vero Beach we’ll have a boot camp, and then do the elite mascot training all kind of together in a week.  There is no question this facility can handle it.

-The Phillies saw the Chicken, and the whole organization thought they needed to do something like that.  Phillies executive and part-owner Bill Giles, said ok, and he created a muppet-looking character who nobody thought would work on paper.  It was somewhat magical the way it worked, because people just didn’t expect a muppet to be funny.  The same fans who had booed the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause were now going to adopt a muppet as their mascot–it didn’t make sense.  I knew, because I was one of those fans.  I was booed and I loved to beat the Dodgers–I was a real Phillies and 76ers fan.  Some of that, mixed with whatever ability I had to communicate non-verbally–which is a very important skill–just lent itself to success.  The Phillies didn’t pre-promote it, because they were worried that it would be a mess.  They told me to go out there at the games and have fun, but make sure it was G-rated fun.  It clicked, and I was there from 1978-1994.  My replacement and former backup, Tom Burgoyne, has been there from 1994 on.

-I think the University of Delaware’s mascot, YouDee is one of the best mascots going.  Auburn’s mascot, Aubie the Tiger, gets a full-ride scholarship.  The Phanatic is still one of my favorites, and Clutch the Bear for the Houston Rockets is another one of my favorites.

-As an organization, the NBA celebrates their mascots better than any other league.  Their league’s mascots meet in Las Vegas once per year and I speak at their conference.  The NBA gives a mascot of the year award.  I think MLB has some great mascots, but they don’t support their mascots like they could.  I think they are missing a great opportunity.  They don’t realize that it’s their Mickey Mouse–they don’t think like Disney.  I get a lot of business showing MiLB how to use their mascots to produce revenue.

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