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Phil Elson: The Art of Goofiness
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The Art of Goofiness in the Furry Suit (a precession of mascots)
By Phil Elson
I'm lucky. Broadcasting baseball is a relatively safe job. Excepting the once-a-season screaming foul that grazes my ear when it whizzes into the booth, I don't have to worry about work-related injury. However, personal safety was not always the case during my career.
Along the way to bliss in the press box, I learned to entertain people the hard way - inside a twenty pound furry suit on a 100-degree day.
I've been honored to be the "Voice" of the Arkansas Travelers, Mudville Nine and Ogden Raptors. But as a mascot, I've been Brewinkle, Shelly, Macarena Monster, Oggie, Bleacher Creature, Mighty Casey and Orbit the Space Cat.
Therefore, I've stuffed myself inside a make believe moose, a buck-toothed horse, a dancing Tasmanian devil, a dinosaur, a big orange blob, a six-foot-five barrel-chested slugger and a giant tabby with a foam jetpack strapped to its back.
During a game, broadcasters are kept away from the multitudes so they can concentrate on delivering the best broadcast possible. But mascots are hurled into the crowd to trip, fall and stumble their way into people's seats, hearts and Cokes.
Even in smaller minor league parks, like Visalia's Recreation Park, where the visiting radio booth is also part of the crowd, fans generally respect a broadcaster's need to focus on the game. But stick a guy in the furry suit and insert him into a 10,000-person throng on Independence Day and watch him get bounced around like a piñata.
This takes a person with the ability to put aside all dignity and self-respect for at least a couple of hours. You must realize that as long as you're in the furry suit, you are a living cartoon character. As far as the fans are concerned, if Wile E. Coyote can get up after being run over by a Mack truck - so can you.
I believe that in order to reach my goal as a Major League play-by-play announcer, I have to "pay my dues." But I envisioned "the dues" more along the lines of long bus rides, losing seasons and rain delays. Never did I picture repeated kicks in the shins by a class of second-graders just because I wore the furry suit.
My first lesson in mascot hard knocks happened in 1995. On a sunny June afternoon the Fayetteville Generals of the South Atlantic League sent their green broadcast intern to a military golf course as the Bleacher Creature, or B.C. This furry suit had eye holes that allowed for nothing but tunnel vision. Without my peripheral vision, I accidentally drove my golf cart in front of a retired Army general just as he went into his back swing.
He spent the next five minutes reading his version of the riot act to a shapeless orange fur ball, while I tried to hold back my laughter.
One Friday night at Three Rivers Stadium during the 1996 season the Pirate Parrot conscripted me for a backhanded tribute to the Macarena dance, then forcefully sweeping the nation. Thrust out of my normal existence as the Pirates' media relations intern, I became Taz, the Macarena Monster.
My job as Macarena Monster was to dance the Macarena - for over two hours. As the Pirates and Cubs battled in front of a crowd of over 25,000 fans including my family and a national TV audience, I roamed the stands dancing the Macarena with anyone that would join in. As a finale, the Parrot body slammed and elbow-dropped my character on the visitors' dugout during the seventh inning stretch. But my parents were never prouder.
One boiling afternoon spent as Akron's Orbit the Space Cat, my tail got yanked off by a rather aggressive group of 10-year olds. Another time, my moose head fell off while performing a somersault as Helena's Brewinkle.
My crowning mascot achievement came as Mudville's Mighty Casey. During halftime of a University of the Pacific basketball game, a freak-show of local mascots played in a promotional game of hoops and bloops. During a two minute stretch, I scored the game's only basket on a fast break, tripped over my size 25 shoes and fell flat on my smiling, mustachioed face four times.
The art of goofiness in a furry suit is quite simple. Just leave all your inhibitions with your regular clothes. Give hugs to as many fans that will accept them. Be prepared with two or three sets of t-shirts, shorts and socks since you'll easily sweat through your clothes. Don't become overwhelmed by the furry suit's lingering hockey locker room odor. Most importantly don't talk and never, ever take your mask off in front of a child. You don't want to traumatize a six-year old because he found out that the Phillie Phanatic is actually some human goof ball.
These are important rules as we go through our baseball careers. The truth is that every single baseball employee, at some point during his or her career, will have the opportunity to strap on the furry suit. Just enjoy it. Remember that only infants and toddlers are allowed to run around the house naked. And only mascots are allowed to run around a baseball park like a chicken with its head cut off. Or a dancing Tasmanian devil.
Reprinted with Permission
Phil Elson Bio
Phil Elson Director of Media Relations/ Broadcasting
Phil delivered the Traveler faithful the first-ever full schedule of home and road broadcasts in 2001. Phil is responsible for all media relations and broadcasting, available as a speaker for civic groups, and serves as an account executive.
At 26, Phil is one of the youngest broadcasters in AA, yet boasts eight seasons of experience, most recently in Stockton, CA serving as broadcaster for the Mudville Nine.
Phil has also worked in Ogden, UT; Helena, MT; Akron, OH; Pittsburgh and Fayetteville, NC.
The Pittsburgh native is a graduate of Taylor Allderdice High School (1994) and received a B.A. in Journalism Communications from Point Park College (Pittsburgh) in 2000.
Phil resides in Little Rock with his cat, Tilly.
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