WALKING IN ALLIGATOR SHOES: Being a minor league baseball mascot is not as easy as it looks

POWERFUL FRIENDS: U.S. Sen. John Kerry yuks it up with the Lowell Spinners Canaligator, before the mascot's redesign. (Courtesy of the Lowell Spinners)

THE WORKING STIFF – By Darren Garnick
“GATOR AID: It’s all fun and games until a mascot loses an eye”

The Boston Herald — June 27, 2007
Dragging my clumsy, oversized feet and sagging tail through a
labyrinth of picnic tables last weekend, I knew instantly that my
career as a minor league baseball mascot was over.

After the pre-game meet-and-greet session outside the ballpark, I
would turn in my alligator snout. It was the only honorable thing to
do. Lowell Spinners fans expected to be entertained by a gregarious,
upbeat Canaligator (named for the city’s majestic Venetian waterways),
and I was a feeble reptile at best.

Under the tutelage of full-time gator Steve Nicholson, a 17-year-old
junior at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School, I thrived in the
job’s social role. When people embraced me, I returned the love. I
even hugged the thuggish-looking characters I’d ordinarily never make
eye contact with.

Just two problems: I couldn’t see and I couldn’t breathe.

Based on a costume fitting the previous week, I knew the vision
thing would be an issue. The alligator snout tends to droop over the
eye holes, and the snug-fitting head does not accommodate my glasses.
But from my brief immersion, I did not anticipate the stale air flow.
I did not expect to be gagging.

The sleeker, hipper modern Canaligator, a.k.a. me, greets fans outside the ballpark.

Nicholson, formerly known to Spinners fans as the “Wave Man” who dances
on the dugouts, shared the breaking news with his fellow mascots. I
would no longer be participating in the Dizzy Bat Contest, the Chicken
Dance or the Dancing With The Gators.

“He just doesn’t want to do it anymore,” he told his mascot wife,
Allie Gator, and mascot daughter, Millie Gator.

“It’s not that I don’t want to do it,” I
protested. “I simply cannot live up to your professional standards.
The fans deserve much better.”

“Well, I didn’t want to say the word can’t,” the diplomatic Nicholson said.

Hanging out in the mascot dressing room, I realized that all the
full-time gators were built like dancers and athletes. The real
Canaligator, who wears skin-tight black Under Armour under his suit,
looks like a Navy SEAL. I was happy when they tore off their heads
during a break and I saw them sweating profusely and gasping for
oxygen. It meant we had something in common.

During the fifth inning, as I was shadowing the Canaligator on his way
to greet birthday party guests, a rambunctious kid darted from behind
and slapped the mascot on the back. I wasn’t sure if it was a hostile
smack or an affectionate one. Nicholson would later tell me that he’s
“been beaten many times in a playful way” by children and drunken
college students.

Newly sympathetic about his limited scope of vision, I now considered
myself to be the Canaligator’s bodyguard. The backslap kid seemed to
be still trailing us, but what were his motives? Was that a souvenir
mini-bat by his side or was it a potential assault weapon? I couldn’t
be sure, but I was ready to bodycheck him into the concession stands
just in case.

Turns out that the kid just wanted a gator hug.

Ironically, vision problems wound up benching the Canaligator after
all (even though my nearsightedness had nothing to do with it). For
the last three innings of the game, official mascot escort Nicole
Piliponis clutched her cell phone in crisis mode.

“The Canaligator’s eye fell off and we can’t find it,” she informed
her supervisor in a somber tone. “What about ‘Gates?'”

“Gates” is one of the most vital mascot responsibilities, giving
departing fans one last chance to bond with Lowell’s loveable gator

In what can only be described as a Canaligator Miracle, Nicholson
found his alter ego’s plastic eye in a pile of rocks underneath the
first base dugout. He made it to Gates, only to have the same eye
fall off again while he was hugging a five-year-old girl.

Alerted by his escort, the Canaligator stuck his claw over his wounded
eye and rushed to the elevator.

“Luckily, she didn’t even notice. Her dad hid it pretty well,” a
relieved Nicholson later said. “We’re not in the business of freaking
kids out.”

Darren Garnick’s “Working Stiff” column runs every Wednesday in the
Boston Herald. For an extra helping, visit “The Working Stiff” blog.

Click here for exclusive tips on how to be the best mascot you can be and more behind-the-scenes insights on the Lowell Spinners Canaligator.

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Filed under Darren's Archive Vault, Mascot Misery, Red Sox, Red Sox Schlock, Sports

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