In my last column, I wrote about how the actual players were not the only ones who trained for the season. I talked about the mascots and although I receive a great deal of mail after each column, this last column was on overload.
Among the people who wrote to me was Bob Perlberg. He called attention to an Al Schact- like character named "Batting Stance Guy'." So, I did research on him.
Here's what I found out. His act is called the "Least Marketable Act in America, but not really! He has perfected the art of copying various Major League and Minor League stances in a humorous fashion.
He has mimicked players such as Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez. Eddie Murray, Evan Longoria and Andre Beltre to mention a few. Teams look on him as a good luck charm and invite him into their locker rooms.
But over the years, Baseball Clowns have been a staple. When my friend, the late Stan Greeson was President of the Harlem Globetrotters, he pointed out that Reece "Goose"Tatum then the Clown Prince of Basketball before Meadowlark Lemon, would rather have played Baseball, his favorite sport other than Basketball. In fact, before the Globetrotters, he had signed with the Memphis Red Sox in the old Negro Leagues. Although a talented first baseman, he made his mark by clowning around with opposing players and thus a legend was born. They said he was so limber that he looked as if he had no joints.
In the Negro Leagues, even though they had great ballplayers and the games were always competitive, by it were the side attractions that brought in the crowds. The name of the game was fun! As a result, entire teams such as the Indianapolis clowns although loaded with talent, not unlike Basketball's Globetrotters, used a menu of different antics to insure as few empty seats as possible.
Entertaining the fans at a ballpark with activities other than the game itself has long been a part of Baseball. Many years before the Philly Phanatic made his appearance, Baseball clowns were hired to entertain crowds before games and between innings. The owners wanted the fans to have a good time even if the home team was getting beat badly.
A mediocre player named "Germany" Schaefer back in 1912 was considered the first practitioner of the art form. He made impromptu speeches to the spectators, wild imitation of Umpires' play calling and often walked the baselines as if they were tight ropes.
Any story about mascots, clowns and preparation for the game would be incomplete without talking about Jackie Price. His repertoire was multifaceted and varied. Unlike others who relied on comic routines to draw laughs, Price used his outstanding baseball skills to delight fans.
One of Price's most famous tricks was to hang upside down and take batting practice for 15 minutes or more. Batting either right, or left-handed Price could hit fastballs from opposing pitchers while being suspended by his ankles from the backstop or a pole.
In another trick, he would shoot a Baseball out of an air gun and then jumping into a Jeep and speeding into the outfield to catch the quickly descending orb.
Over the years, many of the Baseball Mascots have had Dance-offs and fights to the delight of the fans. One that had a surprising ending was when the Triple-A Reno Aces, an Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate played an exhibition with the University of Nevada. The Aces Mascot Archie and the U of N Mascot Wolfie danced on top of the dugout for the fans. Wolfie started the dance atop the dugout; one misstep saw him finish the dance inside the dugout.
Sid Silver wrote how much he enjoyed working on The Chicken and the Cheerleaders Pilot bringing to mind that Chicken was always in trouble with opposing teams wherever he went. Not only did he have dance-offs and battles with the famous Barney of PBS fame, but also he was forever being attacked for his antics by opposing teams... sometimes en masse. In fact, he set the Unofficial Major League for ejection from games by Umpires.
Fred Gasser commented that there must be spring training for fans as well...Hmm? So I consulted my pal, Jerry Berger, the Budweiser man and together he helped me study fan seasonal preparation.
It all begins at the local Sports Bar where the veterans meet. Since the season is young they start with a pitcher of beer, roughly 32-40 ounces. Each one has to work up to more beer consumption as the season progresses.
When rookies join them, they are placed in the back tables away from the TV Sets until they prove they can earn the right to get up close with the veterans. Their initiation is very simple. Immediately, to show their capability, they must chug-a-lug at least one pitcher.
When they pass that initiation, in order to get a place in the rotation, they must on the first day, in the course of a game be able to consume at least two more pitchers before the seventh inning... and those pitchers, have to be hoisted at least one with each hand. This will show if they are really serious on making the Sports Bar team. It will also show what kind of shape they kept in during the off-season.
By the way, there are no "Shortstops" on the Sports Bar Team. When a waitress, or Bartender acknowledges an order, it must be delivered to the fan requesting the call. Any derelict movement, or "Shortstop" by the Rookie, on the way to its appointed destination can result in immediate banishment to the Minors
That's the physical part, but the initiation also has a mental side. They must be prepared to have an opinion and be ready to discuss various facets of the game. For example, they must be capable of yelling at the manager, or the umpire on the screen when they disagree with a move, or a call. They cannot be shrinking violets.
As the season progresses, they are required to eat an ample quantity of Hot Dogs, (not like Nathans on the fourth of July), so many slabs of Pizza at each game and to show they really know their stuff, they can't forget Buffalo Chicken Wings.
Any fan that rests and starts drinking from glasses instead of pitchers is usually sent to the dugout, or down the street to a Minor League Sports Bar. The veterans show no mercy!
If they are real fans and have finally made the team when entering the Sports Bar, they must display their team colors. Like my friend Bob Klingensmith who would not be caught dead without his Pittsburgh Colors.
Caps, T-Shirts and Sweatshirts are okay. A banner is not acceptable. The veterans look on that as a cop-out. Since if the game were not going the rookie's way, the rookie would have the option of folding the banner and hiding it. Such a maneuver is considered "Bush League."
Also, a real fan has to be prepared to back up his statements and if his words are challenged he cannot be afraid to reach in his pocket, pulling out some crinkly green paper ... never coins and slapping down in front of his adversary.
A true fan and believer is one that has perfected the single motion move during the off-season ... reaching into his pocket and without breaking stride, placing the instrument of his challenge in front of the disbeliever, or doubter.
The preferred off-season exercise is "Bending the Elbow."
So I say, "Play ball."... and oh yeah! "Bottoms Up."