David Raymond was a fanatic, or more precisely, a Phanatic (The Philly Phanatic is the official mascot of the Philadelphia Phillies). For 17 years, he lived inside the iconic costume, taunting umpires, mocking the competition, dancing on the opposing team’s dugout—and even shooting hot dogs into the stands with a cannon launcher.
Raymond started as an intern for the Phillies organization back in 1976 and soon became an insider—working literally inside the costume for a whopping 25 bucks a game. At the time, the San Diego Chicken was the only mascot in pro sports. Raymond would help change all that as he brought to life a large, furry, green flightless bird with an extendable tongue.
His experience convinced him that a mascot was essential to a team’s ultimate success on the field, in the stands and at the box office.
“A mascot is the perfect branding mechanism,” Raymond said. “Unlike players who retire or move from team to team, the mascot is perennial, bonding generations who come to the park together.”
Now, 40 years later, Raymond may have outgrown the suit but not his passion. He and his associates will open the first Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. Yes, you read that right: Whiting, Ind., where John D. Rockefeller started Standard Oil. Raymond thinks he has discovered gold right here in this quintessential Midwestern city, just a half hour from Chicago.
Much is still in the planning stages, but a soft open is planned for Dec. 8 (mascots love anything soft). The museum’s mission is not only to teach about the importance of mascotry (that’s a word I just made up), but also to teach how to be actually be a mascot — or to make one.
Guests are encouraged to attend Mascot University within the museum, where they can obtain a Mascot Diploma by completing courses all about mascoting (I made up another one). By trying on the various garb, visitors can feel the weight and even experience the smell inside the suit. They will learn the essential moves that bring a character to life, including physical schtick, and how to shoot T-shirts into a crowd. It’s all interactive, like the Children’s Museum on steroids.
Being a mascot is an art. The person inside the costume must know how to act big, playing to the crowd, and also how to act small, interacting with the players and umpires to create drama the fans can follow. One time the mascot may outwit a player, but the next game the tables can turn. It’s pure theater and always good, clean fun.
Funding for the museum will come in part from professional and college teams that Raymond has successfully convinced to support him on his mission—to celebrate the unsung value of these bigger-than-life characters. So far, Major League Baseball has stepped up to the plate with the most support.
The museum will feature photos of mascots posing with celebrities like George W. Bush, Muhammad Ali, Drake and J-Lo. In one collection, the giant heads of mascots are suspended from the ceiling, spinning about to celebrate their induction into the Hall. The voting is done by a panel of fans and sports professionals who look at design, technique and popularity.
When I ended my interview with David Raymond, I asked him what his final assessment was of the museum.
“It’s going to be the Disney of mascots,” he boasted.
I agree that it’s going to be fantastic. I mean, phantastic.