This is one of several cards I received in a recent trade with Patricia and her seven-year-old daughter Lucy, who are responsible for the entertaining and breezy Dinged Corners blog. It's the only card in my possession featuring young reliever Jim Hoey, one of several former Aberdeen IronBirds to play for the Orioles in recent years. Jim and I both spent time in Aberdeen in 2004, though he'd been shut down due to injury by the time I arrived.
My first job after graduating from college was an unpaid marketing internship with the IronBirds in Fall 2004. It eventually became a paid consultancy when my boss quit suddenly and I was needed to complete a series of illustrated reports for the team's sponsors. I had a great time for the three short months I spent at Ripken Stadium, and I did a little bit of everything. For the last few home games of the season I surveyed fans about their experiences and preferences, wrote game notes for the program, operated one of the scoreboards, and even helped out with the video board operation once. Once the offseason began, I spent most of my time working on the sponsor reports, selecting and editing photos that displayed company logos or products around the stadium and writing corresponding copy. It wasn't nearly as exciting as the in-game stuff. But I also took on a task that was good for a few laughs, and will probably get Lucy's attention.
I made several public appearances as the mascot.
That's right; for a brief period, I was Ferrous, the dopey-looking but well-meaning bird of indiscriminate species. The team's previous Game Entertainment Coordinator (and man behind the mask - er, head) had just left for a similar (but more high profile) job with the Ravens. Ferrous was booked for a number of events, and someone had to put on the suit. As a recent grad lacking a full-time job, I was desperate for money and more than a little curious, so I stepped up to take on a few bookings. I shook my tail feathers and bobbed my head on four occasions that I can remember: to help hand out invitations to a private batting practice and luncheon (one of the perks for the team's top-level sponsors), to commemorate the completion
of highway construction near the stadium (along with Gov. Bob Ehrlich), to visit a class of autistic children at an area school, and in one gruesome instance to meet and greet the shoppers at the Harford Mall...on Black Friday.
If you or anyone you know have ever been inside a mascot costume, you know what it was like. The costume was bulky and smelled terrible. It was laundered regularly, but there's only so much you can do with an unbreathable jumpsuit that is being soaked with sweat every time it's worn. In between washings it was liberally doused with Lysol, which seemed to mutate the odor instead of masking it. The head was basically an oversized football helmet; the opening was in the mouth area, so there were several inches of head on top of my own. This was a decidedly awkward sensation and visibility wasn't ideal. The head weighed a ton, as you can probably imagine.
The most difficult thing about playing a mascot is learning to communicate without words. I relied heavily on pantomime and goofy waves and thumbs-up gestures. People would ask me questions, such as "What are you supposed to be?" or "What are you doing here?". Usually I had the team's PR director with me to do the verbal heavy lifting, but at the mall in particular I was on my own, making exaggerated batting and throwing gestures. For the most part, adults were bemused and children curious or even affectionate. One of the autistic children was so excited to see me that he managed to pull me to the ground with a vigorous hug. While the child was exceptionally strong for someone so very small, my own lack of coordination probably didn't help matters much. Of course, there were other, more rambunctious kids who were eager to grab my beak and to pull on my already loosening tail. I was not fond of those children. Then there's Governor Ehrlich, who responded to my good-natured shuffling with a wisecrack: "Does he get paid by the hour?".
Overall, it wasn't a terrible experience. Often it was rewarding, as I was entertaining both children and adults. Besides, it gave me a good story and a smart response when people ask me what I've been able to do with a bachelors' degree in drama.