It’s less than 10 minutes until game time at Fifth Third Field and spectators in the concourse are in no rush to get to their seats.
Instead, they stand in a long line, eagerly awaiting their turn to greet and shake hands with the celebrities behind the table.
“Muddy!,” a young boy exclaims when he finally reaches the table. His eyes light up and he flashes a toothy grin. He had been looking forward to this meeting all day. The two shake hands and Muddy autographs a poster for him.
“Come on,” a woman tells the star-struck child. “There are other people waiting.”
You’ve seen them at every game, dancing around and working the crowd. You’ve even seen them at fund-raisers and corporate parties. They’re the mascots.
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PHOTO GALLERY: Muddy and Muddonna cheer crowds
Muddy and Muddonna are the sideshow at the 72 Mud Hens home games this year. Parading around the ball park with hilarious nonverbal antics, the furry cheerleaders are the creatures fans love to love and the face of Mud Hens baseball.
“The baseball team’s job is to win the game,” said Evan Back, a member of the Swamp Squad, the promotions team and handlers for the mascots. “It’s Muddy and Muddonna’s job to win over the fans.”
While there’s a whole team of baseball players, a couple dozen people on the Swamp Squad, and a sea of fans, there’s just one Muddy and one Muddonna. To get their job done, the birds — in addition to their uniform baseball caps — wear the hats of cheerleader, entertainer, and celebrity throughout the course of a game.
They’ll do almost anything to make their audiences happy, whether it’s playing pranks on passersby, tossing swag to the crowd, or dancing on the dugout roof.
“The Swamp Squad (which includes Muddy and Muddonna) is game-day entertainment. Fans forget their troubles at the gate and we make them forget about the world we live in for a few hours,” said Scott McGorty, 21, a squad member. “It’s all about making people smile.”
During a recent game, the crew led the birds from suite to suite to visit with people at the contest against the Columbus Clippers. They don’t speak, but their presence, high-fives, and head rubs were enough to spread cheer to fans gathered in the stadium halls along the way.
Once he approaches a suite, Muddy, who has a reputation for being a prankster, uses a red plastic bat to tap on the door, an announcement of his arrival.
“Hey!,” a crowd of adults erupted when they saw him. Muddy, who is a bit of a flirt, kisses the hands of women before posing for pictures.
In suite 17 he was bombarded by a group of pre-teen boys excited to see him. He swung his feathery yellow wings out wide, welcoming them in for hugs. The boys were a bit rowdy, almost knocking Muddy over, but they apologized for their roughness and offered him food to stay.
“Want some wings?”
The true identity of the birds is kept secret in order to preserve the mystique around the mascots. Muddy and Muddonna don’t speak, but each have personalities and reputations that follow them.
Muddonna is known for being a bit sassy. She struts around the stadium wearing a striped ruffled dress, her orange feathery hair swinging from underneath her cap as the “Material Bird.”
At the start of a game, the birds weigh about eight pounds each, and by the end, they weigh about 15 pounds thanks to the amount of water weight they generate in sweat. Their work can be taxing, as the mascots walk about four miles each game.
“It gets really hot, so they drink a lot of water and sweat quite a bit,” Mr. Back said of the mascots. “Muddonna drinks about a gallon of water every game.”
After all the suites are visited, the birds meet up with their Swamp Squad team to prepare for game performances. Each member carries a schedule that details when and where each performance or contest will take place. The squad is scheduled about 18 times per game and has just 90 seconds to entertain.
“We’re doing chicken riders at the bottom of the third [inning],” game day promotions coordinator Kyrsten Kachmarik relayed to her staff.
During this contest, two fans found themselves strapped into chicken costumes racing on the field for gift cards. Muddy and Muddonna cheered them on by shaking their tail feathers on the roof of the dugout. Earlier in the game, the squad tossed souvenir balls and T-shirts to fans.
“Kids first,” Mr. McGorty said. “I try to get them first, but sometimes you have to chuck it in the crowd and let them duke it out.”
For the most part, the promo team is made up of about 23 teenagers and young adults who are attending school or working other jobs. They all find joy in goofing off on the job.
“We get paid to have fun,” said Chelsea Ludeman, a sport management student at Defiance College. “And the fans love it. They love trying to get a free T-shirt or ball, or seeing us out on the field acting crazy.”
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This game was the last of nine straight home contests. The weather for the stretch proved unpredictable, ranging from warm spring temperatures to heavy rains and even a tornado warning. This game in particular saw high winds, snow flurries, and rain. As the weather worsened, the crowd thinned out. Eventually there were just a few people in the stands, but it didn’t a dampen the squad’s energy.
“This is our time to shine,” Ms. Kachmarik said. “Whether it’s 2,000 people or two people, we have to go out there and give our all.”
The team did exactly that during the Racing with the Stars contest at the top of the sixth. Three of the members suited up in sausage-like costumes and raced around the field in the rain. The stars include “Jamie Farrmadello,” “Jim Flealand,” and “Kitty Holmes.” Jamie Farrmadello and Kitty Holmes ran neck-and-neck the whole race, with Jim Flealand close behind. Fans screamed and jumped up and down, rooting the racers on. After rounding third base, Kitty Holmes sprinted home for the win.
Back inside the basement, the runners joked about the competition. The basement serves as their office during game day. There, they confirm schedules and prepare for field activities.
After all the T-shirts are tossed, the races are run, and the dancing is done, the entire Swamp Squad reconvenes in the basement to say their farewells. The Mud Hens are on the road for the next 11 games.
“All right, that’s it,” Ms. Kachmarik told her staff. “We’re back at it May 2.”
Contact RoNeisha Mullen at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6133.