Monday, September 28, 2009

Former Sammy PatG Viciously Mauled, Injured by Rabid Gorilla

From the LA Times:

And off they go, eight of the 11 mascots of this plush toy of a baseball team, a mid-inning race across the outfield, a menagerie of madness.

"Outta the way!" the ice cream cup shouts.

"Somebody's going down!" the lobster shouts.

The banana takes the lead, the lobster runs a close second, then here comes the gorilla, waving his arms and bulldozing his buddies.

Down goes the sunglasses-wearing rabbit. Down goes the giant green dog. Down goes the gangling blue sea creature.

The race ends with the gorilla leaping across the left-field line while the sweating, swearing mascot carnage piles up on the field behind him.

"You knocked off my freaking head," the rabbit shouts.

"Dude," the sea creature shouts. "You just ran over me."

But nobody is injured worse than the dog, who is dragged to his feet and pulled gently to the locker room, where he collapses on a folding chair in severe pain.

"I'm hurting, man," he whispers, nodding to his right shoulder. "I'm hurting big time."

The dog's huge green head is removed, the enormous high-top tennis shoes are unlaced, the furry green body is peeled off, and the soaked man inside is driven to a nearby hospital where he is diagnosed with a broken collarbone.

"We go all out here," Pat Gardenier says before leaving. "This is the price you pay."

His fellow creatures nod their cumbersome heads and shake their elongated snouts in resilience and remorse.

Except for the offensive ape, who can be found happily break dancing behind the plate.

"I feel terrible about what happened, but what am I supposed to do?" Robby Gillett says. "I'm a gorilla."

Welcome to a veritable Baseball Country Jamboree, the Class-A Lake Elsinore Storm, the mascot capital of the sports world, a place where the characters are complex but the motto is simple.

"When our fans leave here, most of them don't remember the final score," says Allan Benavides, assistant general manager. "But they all remember the fun."

The mascots indeed go all out here, far out, way out, and the return is truly priceless.

A summer evening at this charming Riverside County field known as the Diamond is like a walk through a motley, magical park.

Between every inning, it seems, a different type of creature runs on to the field to run, jump, dance or just hit someone. Sometimes they toy with fans, other times they taunt opposing team, often they just spend the 90 seconds humiliating each other.

At various points on this weekday night in a game against the Stockton Ports, the field was filled with male strippers, thuggish cats, a monkey pounding players with pool noodles, and a cardboard robot who so furiously danced, his duct-taped head fell off.

And, of course, there was that strange, scary race.

"Sometimes we wonder if anybody is even watching the actual game," Gillett says.

Virtually every minor league team in baseball employs characters like this. What makes Lake Elsinore unique is the scope of their zoo.

They have 11 mascots, more than the number of players in their team's lineup.

They have an actual director of mascot operations, a college graduate with a budget and a mandate.

They have a real locker room for the mascots, complete with air conditioning and closet space.

They even employ mascots to perform normal club duties while in uniform, having them serve as both mascot and stadium worker at the same time.

Thus, the rabbit scoreboard operator.

I am not making this up.

Every game at the Diamond, a kid sits on a rickety lawn chair behind the scoreboard, behind a tarp, working the numbers while wearing a rabbit costume.

When Lake Elsinore scores, Jackpot the Rabbit throws on his head, runs through a door and dances in the outfield until the celebration music ends, then returns to change the runs and hits.

"When I tell my friends what I do, they laugh," Robert Cervantes says. "I guess I can't blame them."

But the last laugh belongs to the Storm fans, particularly the children, who fill the stands each night to cheer their favorite athletes, er, animals.

"Because we have different players every year, nobody knows the name of number 21," Benavides says. "But ask any kid, any year, and he knows the name of all the mascots."

Beginning with Thunder, the leader of the Lake Elsinore mascots, the giant green dog who is clearly the most popular person in the organization.

He growls, he barks, he giggles, he even breaks wind, for which the human inside will not apologize.

The first universal rule of all mascots is that they never speak, but the Lake Elsinore folks believe there are important exceptions.

"We all understand that kids love [flatulent] sounds," says Gardenier, the team's director of mascot operations who doubles as Thunder.

When Gardenier broke his collarbone last week in the mid-fourth inning mascot race, it possibly sidelined him for the rest of the season and ended the most fun part of his job.

Earlier in the evening, Thunder was so swarmed by fans during a walk through the stands, less than half the crowd was even watching the game.

"My three kids are more interested in him than the players," says Monica Sandberg, who followed her young children as they danced by Thunder's side. "He's silly, and kids love silly."

When Thunder disappeared after the race, there was unrest in the stands until it was announced that he had been injured. Leaving no subtlety unturned, the Lake Elsinore folks then played a video montage of Thunder accompanied by the sort of sentimental music that made you think he was dead.

Of course, this only set up the cheers for the next night, when Thunder made a triumphant return while being played by another employee.

"We're entertainers, and isn't sports all about entertainment?" says Gillett, who plays several characters.

Sports is also about the luck, which is pretty much how Lake Elsinore came to acquire all these mascots in the first place.

Last year, a local costume shop went out of business and offered costumes for $50 apiece. Thus, the Lobster, the June Cat and the Grounds Crew Gorilla were born.

Jackpot the Rabbit was a costume left behind by a former sponsor.

Scoop is a human ice cream cup given to them by an ice cream store.

Hamlet, the light blue sea creature, is an old Storm mascot that is supposed to be some sort of dragon from the nearby lake.

"The Loch Ness monster of Lake Elsinore?" Gardenier says. "Works for me."

The banana was purchased this year as a dance partner for -- surprise -- the Gorilla.

Then there is the Robot, which was something that Gillett built this year for '80s Night. Great idea, but not very practical, as he learned earlier when he lost his head.

Then there is Rally Cop and Party Boy, two truly human mascots who race on to the field at odd times and act racy.

Rally Cop, who is Gillett dressed like an officer, runs out in the ninth inning of a close game and throws foam baseballs inscribed with insults into the opposing team's dugout.

Party Boy is an intern who runs out and does a male strip tease whenever the skit requires that one of the mascots be distracted.

Various employees play the characters, with the only requirement being that they must be willing to go through several shirts and lose several pounds each night in the 100-degree heat.

"You drink a lot of water," Gardenier says. "And you hope the kids don't hit you where it hurts."

The most appreciative kids are Storm players, who howl nightly at the antics.

"Face it, baseball can be boring; we love our mascots," says Jeremy Hefner, the Storm's pitching ace. "It's the other teams that get bothered."

On this summer evening, the other team doesn't seem bothered, plays hard, Lake Elsinore and Stockton battling pitch for pitch until the very end, when the game reaches its climax.

This occurs, of course, when Jackpot the Rabbit finishes his scoreboard work and walks across the field to return to the locker room.

Kids line the railings to wave and scream and ask for his autograph. He stops for every child, poses for every photo, and by the time he drags his overheated, exhausted body into the tunnel, the stadium is empty, leaving many with only one unanswered question.

Who won?

Who cares?

For those that don't know, former Sammy PatG is the mascot Thunder for the Lake Elsinore Storm baseball team. Hate to hear that you were injured, Pat. Hope you're recovered. See you in a few weeks.

Thanks to Sammy's pal KidSimba for passing the article along.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Discount code at LaQuinta

If you're planning on coming for Homecoming, you need to make your hotel reservations soon! A couple of hotels in Huntsville are already completely booked.

If you still need to make reservations, consider this: at LaQuinta, when making your reservation online, use promotion code GRMNIA and get a discount that beats AAA rates!

I've linked directly to the Hunstville LaQuinta page with the code applied here.

BTW- This code works at all LaQuintas. It's the Germania Insurance discount code (where I work). You don't need to be a policyholder or employee to use it, so no worries!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sammy's 2004 UCA Competition Tape

This is also PatG in the suit. This video features the now-infamous skydiving footage that Pat wrote about AND a bonus blooper reel at the end. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why The Kat Pack?

Why "The Kat Pack," you might be wondering. Why not "Sammy's Adventureland" or "Old Sammys Rock" or "Sammys Don't Grow Old, They Just Smell That Way?"

Well the name is a play on The Rat Pack, the famous - and completely awesome - group of entertainers from the '50s and '60s that included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr.

The image up top is also a bit of a reference to that. It was based on an image from Ocean's 11 (the original one from 1960).

Here's the original photo:

The Kat Pack image is all seven Sammy suits walking down the street in black or gray suits and ties.

I hope you like.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Sammy's 2003 UCA Competition Tape

This is PatG in the suit.

Pushing the envelope of Sammy

Some of my fondest Sammy moments happened out off costume. I was always trying to think of the next stunt to add to Sammy's repertoire. Needless to say things didn't always work out for me.

There was the broken hand that came from me trying to learn a back flip. I was able to still wear the Sammy costume with a cast on my broken hand. I did eventually learn it though, and Sammy did it on several occasions with the help of some cheerleaders. Most of the time I ended on my butt though.

Twelve weeks later I broke my ankle when two of the guy cheerleaders were throwing me from the free throw line at the basketball rim. How else is Sammy gonna dunk! I was wearing the Sammy head and hands during practice. The hands slipped on the rim and my landing was less than graceful. I had to get my first college roomate to fill in as Sammy for four weeks of the basketball season until I was able get a boot on my cast. The day after I could walk again I was back in the Sammy costume. Lucky for me that was the year that the Bearkats made it to the NCAA tournament.

Lets not forget the time I bruised my heel after I landed wrong when our largest guy cheerleader threw me up in the air. I was supposed to do a backflip, I did, but I over rotated and landed right on one of my heels. I figured something was wrong when my heel was all purple and black. That kept me out of Sammy for another four weeks.

I almost lost my job as Sammy the time that I thought it would be a great idea for Sammy to skydive into the stadium for a televised game against #1 Montana. I managed to practice the jump in the Sammy costume down in Houston. Unfortunately, some of the administration didn't like the fact that I made the jump without their consent, more like against their will. Needless to say I was sat down and talked to and Sammy never made the jump into the stadium. SHSU had no problem using the video of Sammy skydiving in their videos. No worries though.

All of it was worth it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Celebrating Sammy at Homecoming

As you know, Sammy is 50 this year, so SHSU is celebrating him at Homecoming!  Here is a list of events:

Thursday, Oct. 8: 6:30pm - 9:30pm - Homecoming Parade (former Sammys will have our own float)

Friday, Oct. 9: 1:00pm - 3:00pm - Sammy 50th Anniversary reception

Saturday, Oct. 10: 2:00pm - Homecoming game (former Sammys will be recognized at Halftime)

It would be great to see you there.  Who's coming?

Welcome to the Kat Pack

In all the years of Sam Houston State's existence, in all the hundreds of thousands of students who have roamed its hills, there is a very special, very elite group of a couple dozen people.  This small group of people share a common bond that not many can understand.  It's a bond forged in heat and sweat.  It's a kind of fraternity, if you will.  A Brotherhood of the Fur.  Thousands of people have seen them, shaken hands with them, laughed at them.  And most people never even knew who they were.

These people are people who have been Sammy Bearkat, the official mascot of Sam Houston State University.  And this blog is for them.  For you.

This is a place to connect with other former Sammys, to share stories, events and thoughts.  Have a great story from when you were Sammy?  Share it here.  Have some photos from back in the day?  Post them here to share.

This blog doesn't belong to any one person.  It belongs to all of us.  And it will be what we make it.

So let's have fun.  Let's connect and reconnect.  And let's revel in the fact that we are Sammy Bearkat alumni.