While penning last week’s column about minor league baseball and its struggles for last week’s print edition (which also ran in the previous Friday’s e-Edition), I had mentioned working with the Asheville Tourists for a couple of summers.
The wheels started turning in my head and I figured during this down time, it was a chance to reflect on my first job out of college.
Now this was while I was working on breaking into the sports writing field and trying to find full-time work following graduation.
There are many memories of those three summers working for the single-A affiliate for the Colorado Rockies — both good and bad.
I still have good memories of a front row seat for their traditional Friday Night Fireworks or working until well after midnight following the Fourth of July Extravaganza, picking up pieces of fireworks in the infield — only to have to be up a few hours later for an afternoon game.
There were also some memories to soon forget, like getting hit with a whiffle bat while working one of the concourse games. Or there was working in the reserve parking lot one Sunday afternoon and an older gentleman threatening to have me fired because I wouldn’t allow him to park in the lot (it was by ticket only) — still don’t why he would show up to a ball game in the seventh inning.
Obviously, his proclamation never panned out because I remained there for two more summers and never saw him again.
As a member of the Tourists’ gameday staff, the role of what someone did changed daily, whether it was concourse games, parking, seating ushers (which was one of my favorite jobs) or being a member of the energy team, which got the crowd into the game.
There were a few times I had the opportunity to be in the press box and operate the scoreboard — it was a great way to make contacts with people in the profession I was pursuing.
But arguably the most memorable job I had with the Tourists, was one that I did only once, because frankly, it only took one time for me to realize I never wanted to do it again (and my boss thought I was going to kill him after that night for talking me into doing it).
It was a Saturday evening in early June that first summer on gameday staff and the person who usually portrayed Ted E. Tourist — the team’s mascot — called in sick and my supervisor was in a bind.
So he asked me, almost begged me, to play Ted E. Tourist that night, which meant putting on this furry, and very hot, bear outfit and not saying a word.
After putting on the outfit, which actually was very hot and very uncomfortable, I made my way to the first appearance — a kid’s birthday party.
Upon reaching what was called the Pepsi Party Pavilion, where people could have business functions, birthday parties, etc., I was greeted by around a dozen little kids.
They all wanted their picture taken, a bear hug (pun intended) or an autograph where they were quickly surprised that Ted E. was left-handed (because writing right-handed for me would’ve been uncomfortable).
Because of the weather and how hot it was in that suit, one of the gameday staff members had to escort me around the ballpark and even spend innings in-between appearances in one of the concession stands’ freezers. Not going to lie, it felt quite good on that day.
But the most memorable, and probably most fun part of the experience, happened during one of the middle innings.
Before the game, parents would register their kids to have a chance to run the bases against Ted E. Tourist during the ballgame.
As the time approached, everyone knew that the little kid was supposed to win, so basically, I had to throw the race. But I was going to have fun doing so.
The little kid started at the first base side and took off in a full sprint. I decided to just strut down the third base, but acted like I quickly realized what happened and started running. And yes, trying to run 90 feet in bear feet is as difficult as it looks.
The opposition had a big lead but I made one last effort to catch up as I rounded first base. But as the kid touched home to win the race, I decided to be a little dramatic and just fell to my knees and threw my hands up in the air, like in the movie “Platoon.”
But the crowd ate it up, and gave a standing ovation, but that may have been more for the young kid.
After taking the loss, I made my way off the field, while receiving some high fives along the way.
While the tenure as the Tourists’ mascot may have lasted just one night, it was certainly one to remember almost 13 years later.
Fans, once minor league baseball starts again, make an effort to go to a game and if you really want to enjoy it, ham it up with the mascot — it’s their job to have fun, and to make sure you have fun.