Mid August has traditionally been the time that my brother and I do a Road Trip. The nominal excuse is taking in a few minor league baseball games. Of course we do other stuff; eat greasy food, drink beer (but less than in Old Times), discuss the meaning of life, and so forth.
But we do go to the games and enjoy them a lot. "Down on the Farm" as they say, the players are young and hungry, playing hard for a shot at the Show. You see raw talent and ridiculous mental lapses. It is baseball in a form far closer to its original version than what you see in the Major Leagues. It is also much cheaper to attend.
On our recent trip we started off at Cedar Rapids, the affiliate of our preferred team, the Minnesota Twins.
Last trip down this way we were extremely impressed with the performance of the team mascot, a certain "Mr. Shucks". (Corn is a big deal in Iowa. So the team is called the Kernels and the mascot...). Shucks was simply the best mascot we had ever seen, and we really wanted to see The Master at work again.
But at the beginning of the game he was nowhere to be seen. And what's this?
Not an Angry Bird. Well, actually I guess it is, as this is the mascot of the University of Iowa (Hawkeyes) football team. It seems there was some joint promotional thing going on so we had "Herky the Hawk" and a gang of cheerleaders running around.
They even got up on the roof of the dugout and danced, causing me to miss a play at first entirely. Mind you I have no inappropriate interest in young ladies of an age to be my children, or to stretch the narrative a bit, in theory my grandchildren. But darn it, I could not see past them.
In the pre-game moments Mr. Shucks was nowhere to be seen. I asked one of the Kernel's staff about this and they said he* was in fact on the premises. It was my assumption that he did not want to distract from his "guests" and was letting Herky and his pals have the lime light.
But I also got the feeling that the current "Shucks" was not quite the dynamo of his predecessor, a certain Marius Noden.** Being a mascot is, you see, a little like being the Dread Pirate Roberts. So long as people believe it is you, it is you. But you have to assiduously keep up the act.
But eventually Mr. Shucks did start working the crowd, and all was forgiven. Shucks wanders about with a staffer whose job description probably includes helping with visibility on uneven surfaces as well as snapping pictures with fans. They were good sports, the both of them.
The yellow bracelet btw is required if you are going to purchase beer. I had at first just gone up to the beer vendor and pointed to my grizzled beard. It was deemed insufficient proof that I was over 21.
Oh, the ball game. Well played with surprisingly good pitching and fielding. The offense was a bit off but we did see one fellow hit a screaming line drive home run. The last guy we saw do that was three years ago in Beloit. The player was Miguel Sano. He is now up with the big club and hitting impressive home runs off of the best pitching in the league.
*It is hard to tell "he" from "she" in a mascot outfit. The current "Mr. Shucks" is not tall of stature, but our observation when he was running about with a team banner was that he did not run like a girl.
** compare this article from the local paper with my blog post on the subject: Best Mascot. Coincidence? I wonder. Mr. Noden has returned to his native Atlanta and has a marketing position with the Atlanta Hawks basketball team.