The accidental mascot: how mr. celery reached his salad days with the wilmington blue rocks.
Although it is not uncommon for an impromptu symbol, slogan, or cheer to arise in the heat of a pennant race, it is rare when a full-blown mascot suddenly appears and becomes wildly popular, particularly when the mascot in question has no discernible features or connections whatsoever to the team. In 2000, one such "accidental mascot"--a celery stalk--took the fans of the Wilmington Blue Rocks by storm. This paper will discuss the germination and evolution of Mr. Celery as a mascot, particularly his impact fanatically and economically on the Blue Rocks and their fans; the implications on sponsors and other stakeholders on the addition of new mascots; and the place of new mascots in existing promotional, marketing, merchandising programs and operations for the team.
HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT AND SIGNIFICANCE OF MASCOTS AND OTHER SYMBOLS
Mascot: a person or thing held to bring good luck; something regarded as a cherished emblem or symbol.
The word mascot, which may have been first used dialectically in Provence and Gascony to describe anything that brought luck to a household, was subsequently popularized by a comic operetta entitled La Mascotte.2 In the United States, mascots have traditionally been chosen to reflect qualities (such as the fighting spirit personified by predatory animals or warriors) or local or regional traits.
Some minor-league teams have long-standing traditional mascots, such as Wool E. Bull (Durham Bulls) or Muddy the Mud Hen (Toledo Mud Hens). Other minor-league teams have local or regional features which have been used to create a mascot--for example, Champ, the purported underwater denizen of Lake Champlain who serves as mascot for the Vermont Lake Monsters. Successful mascots such as Champ survive even when team ownership is in peril or changes hands. The mascot is part of the team, not the ownership group. It has its own identity, and its own fan base, which transcends that of any owner.
A recent Mascot Mania contest sponsored by Minor League Baseball (MiLB) demonstrates the fierce loyalty of fans to their mascots. In Spring 2012, MiLB created a 64-spot playoff bracket (similar to the brackets for the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments) and conducted six rounds of voting to reduce the field to a "Final Four" of Ike the Spike (State College Spikes, Pirates); Orbit (Albuquerque Isotopes, Dodgers); Phinley (Clearwater Threshers, Phillies); and Snappy D. Turtle (Beloit Snappers, Twins.) It is not clear how MiLB selected 64 mascots from over 150 minor-league teams. However, hundreds of messages posted on MiLB's website indicated that many fans were upset that their favorite mascots were not in the field of 64. Many of the 326 comments bemoaned the exclusion of mascots such as Spikes (Rochester Red Wings), Sox the Fox (Colorado Springs), Scrappy (Mahoning Valley Scrappers), and Humphrey (Boise Hawks.)
It is not uncommon for impromptu symbols to arise in the heat of a pennant race or season. For example, the Los Angeles Angels' Rally Monkey mascot debuted on June 6, 2000, when, with the Angels trailing the San Francisco Giants 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth inning, two video board operators took a clip of a monkey jumping around from the 1994 movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, superimposing the words RALLY MONKEY on the screen. The Angels scored two runs, won the game, and a mascot was born. The team subsequently hired Katie, a white-haired capuchin monkey, to star in original clips for later games.' Similarly, a series of incidents involving squirrels in the 2011 National League Division Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the St. Louis Cardinals bedeviled the Phillies but beguiled the Cards, such that a stuffed squirrel tossed at the Card's bullpen was adopted as a mascot and the resulting Rally Squirrel mania (t-shirts, costumes, even a theme song) was credited with helping the Cardinals ultimately win the World Series.(4)
Whether the Rally Squirrel will withstand the test of time to become a permanent mascot of the Cardinals (along with Fredbird, the Cardinal's primary mascot) is not yet known. Not all mascots are beloved, nor do they come or go in an uncalculated way. The Philadelphia 76ers recently gave the gate to Hip Hop, a rabbit with a doo-rag and sunglasses, after it was clear that the mascot generated no fan support and had no evident connection to the team or to the City of Brotherly Love.(5) A news release stated that Hip Hop had "fallen in love, married" and was relocating to rural Pennsylvania "to start a family." The 76ers also announced that they are working with Jim Henson's Creature Shop and Raymond Entertainment to develop a successor to Hip Hop.
HISTORY OF THE WILMINGTON BLUE ROCKS
The Wilmington Blue Rocks trace their modern history to 1940, when Connie Mack and R. R. M. "Bob" Carpenter jointly established a Class B Interstate League affiliate for the Philadelphia Athletics in Wilmington, Delaware. Hall of Famer pitcher Chief Bender served as the Blue Rocks' first manager, and the team had a winning record each of its first three seasons.6 In 1943, the Carpenter family purchased the Philadelphia Phillies, took full ownership of the Blue Rocks, and for the next nine years the team was a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate. The team played in Wilmington Park, located at 30th Street and Governor Printz Boulevard, which was considered at the time to be one of the finest minor-league parks in the country. In Wilmington's thirteen years in the Interstate League, the team won four Governors' Cups and missed the postseason only once. Future Phillies "Whiz Kids" pitchers Curt Simmons and Robin Roberts and outfielder Elmer Valo were among the notables who played in Wilmington before going to the majors. Despite setting many records for attendance, the Blue Rocks' fan support dwindled, and 1952 was the team's last season in the Interstate League.
In 1993, the baseball team formerly known as the Peninsula Pilots was moved from Hampton, Virginia, to Wilmington, assumed the Blue Rocks name, and became the Class A Carolina League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. Except for a two-year period from September 2004 to September 2006, the Blue Rocks have been affiliated with the Royals since 19932 Since its return in 1993, Wilmington has one of the best winning percentages in all of Minor League Baseball, winning eight Northern Division titles in nineteen years and four Carolina League championships.(8) The team plays its games at Daniel S. Frawley Stadium, a 6,532-seat facility alongside 1-95 in downtown Wilmington.
As with many minor-league teams, a local feature serves as the source of the team's name. Striations of blue rock in the granite along the nearby Brandywine River served as the inspiration for the Blue Rocks original appellation in 1940, proposed by a seventy-three-year-old winner in a "name the team" newspaper contest. The "Blue Rocks" name was revived when minor-league baseball returned to Wilmington in 1993.
THE CREATION OF ROCKY BLUEWINKLE, THE OFFICIAL MASCOT
Rocky Bluewinkle, the Wilmington Blue Rocks primary mascot, is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the 1950s cartoon show which ties the team name to the blue moose who works the crowds, makes many official public appearances on behalf of the team, and appears in team literature.(9)
THE ORIGINS OF MR. CELERY, THE "ACCIDENTAL MASCOT"
In 2000, an "accidental mascot" took the Wilmington Blue Rocks by storm.
Many mascots are intended to create good luck, generate fan support and excitement, or urge a team to victory. Some mascots are viewed as strictly celebratory. The idea of creating a celebratory mascot for the Blue Rocks arose during the 1999 California League All-Star game. The Blue Rocks general manager, who attended the game, witnessed the emergence of a pink bunny from the outfield wall to celebrate runs scored by the Lake Elsinore Storm.(10) The GM thought the bunny celebration was one of the most hilarious things he had ever seen and wanted to somehow incorporate the idea in Wilmington.
In early 2000, while rummaging through the dusty catacombs (some say an actual dumpster) of Frawley Stadium, a summer intern came across several moth-eaten, discarded costumes which the stadium concessions operator had used between innings to promote its food offerings. These included a hot dog, a peanut, popcorn, a can of soda, and, inexplicably, a celery stalk. The only wearable costume which had not suffered near total decomposition was the celery stalk. Without much forethought (or concern for any transmittable disease), Blue Rocks management conscripted an intern to don the costume and frolic on the field the next day when the Blue Rocks scored a run. A legend was born! Mr. Celery's first performance, unannounced and unknown in advance by fans attending the game, was a resounding success. After first watching with curiosity, a measure of surprise, and outright bewilderment, the crowd quickly erupted in laughter.
Mr. Celery's appearance was soon expanded to every time a Blue Rocks player crossed home plate. Chants of "Celery, Celery" could be heard each time the Blue Rocks threatened to score a run, encouraging the batter to deliver an RBI to background cheers for, of all things, fresh produce. A "Celery Squad" of dedicated fans--almost all nearby college students--was formed with their own website and wigs of big green hair. Prohibitions on outside food were relaxed to allow fresh celery stalks to be brought into the stadium and raised and waved while Mr. Celery performed his celebratory dance after each Rock's run. The rest was history--the adulation of small children, toasts with Bloody Mary's, and, of course, the inevitable marketing of stuffed replicas, key chains, t-shirts, and other merchandise bearing Mr. Celery's likeness, stands toward the home plate dirt circle, faces the crowd and does an absurd and comical celebratory dance, runs to the backstop and high-fives fans, and then disappears under the stands.
Although many fans accept the visceral image of Mr. Celery at face value, other fans have pondered possible deeper meanings and symbolism of the celery stick. Does the celery represent some deep primal urge? Can the letters "Mr. Celery' be rearranged to derive a secret code? These and other mysteries have been considered by Blue Rocks fans since 2000.
MARKETING AND PROMOTIONAL USE OF MR. CELERY
Any mascot worth its salt (or blue cheese dip) does more than provide a rallying point for fans--it provides marketing and promotional opportunities for the team. Responding to (or creating) fan demand, the Blue Rocks have created a number of products reflecting Mr. Celery. A separate section of the team store bearing the prominent sign "Fresh Produce" sells t-shirts, hats, visors, and other items emblazoned with images of Mr. Celery to fans of all ages. A libations stand called Stalker's Pub sells Bloody Mary's (with celery stalks, of course) to older fans of Mr. Celery.
Although the team has capitalized on Mr. Celery at the park, there are deliberate limitations on the use of Mr. Celery. He only appears when the team scores or at other special events at the Stadium. He does not roam before, during, or after games to greet fans. He does not make appearances or visits--those are official mascot duties fulfilled by Rocky Bluewinkle. The mystique of Mr. Celery lies in his limited, unique use, and the fans seem to appreciate that.
MULTIPLE MASCOTS ARE COMMON FOR MINOR-LEAGUE TEAMS
As with other minor-league baseball teams, Mr. Celery is one of three "major" mascots (the third being "Rubble") and three "minor" mascots for the Blue Rocks--a higher number than most minor-league teams, but by no means unique or unusual. Many clubs add new mascots over the years (while retaining original ones) to make things "fresh" and "new" for marketing reasons, to capitalize on additional merchandising opportunities, and sometimes (as with Mr. Celery) by pure "accident." Lake Elsinore Storm has four mascots, each used for various functions.
The significance of mascots to the experience of attending a minor-league baseball game is clear. As one Storm fan put it in the web comments for the MiLB Mascot Mania contest: I have season tickets to Padres games my daughter thinks they are boring, BUT I decided to invite her to Storms game with me last season , and well . .. she has asked me, "when are going to the next Storm game?" she loves the mascot!
Mascots undoubtedly play an important role for minor-league teams, generating fan interest and devotion as well as a source of ancillary income. While mascots can be planned or developed, they also arise out of circumstances that reflect the heat of a pennant race or the goal of providing entertainment and fun at the games. The germination and success of Mr. Celery as the "accidental mascot" for the Wilmington Blue Rocks is a success which can be emulated by other team management whose goal is to provide fun for all fans attending games.
(1.) Currently, all but four major-league baseball teams have mascots (the Angels, Cubs, Dodgers, and Yankees are the exceptions).
(2.) "Mascot." Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mascot.
(3.) The Rally Monkey came to national and international attention during the Angels' 2002 World Series appearance against the San Francisco Giants, when rally-monkey fervor spurred the Angels from a 5-0 seventh-inning deficit to six unanswered runs to win that game and, ultimately, the World Series.
(4.) The Rally Squirrel was subsequently immortalized on the St. Louis World Series Championship rings. Such is the power of mascots and superstitions!
(5.) See, e.g., "Hip-Hop, Unloved Symbol of 76ers, Down the Hole." Philadelphia Inquirer, November 23, 2011.
(6.) Charles Albert "Chief" Bender pitched primarily for the Philadelphia Athletics, making five trips to the World Series and compiling a record of 212-127, a 2.46 ERA, and 1,716 strikeouts.
(7.) From September 2004 to September 2006, the Blue Rocks participated in a player development contract with the Boston Red Sox.
(8.) One hundred seventeen players from the current Blue Rocks team have made it to the "Show" including Mike Aviles, Carlos Beltran, Clay Buchholz, Johnny Damon, Chad Durbin, Jacoby Ellsbury, Zack Grienke, Jon Leiber, Jed Lowrie, and Mike Sweeney.
(9.) A brief licensing skirmish over the name was favorably resolved, and Rocky is now an integral part of the team.
(10.) Although the Storm (a Class A Calitbrnia League team) still has a mascot celebrating runS scored, it is no longer the pink bunny. Instead, among its family of four mascots is Jackpot, who comes from behind an outfield wall each time the Storm scores.
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|Author:||Jacobsen, Kenneth A.|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2013|
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