Flying High With The Orioles

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

August 23, 1992|By LAURA BARNHARDT

It's the spirit of Oriole baseball games, the smiles of childre when they shake hands with the Oriole Bird, and the roar of fans during the Oriole cheer that Alan Gimbel loves. A lifelong resident of Baltimore, Mr. Gimbel has been a fan of the Orioles and Bird since he was a kid.

"The 1979 World Series left a lasting impression on me. The Oriole Bird came to visit my school, Cross Country Elementary. . . . I remember being absolutely enthralled by the Bird. He was so big and all the kids lost their minds."

Little did he know then that one day he would step into the Oriole mascot's oversized shoes. But this past April, at age 22, Mr. Gimbel auditioned for and won a job as one of three people who wear the costume of the Oriole Bird.

A senior majoring in philosophy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, he had finally decided to listen to that little voice inside his head that said, "Wouldn't it be cool to be the Bird?"

"It's weird that I remember the Bird and now kids are going to remember me," said Mr. Gimbel.

Q: Why did you want to become the Orioles mascot?

A: I thought it would be exciting. I wanted to be part of the Orioles in any way I could, and I knew I'd never get on the field as a player. I think everyone who has been to an Oriole game has thought it would be cool to be the Bird once or twice. I took it a step further.

Q: What made you decide to take that step?

A: The last time I had seen the Bird was about a year and a half ago at an appearance that I just happened to be at. He was commanding everyone's attention. He was going absolutely +V crazy. I thought it would be a lot of fun. I really didn't take it too seriously, because I never thought I'd get the chance.

Q: How did you go about auditioning?

A: I saw an announcement for auditions on television. It's one of those things where it's in the back of your mind and you say, "If I don't do it now I'll never get the chance." So, I called. A friend of mine, Sean Callahan, is a DJ. We made an audiotape which I took to the audition and used with a really goofy skit. It was the kind of thing you wouldn't do without wearing the Bird suit. I was the last one to go out of about 30 people. I had to perform in front of seven judges. Then, they put me in the lunchroom while people were eating. It was definitely a test of how much nerve I have.

Q: What was the skit like?

A: We made the tape with this hoedown kind of music [and] surfing music. I danced around and did a whole bunch of things to show versatility. Then they made us put the Bird head on and act out scenarios like, "If Cal Ripken got up in the ninth inning, how would you react?"

I guess I did OK, because they called me back and gave me the job. Then I followed one of the other mascots around for a few weeks and learned what I'm supposed to do.

Q: Do you have any theatrical experience?

A: None. I was in a play in summer camp about 10 years ago. I think I'm a natural. You can't be a mature adult and jump around in a bird suit.

Q: Do you fall down when you're clowning around?

A: Oh yeah. See, when you're out in that suit you feel invincible. Everybody's coming up to you slapping you fives. It's definitely an ego trip.

The worst fall I ever had was when the players pushed me down. I had taken Mark McLemore's hat off. And I guess he was a little upset about that, or he pretended to be. So, on the field, right before the game, he said, "Bird, come here." He shook my hand, and I knew something was up because he wouldn't let go. He started walking me backward, and Sam Horn had lay down behind me. Just when McLemore pushed me, Horn came up and I just flipped over. I didn't know what happened until later. They got me good. Needless to say, I don't mess with them anymore.

Q: Do you joke around with the players a lot?

A: Mostly on the field. Occasionally, I'll see one in the office. When I stand next to Cal Ripken, I'm thinking, "Wow!" There's still a little kid in me.

Q: Is being the Bird what you expected?

A: It's a lot tougher. It's very physical work. The other day it was 91 degrees, but it must have been 500 degrees in that costume. . . . You sweat so much. It's a hard day. But it's definitely worth it.

Q: What makes it worth it?

A: I really enjoy interacting with the community and meeting new people. The thing about this job is the change of scenery every day -- it keeps it exciting.

Q: What is your typical workday as the Bird?

A: Usually, I'll have something in the morning on Saturday, like a ++ parade. Then I might go to a kid's birthday party. I get to the stadium for the game 2 1/2 hours early. The Bird has to be there for the bullpen party and a few other things. . . . Then you get out there and try to get the crowd involved in the game: the Oriole cheer -- when the Bird spells out "Orioles" with his body -- people love that. I do a lot of slapstick comedy: eating people's hats, throwing popcorn. People like to be messed with, I think. The main thing I do at games is with the kids: taking pictures, shaking hands, autographs. I think the kids appreciate you the most. I can't tell you how many times parents tell me, "We've been looking all over the stadium for you."

Q: What do you like best about being the Bird?

A: I think the best thing is dealing with people. I'll be honest, the attention is great.

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