Mascots unmasked at museum


They are hugged and poked, kissed and prodded, laughed at and danced with - even punched and kicked.

As Mike Milton, better known as the Orioles Bird, puts it, he has experienced anything that can be done to a stuffed animal.

Life for sports teams' mascots has its ups and downs. They bear torturous temperatures, endure humiliating antics and don't even have the luxury of using their voices. But they have fun. Loads of it.

Yesterday, they broke the rules at a behind-the-mask tell-all at the Babe Ruth Museum at Camden Yards, shedding heavy costumes and revealing the life-size personalities of the Ravens mascot Poe (there is also an Edgar and an Allan), the Orioles Bird and Blaster of the Baltimore Blast soccer team.

The men behind the mascots? Just three regular guys in their 20s wearing shorts and baseball caps, and making a living.

There was Brandon Williams, 26, who lives in Parkville and got in the mascot business in college at the University of Delaware. He is now in his third season as Poe. ("I'm the fat, chubby, funny one," he said.)

There was Milton, 26, of Essex, who has been a mascot since middle school (everything from a beaver to a bulldog) and is going on his second season with the Orioles. He hopes to go to law school and join the military someday.

And there was Eric Feinblatt, 29, of Glen Burnie, who got the bug in college at Towson University and is going into his third season as Blaster. The mascot role is a job he juggles with ticket sales and customer service at Camden Yards and - soon - teaching.

They described a life that can get tiring and hot. None imagined ever becoming a mascot. It was something they fell into and are enjoying just about every minute (except the really hot ones).

"I never ever thought that I'd be doing it professionally and as a career," said Williams.

"Once I got a contract offer with a salary, I realized I could make a pretty good career as a stuffed animal," he added, to the laughter of a crowded room of children and adults. "I just enjoy doing it."

The mascots dispelled a few rumors (no, they don't have air conditioners built into their suits) and talked about the difficulty of living a voiceless existence where you can only see straight ahead.

"Try doing gymnastics blindfolded," explained Milton. "That's what we're doing out there."

There is also the attention factor. For some, like Milton, it's great to be an anonymous celebrity - lots of attention when the suit is on, and when it's off, he's a regular guy.

But Williams said jokingly that the female attention just isn't the same when he's out of the suit. "I don't know if you guys have this problem, but the women love you a lot more in costume," he said to his fellow mascots.

To convey emotion, they have to act at five times the level of normal people, said Milton, describing it as "an acquired skill."

"The bird, he whistles a lot," he said. "We kind of whistle what we say."

For Williams, the greatest joy is coming as close as he can to his childhood dream of being a professional athlete. "I have a lot of friends who were better athletes," he said, "but I made it to the NFL. I wear a jersey, and I'm on the field."

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