Baseball season is upon us, and only one thing matters. It's not how active your team was during the off-season, not how many members of your team will be arrested for DUI before the season begins, and not how prospectively upset you're going to be at Derek Jeter's first outfield Gold Glove. No, the only important thing about baseball season is the return of baseball's stupid, pandering pageantry, and that includes (moreso than anything) the mascots.
I love mascots in the most platonic, nonsexual way ever. It sucks that I have to say that, but there you go. I collect photos with them, and I search the Internet for others who share my passion, but the only people I can find are perverts (obviously) and those wiry forty-somethings in grandpa glasses and baseball caps who travel the country going to games alone and getting photos on what appears to be a Polaroid from 1945. I am alone in my joy. As it turns out, most people don't know how wonderfully stupid mascots can get.
So this is the first in a series of attempts to change that. Starting with the Pioneer League, which is a rookie-level league wherein guys in coonskin caps shoot rifles at Indians affiliates, I will chronicle who these teams are and the creatures they boast as representatives.
Jurassic Park was released in 1993. Guess which year Ogden's baseball team became the "Raptors?" Did you guess 1994? Clever girl.
According to Wikipedia, "Oggie is a cartoon green velociraptor dinosaur who wears the white home uniform with a ? as the number." Using my eyeballs and the world's most basic sense of deductive reasoning, I'm logging into my account to add "Oggie has been known to stand in the baseball stadium during games, and the name 'Oggie' comes from the city of Ogden having an 'og' sound in the name." Ogden just got a team, shortly after they put in the monorail.
Scientifically, the velociraptor was a bipedal, feathered carnivore with enlarged, sickle-shaped claws. I don't know if Oggie's "thumbs up" gesture is an attempt to recreate said claws, but I guess it is better than the alternative of cloning a dinosaur and letting it run loose in the park, piercing the jugular veins and slashing the abdomens of fans. Also, I am 99% sure that is an alligator head.
Fun fact about the Pioneer League: every one of these teams played in Pocatello for about a season. The Missoula Osprey were the Pocatello Pioneers one season. The Ogden Raptors were the Pocatello Posse for one season. We haven't gotten to them yet, but the Helena Brewers used to be the Pocatello Local Sox. Man, Pocatello, you guys need to get your act together.
Anyway, this is Ollie the Osprey, a diurnal, fish-eating bird of prey with intermittent explosive disorder who hears voices in his head. The osprey is also known as the "sea hawk," which is more or less the most boner-inducing name an animal can have for a sports team, but nope, they went with "osprey." That'd be like Green Bay calling their football team the Preparatory Shipping Organizers. Ollie got the name "Ollie," I'm going to guess, because it starts with an O. It had to be an Osprey, because "ospreys" and "dirt" are the only f**king things in Montana.
From his bio: "Since that day he flew into Missoula, Ollie has made appearances all over the area, from visiting kids to helping out with Relay For Life, and attending Grand Opening events." I can just see the groundbreaking ceremony at the Missoula hospital, with the mayor standing there holding a big pair of scissors, nervously tugging at his collar, desperately whispering to his aids, trying to figure out what to do, and then this big osprey in a baseball jersey saunters up and explains scissoring.
The Billings Mustangs are the Pioneer League Rookie affiliate of the Major League Cincinnati Reds, most famous for being the place where Adam Dunn struck out repeatedly before someone gave him 13 million dollars to do it. The mascot for the Mustangs is, appropriately enough, an anthropomorphic horse called "Homer," no doubt named revered epic poet of ancient Greece ca. 8th century BC. Homer hatched out of an egg on July 4th and has been delighting baseball fans ever since! Wait, sorry, wrong tab. That is EVERY OTHER MASCOT EVER.
Homer is cute, but he's got that weird dentures thing going on, which starts off as an endearing smile but can end up as something much less complimentary if the Mustangs are losing, say, 11-2 in the fourth, and he's just standing on the dugout with that look on his face. I applaud them for actually giving the Mustangs a horse mascot, instead of another goddamned bird, or worse, some sort of vague, snowman type with Muppet fur named "Slowball" or "D.H." in a winking nod to baseball terminology.
And I'm sorry, but the last time I had to talk to Billings Mustangs I was calling my local Ford dealership.
Okay, no, seriously, what the hell is this thing
The city of Casper, Wyoming, is named "Casper" like the ghost. So the minor league team there is the "Casper Ghosts." Following me so far? Good, because their mascot is a purple blow-up doll platypus in a Rockies jersey. I understand that your mascot can probably not be a dead man (although I do like the idea of a very pale looking man in a baseball jersey wandering the stadium at night, with the formal mascot being put on display in a coffin somewhere out near the bounce houses), but ... where was I going with this?
To make matters even stranger, his name is Hobart. Hobart the constantly surprised Colorado Rockies player who is also a purple platypus, who may or may not be William McKinley's vice president. Couldn't you just bring out a dude with a sheet over his head?
Hey everybody, this group of college sophomores and an enormous dead bird they found are having so much fun at the Idaho Falls Chukars game! Look how funny they are, they put the thing on a Razor scooter.
This horrid, Godless thing is Charlie the Chukar. A Chukar, besides being the winner of a pretty obvious fan vote (maybe they were almost the Idaho Falls Buttheads), is a Eurasian partridge. Don't worry, I had to look it up. The Chukars have gone through about 700 names in the last forty years, including being the Idaho Falls A's, the Idaho Falls Yankees, Angels, Padres, Braves, Nuggets (whoops, wrong sport), and Braves again. When I saw "Idaho Falls Chukars" I was almost positive it was a tribe of Native Americans. As a Cleveland Indians fan, I gleefully clicked through, expecting to see some completely not racist caricature of a smiling Indian crying about the trash, and ended up staring at what I can only assume to be the ass-end of a festive bird.
Study question: Are players on the bench known as "Spare Chukars?"
The Orem Owlz (note the z, I didn't add that) are a nonchalant, Utah-based Pioneer League affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and their mascots are TWO OWLS WHO ARE MARRIED. This is not a joke, they are man-sized owls (or "owlz") with baseball heads who are legally married. From the kids section of the Orem Owlz website, because I guess this is Utah:
"Hootz and Holly were married at home plate on August 8, 2009. Charlie, from the Provo Angels, and Flash Fox, from the Utah Flash, were in attendance with thousands of Owlz fans to be witness. Fireworks followed the ceremony as they flew off into the night."
I guess he got to see her Hootz that night, huh. I'd love to be a kid growing up in Orem, just living the most humdrum life imaginable, when all of a sudden the Provo Angels change their name to the OWLZ with a Z and suddenly my world is torn asunder. It'd be like a weird baseball version of Pleasantville. I'm like, oh their mascot is named Hoots, like the noise an owl makes, that's greWAIT A MINUTE HOOTS IS SPELLED WITH A Z AS WELL, THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS. And then I'm only moments from killing myself, but I find out that Hootz is a part of a legally recognized union, and things start to settle down.
Now that we've touched on the rights of mascots to marry, we move to Helena, where Lewis the Lion and Clark the Cougar of the Helena Braves live and work within the confines of a forbidden civil union. Lewis and Clark (get it) are only granted the legal rights of a domestic partnership because of same-sex marriage and "a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals" being banned by Milwaukee Brewers statutes and a constitutional amendment in 2006. What, you don't think they're gay? That cougar's name is "Clark." I don't care if they're just people in suits, that cougar suit is a gay.
The Brewers website says that "Helena is such a great city and the Brewers are so cool that they needed more than one mascot to keep up." So I guess Helena is way cooler than New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco or Austin, Texas (where we have no mascots at all and are falling far behind) because of this lion man high-fiving me as I enter their minor league baseball park. The site also says that they are "named after a couple of famous out-of-towners," so I'm guessing they're talking about Lois Lane and Clark Kent from that one Superman show from the 90s.
C'mon, Helena, get in the game. Minor League teams in 2011 are supposed to be ridiculous, not just the "less successful Brewers." Call your team the Helena Bonham Carters and give me a huge ass bobblehead.
We close out the Pioneer League with the Great Falls Voyagers and "Orbit," an alien with a super soaker who is named "Orbit" because if you have a baseball team named anything even remotely related to outer space, you are contractually obligated to call your mascot Orbit. That's it, that's the most creative thing possible. There are thousands and thousands of planets and moons and suns named after all kinds of crazy things, but no, Orbit will do. It will remind the locals to chew gum and buy plane tickets. The Voyagers play in Centene Stadium, where they store all of the city's water.
Orbit will not break any boundaries in the progression of mascots as legitimate art, but at least he isn't a bird. I don't care if the team is called the "Great Falls Voyagers," there's a chance that a "voyager" is a bird somewhere, and that when you show up you're gonna watch a voyager hatch out of an egg on the fourth of July. A quick Google image search of "Great Falls Voyagers Orbit" reveals horrible, kayfabe-breaking secrets, such as the fact that some lady regularly fills in for Orbit and takes a bunch of pictures of it, and that Orbit has a full costume, but no big mascot feet. Size 7 sneakers are the fastest way to destroy my suspension of disbelief, jerks.
The Great Falls Voyagers were a lot better before players Seven and Nine showed up, and the team became all about how sexy they were.