Culbreath: Sign of the timesWritten by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I have a tenuous relationship with things at a sporting event that aren’t the event proper.
I understand that in an effort to make things fun, teams come up with hot dog races, kiss cams, T-shirt cannons and the rest. It comes with the territory, and as long as it doesn’t detract from what’s going on out on the field, I’m fine. Kids these days with their tablet computers and Minecrafts and Pokemons — did that sound old enough? OK. Point is that it’s hard enough to get a kid to pay attention to anything for longer than 15 minutes, so a three-hour baseball game is going to be difficult unless you convince them to scream at the top of their lungs sometimes.
Grouped in the category of “things at a game that aren’t the game” are mascots. Particularly of the “dude in a suit” variety. It dates back to the San Diego Chicken, and is a staple of pro sports around the world.
Things go hot and cold for me and mascots. Mostly it depends on how they interact with my daughter. Rocky and Rocksy over at the University of Toledo always pull through for pictures. Spike is good for a fist bump. Muddy, for whatever reason, always seems to pass us over (no hard feelings, I know you’re busy being world-famous and all.)
One mascot, though, earned a lot of respect from me today. Travel down I-75 a ways, and you’ll find a second Fifth Third Field, which is the home of the Dayton Dragons, the Single-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. Their mascot, Heater, is getting all kinds of headlines for how he interacted with one particular kid on camera.
Matt and Cheri Samsworth took their son Hunter to the game, and met Heater out front of the ballpark. Their son is deaf, and though he wears a cochlear implant, he also sometimes has an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. He had one with him when he met the mascot that day, and when the interpreter started to finger-spell Heater’s name to the kid, the guy in the suit took notice. And after a cursory wave to the kid, he bypassed the interpreter by signing “You like baseball?” to the child. “I like baseball! We’re similar.”
(Four semesters of ASL classes finally pay off! In print, no less!)
That was the extent of the conversation, but the kid was over the moon, and his parents were near tears.
Mascots aren’t supposed to talk. It breaks the illusion. But they’re also supposed to entertain the families who are at the games. And by connecting with this kid, he managed to keep his vow of silence, while ensuring that this child would have a positive experience at the ball game.
It was a small gesture and it was a short conversation. It could be that’s all Heater knew how to sign. But I’d imagine every pro team is going to spend some time with their mascots to make sure they know a couple of phrases. As these sports franchises become more of a pillar in our communities, being able to connect on that level can turn a family into a group of diehard fans in an instant.
Matt “Shaggy” Culbreath is sports director for Newsradio 1370 WSPD.