Phanatic insider: Think it's easy being green? | Sam Donnellon

Phanatic insider: Think it's easy being green? | Sam Donnellon

THE PHANATIC had another birthday Sunday and the ageless wonder has never felt better. He bounced backward off a trampoline, popped wheelies, danced along the third-base line with his pals, put hexes on opposing pitchers and smooched a lot of heads. Thirty-nine years after one of the most impressive marketing births of history, he still had the energy and the intellect of an 8-year-old.

The guy inside, the alter ego? Little different. There are some floating bodies in the knees and he’s had his nose broken and orbitals fractured by some accidental chin music over the years. And there’s that disc problem he’s had to manage since a fall he took shortly after he assumed responsibility for the Phanatic from its original caretaker, Dave Raymond, in 1993.

But you wouldn’t know it from talking to Tom Burgoyne. Every day inside that heavy green, brick-footed sweatbox of a furball is still a sunny day to him. Even the ones when the back stretches don’t quite do the trick.

“I’ve been in and out of a few physical therapists,” he was saying Monday morning, after his stretches. “Had it X-rayed a number of times. I’ve been doing pretty good with back stretches. About twice a year it’ll go out, and literally spasm.”

And then? The show must go on. He is 51 years old, in his 25th season of taking care of the 6-6, 300-pound Galapagos homey, and if he has learned nothing else, he has learned that whatever is happening to what’s underneath the fur is irrelevant from 30 minutes before the game is to begin to more than three hours later. In sickness and in health, through sore backs and sore knees and those on-the-job head injuries, the Phanatic has become the mascot equivalent of Bruce Springsteen over the years, bringing it night in and night out for 31/2 hours (or more) of edgy silliness, charming 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds, and everyone in between.

Like the Boss, he is in a constant quest to reinvent himself. And therein lies the peril. When he flopped around the trampoline Sunday on that balky back after purposefully falling from a ladder, it was impossible not to wonder whether he was really hurt underneath.

Because, well, there’s some precedent. Pushing aside – pun intended – the slip off the staging at the Philadelphia Sports Writers dinner that began his back troubles, the Phanatic seems in an unending quest to put his caretaker in peril.

Five seasons ago, playing to a crowd in Allentown, Burgoyne was felled by a foul ball that skipped off the top of the home dugout and struck the mascot in the neck – and thus Burgoyne in the eye. The eye closed immediately. The Phanatic laid across a row of fans – much to their delight – before stumbling to his feet and up the stairwell with a club assistant, where an EMT unit was supposed to be waiting.

“The moment we go up the steps toward the concourse, the Phanatic gets mobbed,” he said. “Everybody wants a picture. I’m struggling, but I’m high-fiving, making my way. I see the EMT guys running toward me and I’m thinking, ‘Thank God, help has arrived.’ And then one guy pulls out his camera and the other EMT guy gets a picture of us – and then they leave!”

They were quickly flagged down. Burgoyne was later diagnosed with a concussion, but there is no mascot concussion protocol, not yet anyway. So two nights later, when the big club returned for a home series, the Phanatic did, too.

Then there was the time in 2008 when the Phanatic was exchanging taunts with Braves bench player Greg Norton. Norton fired a ball, unaware that Burgoyne’s eyes weren’t where the Phanatic’s were. Burgoyne’s nose and orbital bone were fractured.

“I had blood everywhere inside the suit and I staggered around a bit, but nobody in the stands knew,” Burgoyne said.

He didn’t finish that game. His nose was reset that night at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and he was fitted with one of those plastic masks often worn by NBA players. He was back in the lineup the next day.

There was also the Great War of ’96 against Ricky Bottalico. Back and forth they went with taunts and pranks, until Bottalico, then the Phillies’ closer, ambushed our beloved mascot with a rosin bag thrown at fastball speed as the Phanatic gunned his four-wheeler past the outfield bullpen at Veterans Stadium.

“I almost fell off,” Burgoyne said. “I couldn’t see for about two minutes out of that eye. It scared me. I got back to my dressing room and I was ticked off. Ticked off. And I love Ricky. But at that moment, I was not happy. And once I got some vision back in my right eye, I went down to the truck ramp where they had a hose. I turned the hose on and I watered him down in the bullpen. During the game.”

Bottalico graciously accepted the retaliation. “He wasn’t mad,” Burgoyne said. “He knew he had screwed up. It ended there. But I got the last laugh.”

Those who witnessed the exchange laughed twice. It was the act, right? Part of the show? Yeah, right.

As cute as the Phanatic can be around your kid, there is a certain Tim Burton-like characteristic that has contributed to its longevity, as well.

And Burgoyne’s, too. He has three “Phil-ins” these days, including a thirtysomething in marketing who will do about seven games this season, an heir apparent perhaps. When that ascension occurs, though, is in no one’s thoughts right now. The Phanatic might be eternally 8, but by the 67-year-old Springsteen’s standards, Burgoyne is still a pup, too.

“It’s amazing when I get that costume on,” he said. “The love that surrounds me. I can’t imagine another job I would love more. As long as I’m healthy, I’m going to continue to do it.”

donnels@phillynews.com

@samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon


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Published at Tue, 25 Apr 2017 01:44:07 +0000

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