by Ronnie Norpel
Hope springs eternally green, and here we are kicking off another Phillies season—having lifted a curse?
In early March, I stopped by a snowy Citizens Bank Park to congratulate my new old friend, the Phillie Phanatic. New, because Tom Burgoyne and I had never met in all those years, yet old, because indeed I had danced with the Phanatic the last time there was a Game 5 in Philadelphia.
Something magical happened last fall for all of us fans. But for me, it was not Chase or Jimmy or Jamie, but the Big Green Fuzz who provided the winning touch of World Championship karma.
I asked Tom if he considered himself a lucky person. He laughed and said he’d never been asked that before. I added, “Are you superstitious?”
“I’m not too superstitious, no, but, you know, pretty much in terms of do I feel lucky…is it destiny or superstition or any of that? I don’t know about any of that, but definitely lucky.”
“Getting the job with the Phils was sheer luck,” he says. In an earlier incarnation the Phanatic was the Hawk mascot at St. Joe’s Prep. After graduating from Drexel, he did some sales jobs, but really needed to make a move. He scanned the want ads that Sunday in 1989. “First sales, then M for marketing, and saw ‘MASCOT WANTED, send resume and a letter to P.O. Box 7575.’” At the time he did not know that was the Phillies address. “I did it almost as a joke: ‘let me bring your costume to life.’”
I thought there was something kind of pure about the fact he didn’t know it was the Phillies looking for a Phanatic.
“Pure, sure, but lucky,” he emphasized. “That was the only Sunday they ran the ad.” They called him a couple weeks after the audition.
“I got the job. I couldn’t believe it.” His grandmother’s maiden name was Casey, and now for nearly two decades Burgoyne has been “at the bat” with the Phillies.
Burgoyne’s marketing background has come into play over the years, including creation of the Be A Phanatic About Reading literacy program and his Phanatic-themed children’s stories. His latest book is “The Parade of Champions,” and this year’s top student readers got to parade through their schools with the World Series trophy.
But that trophy was a long time coming. After Burgoyne took over for David Raymond as the in-park Phanatic after the 1993 National League championship, the drought began. Ye olde Phils wouldn’t win a title from 1994 until grabbing the N.L. East in 2007.
“It was the new Phanatic’s fault.” Turns out everybody was thinking it was their fault— me, the Phanatic, and Chase Utley in his knit cap.
When we met, Burgoyne had just returned with his family from a Spring Training weekend—extended due to the snow up home, so they killed time with a movie before heading to the airport. In the movie parking garage they bumped into some familiars, Geoff Jenkins and Utley.
“I don’t generally make a big deal of traipsing my boys to meet players, but when it happens organically…” he said. “So I yelled, ‘Hey, fellas,’ and they came over. When they walked away, my wife said, ‘Does Chase always wear a knit cap?’”
South Florida, 80 degrees —no snow there.
“Well, he’s superstitious. When we gave out that Jimmy Rollins knit hat, Chase wore it once, and then had it on all season. He is definitely one of those guys who has his rituals. Everybody wants to talk to him, about his hitting, but he gives blah interviews, because he doesn’t want to mess with anything.”
Wait – UTLEY’S HAT: The same one from the World Series celebration? (You know, the one where he said “World Bleeping Champions?”) He’s going for the repeat!
Burgoyne goes on about superstitions. “Lenny Dykstra was at the head of the class. If he made an out wearing a pair of batting gloves, he would throw the gloves in the trash and grab another pair.” He said Dykstra went through about 500 pairs a season. “John Vukovich, God rest his soul, would pick the gloves out of the trash after games and take them to Little League kids.”
“Schill would never step on the base line, but that’s an obvious one,” then he laughed. “But most people don’t talk about their superstitions—that’s why they are superstitions!”
Then he told his way-back-machine story: Jamie Moyer wasn’t the only one who skipped school to attend the 1980 World Series parade. Tom Burgoyne watched that celebration from atop the statue near the then-Mellon Bank building, and ended up in a photograph on the back of the Inquirer World Series supplement. He took the picture with him when he interviewed for the Phanatic gig—street cred, you know—Broad Street.
Fast forward, 2008: There he was, on the lead truck in the parade.
“We come down Market Street, and go around City Hall, and because of the fire and all the construction on that corner, they had taken the statue out.” The statue his friends had called “Tom’s statue” ever since the Inquirer photo of 1980.
“I hadn’t seen the statue in years. We turn the corner, and—the statue’s back! And, there I was looking at it, people couldn’t climb on it, because it was cordoned off, but there it was.” His statue. “It was a karma moment.”
As random chance would have it, my old new friend the Phillie Phanatic provided me a kindred karma moment at the championship game.
That Monday morning of Game 5, my clever brother-in-law Rob Lamb escorted his son “Willie Phanatic” to the ballpark for WIP’s biggest Phillies fan contest. They were spotted.
“He was out here for tickets, and it was an unbelievably great costume.” (Grandma Weetzie takes her Halloween seamstressing seriously, folks.)
“Half the fun of working with the mini-Phanatics is that often their heads don’t fit right,” Burgoyne said. “But the girls from the office called me to see Willie, so I went out and talked to his dad and said ‘Let’s make it happen, we’ll do the thing on the dugout.’”
Due to the unusual rain-out on Monday night, we waited forty-eight hours from the pre-game to the seventh inning. The family mojo was in full force, with five siblings, a cousin, four in-laws, and three of the next generation in attendance—and my nephew Willie and his dad dancing on the dugout with the Phanatic. We won.
World Series Game 5 Part II was so brief, the victory is still somewhat hard to absorb.
“It was like going to a hockey game just for the shoot out,” Tom said. “It’s completely a dream, it’s all a fog…running out on the field, again, it’s all part of my job, they hand me the big 2008 Championship flag, so I’m out there waving the flag, came back in here, had some champagne.
“Still, someday, when I’m older, I’ll look back and say, ‘That was me, on the field.’ Being the fan that I am, it’s like—Ah! I was on the field when they won it! I guess the difference is that I was the Phanatic when that happened, so where was I? It was out-of-body.”
The drought is over. The curse has been lifted.