Almost Famous: The Life of a Minor League Baseball Mascot

On nearly any day, the most popular figure at Durham Bulls Athletic Park is neither a player nor a manager. It’s Wool E. Bull, the iconic minor league franchise’s mischievous, dancing, go-kart driving mascot that is regularly trailed around the ballpark by kids and parents seeking pictures and autographs.

The smiling face of Durham Bulls mascot Wool E. Bull.Wool E.’s fame is hardly limited to the DBAP, as the character makes between 250 and 300 appearances at schools, parades and charity events around the Triangle region. Yet the mascot’s popularity is limited to the outfit because the person who has brought Wool E. Bull to life for the past 10 years prefers to remain anonymous.

“The character is the character,” said the person behind Wool E. Bull, who agreed to discuss the life of a minor league mascot on the condition of anonymity. “Some people like to divulge that they are the character. I prefer to keep Wool E. sacred. The Durham Bulls have been good about that: Keeping Wool E. Wool E.”

What follows is my conversation with the person who makes a full-time living as Wool E. Bull about the fun, challenges and aspirations of a minor league mascot. The transcript has been edited in spots for length and clarity.

Wool E. 1

How did you become a mascot? How did you get involved with the Bulls?

So I actually started in college. After my senior year when I was about to graduate there were four guys [from my alma mater] who had done it professionally. So I decided that I’ll give it a shot. Lo and behold, about eight months after I graduated I ended up getting the job here in Durham.

Do you have a background in acting or performing?

I do not. My background is sports. I played tennis growing up. I kind of use the mascot thing as an outlet. When people talk to me, and meet me, they are like, you are so calm and a very chill type of person, and putting on the costume it is totally different. There are those people who are very hyper and hyperactive in and outside of costume. And there are the people who are very chill outside of costume, and in costume they are a totally different person.

Durham Bulls mascot Wool E. Bull with a hot dog launcher.

So what changes for you? How do you become this different persona.

Just because no one knows who I am, I can get away with stuff and have fun with it. I wasn’t the first Wool E. so you have to follow some of the stuff that was before you. We don’t go crazy with things but we do like to have fun and be a little mischievous sometimes.

What is a day in the life of Wool E. Bull like? Can you take me through your game day routine?

For a 7 o’clock game, I’m usually here at around 10:30 or 11 in the morning, answering emails, fulfilling requests for appearances, sometimes doing appearances on game days. Nights and weekends are a busy time for mascots. All of the walks, parades, festivals are on weekends. Sometimes I do up to five appearances in a day and then do a game. But during the week it is a little bit lighter on the appearance side.

So, I get here at around 10:30 and just hammer away on emails. I make sure costumes are kept up to par: clean, smelling good. That is one of the things I like to pride myself on, constantly making sure that the costume is smelling good and looking good because I have to keep up the Durham Bulls name. At 5 o’clock I’m having a little bit of a light dinner. The gates open for a 7 o’clock at 6. Introduction on field is at 6:15. So I get out there and entertain.

Wool E. 2

Is there one particular highlight from the game, or a particular routine, that you enjoy most?

We have several in between-inning promotions that are consistent, that we do every game. Out of those I would say our go-kart, going around on the go-kart, everybody loves that. It’s unique. I don’t know of any other team in minor league baseball that has a mascot that rides around in a go-kart.

And non-routine, we do this about 18 times a year, is our mini-Wool E.’s, the kids that we dress up in costume and they have to follow Wool E. around on the field. We are bowing to the umpires and doing a little dance. And then coming up with something unique at the end, whether it is falling and rolling around or having the kids go rogue on us. Once in a while, the promotions team gets a kid that is really small and the pants don’t fit him right and those pants fall off. That’s always a funny one for the crowd. They get a kick out of that.

Wool E. 3

What was it like learning to drive the go-kart and spinning it out at the end of your run around the field? Was that a natural for you? Were there any missteps along the way?

That was a process. My first boss, when I first got the job, I moved up here and I had four days to get ready for a game. I arrived April 7th [2008] and April 11th was our home opener. I understand. Looking back on it, I understand. Wool E. is such a popular character and there is such a high level of expectations to follow-up. So he wanted me to spin out that go-kart at the end of a run right away. And it took me a couple of years, actually, of practicing and practicing.

I actually would contact the guys that had done it before me. And they were like, do it like this and I would try and it wouldn’t work for me. Nowadays, it’s natural to spin out. But it was a process. I still think it is a little nerve-wracking because you are driving this old go-kart with vision that is impeded by the costume. Your peripheral vision is not there and you have to go around mounds and players.

You don’t want to hit a player. That would end it all, for the go-kart and the career. Around the dugouts I’m probably going 15 miles an hour, but when I hit the back stretch in the outfield, I’ve known it to hit 40 miles an hour. I look back on major league baseball and the Mariner Moose almost hitting Coco Crisp. That always comes back to me. I’m like Oh my God, what would happen if I take out a player?

What are the physical demands of playing Wool E. Bull like? It gets hot at the ballpark for the fans who are just sitting there. I can’t imagine it’s any better in the outfit?

We have 70 games now, plus we host USA Baseball. I do about 300 appearances on my own. One of the things we don’t do is hire a backup. If it’s not me, then we are not doing it. People ask are there multiple mascots? The Wool E. you see out in the community is what you get during the games. That is the awesome thing of being here for 10 years. I’ve seen kids grow up, even from our front office staff, and go from being a little bit afraid of Wool E. to loving Wool E. . . .

It’s hot. You’ve just got to withstand the heat. I’m fortunate enough not to have one of these super heavy costumes. I’m fortunate to live in an area where it is a gradual increase in temperature, where your body can acclimate better, as opposed to being in a place like El Paso, where it is always 100 degrees. I end up visiting the chiropractor a lot.

Do you share a similar goal as the minor league players around you? Are you interested in becoming a big league mascot?

I did. There are only a certain amount of jobs that come open every year, so it gets harder and harder. There are still some aspirations to get there, now I am just a little more picky on where it is and what the character is.

So you have this sort of Superman dynamic. You are the most popular person in the ballpark each game, and thus by default one of the most famous people in Durham, but nobody knows who you are once you take the outfit off. What’s it like being both famous and anonymous all at once?

I tell people this: I wouldn’t want to be famous 100 percent of the time. I enjoy taking the pictures and signing the autographs, but I’m happy that once the costume is off to have a regular life . . . I do enjoy it, but I also enjoy the privacy of having a normal life.

How involved are you in the community, and how rewarding is it for you to take part in so many charitable endeavors?

Depending on the year, I do between 250 and 300 appearances. I think looking back, there are always some that hit more to my heart. Like juvenile diabetes. Our clubhouse manager [Colin Saunders] passed away from complications to diabetes about a year ago, so doing that event always hits home.

Wool E. Bull walks with a child at a community event.

The events that other people in our office have some connection to [are important]. Our merchandise director, he supports the Autism Society of North Carolina, so going to those events means a lot. For them, seeing Wool E. at those appearances, supporting the causes they are a part of, means a lot.

Have you ever run into any conflicts on the field or stands? Any uncomfortable situations?

I think I can tell this one because it has been so long ago. Looking back on it, we had a player that in the end we got along, but it was my first week or two on the job I went too fast around the dugout with the go-kart. We had a disagreement on whether I was going fast or not, and I ended up having to apologize to him, because it is his career and they are here to play baseball and I am here to entertain. The young and inexperience got ahead of me . . . We had that little disagreement, whenever I see him now it’s always good to see him.

Are there players who you have become close to and who you can count on to help with some of your on-field antics?

Looking back there are always those guys you remember and mess around with. They’ll play off on you and play back. Just thinking about the guys recently. Willy Adames, Jake Bauer, Diego Castillo. Those guys just got called up. It’s great for them but I’ve got to make myself some new friends to mess around with.

You see players that have come through here and play with other teams. Just thinking about right now, we’ve got Charlotte in town. Casey Gillaspie and Patrick Leonard. Those guys are all great guys. That’s what makes it fun. Those guys that are willing to have a little fun on the field. They take their job seriously, but I think if they can have a little fun while they are here and loosen everything up, it’s always a great time . . .  

This is my 11th season. You create some good relationships. One of the cool things about my job is I’ll take players on some school visits or hospital visits. We don’t do a lot with the players in the community, just because the season is so demanding for them. Whenever they come out in the community, you get to talk to them like normal people and create that relationship. [Former Bulls catcher] Curt Casali was here for like five seasons. He just got traded to the Reds. I heard the news and got to say good luck to him. He’s a great guy. That’s the kind of relationship that goes a long way outside of costume and creates that kind of chemistry when you are in costume.

 

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