I’d barely set foot inside the stadium when the indignities began to pile up.
It was mascot night at the New England Revolution’s game against the Chicago Fire, and I’d accepted an invitation to spend a little time as Slyde the Fox, the home team’s furry friend.
Why? I don’t know, really, but it didn’t seem like the kind of thing you say no to.
Plus, more than a dozen local mascots would be there: Wally and Tessie the Green Monsters. Blades the Bruin. Pat Patriot. I’d be waddling among legends.
But a team spokeswoman took one look at my, ahem, regal physique, and broke the bad news. It’s possible, she said, that some parts of the costume won’t fit. Suddenly, I had horrible visions of walking through the stands wearing a giant fox head with a button-down shirt and a pair of jeans — like one of those dreams where you show up for school naked, but different and somehow worse.
“They’re optimistic,” she said cheerfully, perhaps noticing the look of devastation on my face.
She led me into the visiting locker room, where at least a dozen half-dressed mascots sat around checking their phones. Before suiting up, I got a crash course in mascotting from the guy I’d be filling in for: a 22-year-old from Northborough named Nick who’d been filling out the fox costume since the beginning of the year. (We’re using only his first name, since mascots guard their identities fiercely.)
Nick is pretty well suited to mascot work. He’s cheerful, maybe even goofy. And the costume is sort of infectious, even aside from what are surely a lot of germs. You can’t help but smile for the pictures, even though nobody can see your face. Nick said he even caught himself smiling and waving at a little girl while he was on a break. In street clothes. Alone.
“I was like, ‘What am I doing? I’m going to get arrested.’ ” (He did not get arrested.)
The costume is hot, he warned. Really hot. Like, “add 40 degrees” hot. So don’t overdo it, and don’t go longer than 20 to 30 minutes without a water break. Also, the visibility is bad: Kids will try to hug Slyde, he said, which is cute except that Slyde’s peripheral vision is terrible, particularly right in front of him. If Slyde doesn’t look down and move slowly, he’ll end up kicking through crowds of small children like a field of tall grass. And of course, no talking.
So, to recap: blind, silent, and roasting. It was time to saddle up.
I strapped on the tail, then stepped into the suit. Nick zipped up the back and I was occupying every cubic inch of Slyde. Poured into the suit and already pouring sweat, I was ready to take Slyde for a test drive.
“I think on my first day I’m supposed to find the biggest mascot and punch him in the head, right?” I said, eyeing the giant head of Roger the Red Panda, mascot of the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence.
“It’s not prison,” said Kate Heuston, Slyde’s handler. She’s been working for the Revolution for about 20 years, and escorting Slyde around since 2004. She keeps a bag of sweat rags and bottled water and bandages handy, attending to Slyde’s care and feeding and trying to keep him out of trouble.
But trouble has a way of finding Slyde. He’s fallen on top of fans (and Kate). He’s trampled kids he didn’t see. He’s been kicked in the crotch more times than he can remember.
Out in the Fan Zone — a roped-off section of the Gillette Stadium parking lot with activities for kids — it took about three minutes before my first brush with a bully: a kid who looked about 10 ran up to me. I went for a joyful high five, but the kid demanded to be dapped up — and then he criticized my form. Ingrate.
“Slyde, do you Juul?” he demanded to know. Do I what? I gave a meek thumbs up. Slyde would not be taking questions about vaping.
But there really is something about the costume. As more and more kids ran up asking for pictures and hugs and high fives, the grin on my face inside the mask rivaled Slyde’s manic smile.
And the other mascots were friendly and supportive. Of course, it’s hard not to be friendly when you’re dressed like, say, Joey, the giant kangaroo mascot of Launch Trampoline.
I jumped into a soccer game with some kids — Slyde is a goalie — and botched several easy saves because I couldn’t see.
I snuck up behind some unsuspecting adults and waited until they noticed a giant silent fox was leering at them. It was a blast, and the kids I didn’t accidentally kick in the chest were adoring.
My own daughter is never this happy to see me.
But I was running out of material, and probably electrolytes. The Revolution game — when Nick would take over — was still hours away. I staggered back to the locker room with the other mascots, lining up to go through the metal detector like a TSA agent’s acid fantasy. By the time I got that fox head off, I was soaked (so was the costume, which poor Nick had to put on right after me. Aside to Nick: I’m so sorry).
“You’re a natural!” he said, altogether too kindly. His job is not in danger.
Back in the locker room, I wandered over to Tessie and Pat. The mascots, heads removed, were arrayed around the locker room chatting and checking their phones. It had been a rough session.
Tessie said she had an encounter with the same kids, who’d asked her if she Juuled. But when she answered wrong, they punched her in the head.
From the corner, another mascot — it might have been Paws, the Northeastern University Husky — snorted.
“Welcome to mascotting.”Nestor Ramos can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.