Wilmington Evening Journal - February 27, 1980

Phanatic struck out with Engel

 

By Matt Zabitka

 

Hey, not everybody loves the Phillie Phanatic.

 

Ask Dave Raymond, the former Delaware football player who lives inside the costume of the furry creature with the bulging eyes, over-sized shoes, strange beak, a tongue that shoots out like a slithering serpent and a balloon-like front and rear end that shakes like a bowl of Jello when he struts.

 

During a Phillies' game at the Vet last season, the Phanatic had this gimmick he was trying. He was walking toward umpire Bob Engel, carrying a tray with a pitcher of water on it. The Phanatic accidentally tripped "on purpose" and the water spilled on Engel, whose reaction vividly indicated that he wasn't exactly ecstatic.

 

"He didn't say anything to me at the time of the incident," recalled the Phanatic, "but after the game he asked to see me in the umpires' dressing room. There I was, standing in the room in my shorts, socks and ripped T-shirt, and Engle really lit into me. He wasn't emotional, just stern, sounding like a father reprimanding a son. He told me that I wasn't to come near him or the rest of his umpiring crew at any time for the rest of the season, that I wasn't to touch any of his men at any time.

 

"Naturally, I stayed away from him and his crew the rest of the year. He's not a bad looking guy. He's built like a middle linebacker. I had heard a lot of good things about him from other umpires. Actually, it was my fault.

 

"Generally, most umpires are good about it and play along with the gimmicks. One of the best is Eric Gregg. He's like a big kid. I don't see how anybody can even argue with him.

 

"I don't get to much trouble from players. Among the Phillies, I guess I'd have to say I have the most fun with Tug McGraw and Bake McBride. Pete Rose is also great. When I'm in costume Pete really plays along. When I get Pete to laugh the crowd goes crazy. The fans love to see Pete show emotion.

 

"After Pete hurt himself in a game last year, running into the (rolled-up) tarpaulin while chasing a foul ball, I imitated him. Pete just put his head down and he couldn't stop laughing."

 

While Phillie players are now converging on Florida for spring training, the Phanatic started on his "spring training" a long time ago, right here in his Delaware backyard.

 

For one thing, he's learning how to roller skate, something which he admits he has never done.

 

"Putting roller skates on the Phanatic is among the new gimmicks I'll be using this year," he said. "Another gimmick might be putting skis on the Phanatic, as well as ice skates. I've ice-skated before so that part will be easy. The ice skating could take place on a special type of plastic, using special shoes.

 

"Last year, we added a disco song, "The Freak," to which the Phanatic. dances. The fans love the Phanatic do current things and more ideas along that line may be added this year. Hopefully, this will done during a break in the game, like the fifth inning, and maybe the Phanatic could get the fans in the stands . to also dance. That doesn't take away from the game. It adds to it."

 

Also this year, the Phanatic will have an "away" uniform, plus a warmup shirt, and maybe a catcher's outfit or an umpire's uniform "to make him look more ridiculous than what he is."

 

A definite addition for the Phanatic will be a small vehicle, something like a motorcycle, on which he can buzz around the stadium.

 

"This vehicle will be smaller and faster than the one used to bring in pitchers from the bull pen," the Phanatic noted.

 

As the Phanatic and as Dave Raymond, the guy in the funny suit is contracted to put in a 40-hour work week. When not making personal appearances in the role of the Phanatic, Raymond works in the Phillies' ticket office at the Vet.

 

"Personal appearances have priority," he pointed out. "The rest of the hours I make-up in the office. I enjoy being the Phanatic much more. That's one of the best jobs anyone could have. It's fun and it's rewarding. It's most rewarding when I perform for mentally retarded children and school kids.

 

"A good thing about the job is that after a Phillies game, while players are hounded for autographs, I can walk right out of the stadium without anyone recognizing me: I can walk to my car in minutes, while the players are detained for 40-45 minutes before they can get to their cars."

 

Last year, Raymond, as the Phanatic, made road trips with the Phillies to Houston, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. He also performed at Phillies minor league ball parks, in Bend, Ore., Helena, Mont., Spartanburg, S.C., and Peninsula, Va.

 

"The reaction among the fans in the minors was as great if not greater than in the majors," he said. "That's because they've been exposed to this sort of thing by guys like Max Patkin."

 

Raymond also accompanied a collection of American and National League stars to Japan the past November for a series of exhibition games.

 

And, yes, Raymond does have a Phanatic "back-up," but there hasn't been an occasion as yet to use the sub. "If I get sick and can't make a Phillies game or a TV appearance, it's in my contract that a back-up cannot be used for those occasions," Raymond explained.

 

In anticipation of the 1980 baseball season, Raymond has been lifting weights at Delaware and also at the Vet, where during the past months when time availed itself he engaged in workouts with Phillie players on the Vet AstroTurf.

 

"I still eat like a pig, but I don't gain weight," he said. "Being inside the Phanatic costume I lose about five pounds if not more each game. That's good for the cardio vascular system. It's like running a couple of miles."

 

Like the players, he's psyched-up as he looks ahead to the season opener. I'm not looking forward to the hours I have to put in (mostly all night games) but it's an awful lot of fun. I have a captive audience. They come to see a ball game and I'm like an added attraction."

 

He couldn't even come up with an estimate of the number of autographs he has given. "It has to be in the thousands," he sighed. "I've even been asked to autograph peoples' arms. Most of the autograph requests are made during personal appearances away from the ballpark."

 

His multitude of appearances have included parades, television, visiting hospitals, Bar Mitzvahs, store openings, birthday parties, plant safety meetings, and lots of banquets.