Ex Beach Guy In The News

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Gord Urkevich reveals his secret job.


Mar. 6, 12:53 EDT
Got right stuffing to be TC?
It's a great job -- but it's more than cheers, cheerleaders
Scott Radley
The Hamilton Spectator

Hamilton Spectator File Photo
Wearing the black and gold suit takes a special kind of character.

So you saw the job posting and you think you'd be great as the new Ticat mascot, eh? Wonderful. Let's talk.

Can you do gymnastics? Yeah? Super!

Can you make people laugh? You can? Excellent!

Do you have lots of energy? You do? Perfect.

You're hir- ... oh, wait ...

I forgot the one last question.

You wouldn't have a problem working in a confined space that smells slightly worse than, say, a bag of Ticats' sweat socks after a game, would you?

Surely you didn't think the life of a mascot was all big paycheques, Hollywood-style fame and wild nights hanging out with cheerleaders?

Dan Hunter knows better.

He vividly remembers the first time he excitedly pulled on the yellow and black cartoon-like costume and became TC Cat for a public appearance.

He almost choked up the moment he slipped that big furry head over his own.

"The stink was unbearable," he says.

A decade-and-a-half later, you can almost hear him retching at the memory of the costume's eye-watering bouquet. Especially one time after a female suit-filler who used it before him tried to mask the blinding B.O. with gallons of cheap perfume.

"I don't know how often they're washing it now, but it didn't seem to be a priority in '88 when I was doing it," he laughs.

If you're going to do the job -- and 15 of you brave souls have already applied -- your desire to make people happy better be really intense. Otherwise, you'd probably have more fun as a tap-dance instructor on the mine fields of Iraq. Because believe it or not, the rancid smell is one of the job's lesser occupational hazards.

Just ask Gord Urkevich. The 44-year-old's the dean of the TCs. From 1987 to 2000, he wore the suit at every home game. Plenty of public appearances too.

He'll be the first to tell you that it's a wonderful job. Kids love you. Fans enjoy having you around. He lived for the gig. He even has a TC image tattooed on his right shoulder.

But he also suffered for it.

It was so hot inside -- up to 130 degrees F -- that he'd sweat off 14 or 15 pounds every game. Most nights he'd go straight home and start chugging salt water to ward off dehydration.

He couldn't see much either. His eye-holes were two screened toilet-paper-roll-sized openings about a foot from his eyes. It's no wonder he occasionally got hurt.

Like the time he tried to body splash the Argo mascot. Standing on a little diving board on the back of his ATV, he launched himself airborne. A little too airborne as it turns out. At his apex, he was 20 feet off the rock-hard turf.

"You only do that once," he chuckles. "You say, 'I hope they enjoyed that because I'm not doing it again.'"

Broken fingers, sprains, bumps and bruises were the norm.

But they're hardly the worst things to befall mascots. If you can name a bizarre method of getting injured, it's probably happened to one of them.

A recent study of professional teams' characters by the American College of Sports Medicine in Baltimore came across reports of 179 injuries requiring treatment. And that was from just 49 mascots.

The Seattle Mariner Moose once broke his leg during an inline skating crash and another time he cracked a rib falling onto a railing. The Cleveland Indians' mascot Slider blew out his knee during an ill-fated somersault. Iowa State University's Herky The Hawk had a bone in her back broken when she was hit with -- this isn't a joke -- a three-foot foam banana. And recently, the Italian Sausage at Miller Park in Milwaukee suffered minor injuries when Pittsburgh Pirate Randall Simon clobbered her with his baseball bat during the traditional seventh-inning-stretch Sausage Race.

And it gets worse. Because even androgynous mascots have, um, privates.

"A lot of mascots have stories about getting hit in the 'nads," Dr. Edward McFarland, director of sports medicine at Johns Hopkins told ESPN recently. "That's just about the right height for a kid to punch. They think they're aiming for the stomach. But they're not."

The mascots aren't always the ones getting hurt either. Urkevich once ran over an official with his ATV. Though the accident resulted in no serious injuries, it made newspapers as far away as Japan.

So why did Urkevich bother with it all? Or more to the point, why should the new person bother?

For fame? Hardly. In costume you're not allowed to talk. You can't remove the head in public. You can't even tell people about your role. So, nobody knows it's you under the fur. In fact, the team won't even release the names of former TCs. Kind of a state secret.

Fortune? Yeah right. Urkevich's payment was tickets to the game for his family.

It's all about job satisfaction. Making the game fun for everyone.

"You are almost a role model," he says. "TC was everything to me."

sradley@thespec.com 905-526-2440

"Reprinted with full permission from the Hamilton Spectator"
 
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