Being The Philly Phanatic

Jul 13, 2017
Originally published on July 13, 2017 5:10 am
Copyright 2017 WHYY. To see more, visit WHYY.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

I don't know if this is true or not, but according to Philadelphia lore, the Phillie Phanatic is a huge, green, flightless bird from the Galapagos. Forty years ago, he fell in love with baseball and became the mascot for the Philadelphia Phillies. For our summer series Backstage Pass, Jim Saksa of member station WHYY went behind the scenes with the Phanatic and his helper, Tom Burgoyne.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Miller Lite and pistachios - Miller Lite and pistachios here.

JIM SAKSA, BYLINE: The legend of the Phillie Phanatic is zealously guarded by Tom Burgoyne, whose official title is best friend of the Phanatic and let's just say is rarely seen in the same place as the ATV-riding fuzzy green beast. The Phanatic lives in a room underneath the stands.

TOM BURGOYNE: Yeah, he sleeps a lot. So I'm the guy who usually has to wake him up. I gas up his four-wheeler for him, make sure he's got gas in there.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOUR-WHEELER ENGINE)

BURGOYNE: And then the Phanatic goes out on the field. And he's out on the field before the game, goofing around with whatever's happening.

SAKSA: The Phanatic hams it up with the ball girls and catches the first pitch before it's time to stand for the national anthem.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) Oh, say can you see...

SAKSA: Then the Phanatic retreats to his dressing room and waits for his next performance.

BURGOYNE: You know, the Phanatic's not out there every inning. You know, sometimes it's the illusion that he is, you know - that he's, you know, here, there, everywhere. But, you know, he always has to take a little bit of a break, you know, get some water.

SAKSA: After just a four-minute outing, Burgoyne is drenched in sweat.

The Phanatic really doesn't plan out his bits, but there are some regular routines. Tonight, it's the popcorn gag. The Phanatic tries to find a seat while carrying a bunch of fresh popcorn. Soon enough, popcorn's flying everywhere and all over everyone. The crowd loves it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh. All right, throw it back out (laughter).

SAKSA: Most games, the Phanatic works the bottom of the third, the fifth and the seventh.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLAPPING)

BURGOYNE: If people are laughing, even if they're - if the Phillies are losing 10-0, then he's done his job. So I think that's one of the special things about the Phanatic. There's - people always, always are excited when they're around him.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Phillie Phanatic.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Phanatic.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Phanatic.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Phanatic, can you sign my card?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Please.

SAKSA: Even during a dismal season like this one, when the Phils very well might set the franchise record for most losses, the Phanatic is still out there. And his constant companion, Tom Burgoyne, thinks he's the luckiest guy in Philly.

(CROSSTALK, LAUGHTER)

SAKSA: For NPR News in Philadelphia, I'm Jim Saksa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.