On a chilly day two Novembers ago, Brad Collins rode through a decked-in-blue, packed-to-the-gills Kansas City in the bed of a navy Chevrolet pickup truck.
He stood taller than 6 feet as he waved to the mass of Royals fans gathered to celebrate the 2015 World Series championship.
Had he been out of uniform, many might have wondered why someone like him was given the chance to participate in the parade. But Collins wore a lion costume, one that featured a crown neatly fused into its head. He wore a perfectly tailored Royals uniform. He brandished a large Royals flag.
As Sluggerrr, the Royals’ mascot, Collins elicited his fair share of excitement that day.
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Collins has entertained Kauffman Stadium and crowds around Kansas City since 2011, when he took the Sluggerrr job. In the intervening years, few knew Collins was the man in the lion garb. He always reveled in his anonymity — not out of cowardice, but out of respect for the mascot and to the fans who have interacted with some iteration of Sluggerrr strutting around town since the mascot debuted in the 1996 season.
But last week Collins found himself on a goodwill trip to Mexico with Major League Baseball the day a 7.1-magnitude earthquake violently shook Mexico City. He was riding in a car on a bridge that began to sway and watched as buildings near the highway shook, he said.
Inspired, Collins broke character for the first time in his Kansas City career to tell his story on Sluggerrr’s Twitter account. He sat down with The Star upon his return to talk shop and share stories from within the lion’s head.
The following is a selection of questions and answers, edited for length and clarity.
The Star: What’s a weird interaction you’ve had with either players or fans?
Brad Collins: With the players, it’s always tough.
Some mascots do it more than Sluggerrr does but I’ve always erred on the side of caution. If they come break that personal barrier with me, I‘ll interact with them. But I’ll never get up in their face. You know after a while who’s more willing to do it than other players.
How would you describe Sluggerrr?
Energetic. Witty. Sometimes a pest. Fan friendly, family friendly. A tid bit mischievous.
How is he mischievous?
Just coyly playing with visiting teams’ fans. Chucking popcorn at them in the stands, stealing their hats and putting a Royals hat up instead. Messing with the other team when it’s appropriate.
Do people ever yell at you and say things and you make some kind of gesture back? Obviously, PC, right?
You have to know when to leave certain situations. The Mets thing earlier this year, when Mr. Met flipped off somebody. If you don’t know that that’s gonna go viral, then you shouldn’t be a mascot in the first place.
For a while after that, we had people saying, “Hey, give me the Mr. Met.” People have their phones out and they’re waiting to get a reaction from you. They know if they catch you doing something you’re not supposed to be doing, that’s their 15 minutes of fame. There’s always that carrot that they hang out in front of you to take.
So Sluggerrr is never going to be like the Phillie Phanatic or the Astros’ Orbit?
I would love to be that type of character but that’s not what is successful in Kansas City. I respect the players in the field. I respect that they’re there to do a job. I do try to interact with them some but those guys kind of have more of a license to be outrageous.
I call them the big, fat, dumb mascots. I love those guys and they’re great performers. But if they were put in the Sluggerrr costume, it’s a completely different character.
It doesn’t make sense for Sluggerrr to be tripping all over himself. The Phanatic and Orbit, they’re big and fat. It’s just funny when you walk back and forth. It’s just funny to watch.
When you’re an athletic mascot, it’s a lot harder because when you walk it’s not quite as funny and there’s not the natural movement of the costume that you can play off. When you see Sluggerrr, you have to work harder to entertain and perform and be funny. You have to walk that line of trying to be funny and being entertaining.
Do you think you’ve succeeded on both of those?
I hope so. Every single day when you put the costume on it’s hard to perform and keep that in the back of the mind that you’re there for the kids and adults. Sluggerrr is the bridge to the next generation of Royals fans.
They know they want to meet him, get a picture with him, they want a doll. If you have a crush on Sluggerrr when you’re 2 or 3 years old, you’re gonna transition into a Royals fan and then you’re gonna come out to Royals games and buy tickets and T-shirts.
Sluggerrr is at the age now where we have people that are like, “Oh, I remember getting pictures of you when I was a kid. Here’s my kid now.” That’s one of the benefits of having continuity with your mascot instead of being a team that changes the costume every few years. Once you have that equity built up in the character you have that connection with your fans.
How does being a mascot take you places that normal people wouldn’t go?
Being a mascot cuts through all these social barriers that are there as a human. You’re still human, but helping celebrate weddings, visiting sick kids in hospitals, seeing people’s eyes light up when Sluggerrr comes in the room. Just making that connection with people.
There’s so many events that we’ve done. Every event that you do, you make people happy. I have the best job in the world when it comes to that. Whatever ethnicity or race you are, being a mascot, you can cut through all of those barriers and just entertain. That’s something that with Mexico they were worried about the language barrier. But I can read people’s body language and go off of that.
There’s all of a sudden no walls there.
Yeah, people’s walls come down.
At the same time, I’ve always been connected to them as Sluggerrr but I’ve never had a personal connection as myself. I’ve always enjoyed the anonymity of it. Even right now, I’m still kind of like, “Should l be talking about this?” But I’m also at the point where I’m comfortable with what I’ve done that it isn’t something I think would be a huge deal.
How do you prepare for games in the middle of summer where it’s really hot out?
You just have to listen to your body. You can get as much accomplished in 10 minutes of being high energy and funny as you can standing around for two hours. So have short impactful interactions when it’s that hot out. What drives me crazy is when you see mascots just standing there for like an hour.
People always ask me if there’s a fan in the costume. But I’ve never thought those were a good thing because it just blows hot, stinky air back in your face. It makes a noise, too, so it makes it even harder to use your sense of hearing to understand what’s going on around you.
Was this something that when you got to college, where you performed as Michigan State’s Sparty, you knew you wanted to pursue? Or was it that there was an opening and you decided to go for it?
I saw Sparty on the field and I was like, ‘Man, that’s a way to get closer.’ I took a chance. I’d never been a mascot before.
I just volunteered for any and everything I could to learn how to do it. Have you ever had one of those moments where you just know what you want to do? Everything just seemed right to me. I didn’t want anything else. This is what I wanted to do.
I knew it could take you places that you don’t think you would ever go.
As I’ve become older, it’s become more about the art of being a mascot and running a good program and doing good things in the community.
People see it as just put a costume on and be wild and crazy. That’s kind of part of it but there’s also a huge part of where you’re this brand for an organization, the Royals, Major League Baseball. You have to be a good steward of that brand.