Tall, Green and What?
This huggable, furrry giant outworks Even the Energizer Bunny
by Michelle Steel
Louie Ville legend has it that an unidentified species big, green, fuzzy and sporting a tuft of pink hair stepped out from the woods behind the 309-foot left field wall at the Bowie Baysox stadium 10 years ago.
He never left.
Familiar as he’s become, his species remains a mystery. Is he an alligator, a dinosaur or a distant relative to Barney? The debate continues.
“Louie’s whatever you want him to be,” says Chris Rogers, the man inside Louie, who calls himself mascot coordinator. “He’s friendly, gregarious and just wants a big hug or a high five.”
One certainty: Louie’s energy is contagious. Enter his world in Louie Ville, Maryland, also known as the Kids Capital, and you’ll catch the buzz.
Getting to Know Louie
Louie is mute. Rogers speaks for Louie in pantomime. To get the big fellow’s message across, Rogers exaggerates his gestures. He waves his arms to welcome fans, bows his head when he’s sad and puts a bounce in his step when he’s happy.
Louie’s helpers a brigade of 20 college interns interpret his pantomimes for fans, keep him safe and hold his Sharpie pen. Louie needs his pen to autograph bats, balls, gloves, programs and pictures for fans. He signs just about anything, except body parts.
Louie’s helpers play a motherly role as well, coaxing frightened children who duck and hide behind their parents when the green giant appears, reassuring them he’s a nice guy. They bribe the shy with activity books, and Louie opens his arms to give hugs.
Whoever Louie is, wherever he came from, he’s a born entertainer. So is his alter ego, Chris Rogers.
Rogers, a friendly, helpful guy, didn’t go to school to learn what it takes to make a great mascot. He graduated in history from William and Mary College in 2006. After trying restaurant and office work, he followed his passion for baseball into the green suit. He hadn’t applied to be Louie, but the job was open, and that’s how Rogers stepped into minor league baseball.
On-the-job training, love of sports and passion for entertaining meld Rogers and Louie into one. Out on the ball field, the center of attention, Rogers is in his comfort zone. He makes Louie work for the game by keeping the fans and the kids engaged. The Kids Park, pre-game autographs, first pitches and base running, all hands-on activities, make minor league baseball fun for kids. Their involvement trickles down to their parents: If the kids are happy, they are happy.
Compared to an office job, being Louie demands Rogers’ ample supply of raw energy and expertise in crowd-pleasing. “There is a lot more freedom in a Louie suit,” said Rogers. “I can do whatever I want to entertain people and have fun while doing it.”
His job is a steamy gig. Louie’s suit is heavy and hot. Step inside and instantly add 40 degrees. On a 100-degree day, it’s like climbing into an oven and baking yourself. Imagine drinking a gallon of water and sweating it all out by the end of the night.
“Some mascots have built-in electric fans or use ice-packs,” Rogers says, “but that just adds more weight to the suit.”
Rising to the Job
No special training is required to be Louie, but stamina is a must. Louie follows a rigorous game-time schedule. Pre-game to first inning, he’s busy signing autographs for fans in the Kids Park. He rests a bit, then visits the skyboxes upstairs for the second and third innings. He rests again, then mingles outside in the stands. On rest breaks, he tries to stay in the Louie mode, but heat may drive him out of the suit.
Everyplace he goes, he shakes his stuff to the tunes of “Louie, Louie,” “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and “YMCA.” All this while, Rogers is garbed in hot fur with no peripheral vision. Imagine peering out from inside the book-drop slot at the library.
“Louie is big and mobile but kind of blind with his headpiece and screen,” Rogers said. “He can hear well, but he has very limited vision.” Helpers tell Louie when fans are running toward him. He has to brace himself or risk toppling over.
Other obstacles include the opposing team, who have been known to throw gum at Louie. So he’s careful when stopping by the visiting team’s dugout at third base to avoid flying objects tossed his way.
Louie’s own fans, often teenagers, harass him from time to time. His helpers step in as mediators, re-directing them or calming them. When this doesn’t work, Louie shakes his finger at them and walks away.
Despite a few obstacles, Louie lives for the reactions of the fans. That’s the best part of his job, Rogers says. If he’s tired, he plays on their energy to pick him up. Double-headers require extra effort. Louie doesn’t mind; that’s his job. He gets the fans to the game; then he gets them into the game.
Louie is a team of one; Baysox players don’t often interact with him. But, according to team spokesman Ryan Roberts, they do appreciate that he gets the crowd into the game, building up team morale.
“Louie is the mainstay of the Baysox organization,“ Roberts said.
Fans young and old anticipate Louie’s sixth inning arrival on the ball field. They dance in the stands, forming letters with their arms, to the Village People’s pop hit, “YMCA.” On the field, Louie doesn’t miss a beat or a letter. Crowds cheer as he struts off the field, swishing his oversized hips from side to side. It’s the highlight of the game, ranking right up there with a home run.
Fans scream out to Louie, telling him to walk his walk and strut his stuff. Flocking to him as he mingles through the crowd, anxious for a high five or a lovable hug, they make Louie as popular as catching a fly ball.
Sometimes they remind Louie of his plus-size.
“Take a knee, Louie,” calls out James Hawkins from Crofton. “He’s great,” Hawkins said. “It’s just that he’s so big, sometimes he blocks the view of the field. But the game wouldn’t be the same without him.”
Outside of the Ballpark
Community appearances and Baysox games require equal time. Louie makes frequent appearances at local schools and businesses. He stays busy during the off-season by working fund-raisers like the Cancer Relay in Olney, participating in school reading programs that offer free game tickets for reading books and performing at birthday parties for a nominal fee. Louie honors every request he can squeeze into his tight schedule.
April is consumed with Little League games and promotions. Louie can handle as many as eight appearances in a day and still manage to work the evening game.
At a Baysox promo at a local grocery store, Louie picked up a package of Ball Park Franks, secreting them inside his jacket. But his helper caught him in the act. “Louie! Put them back,” she said. “They’re not yours.”
“Good boy,” said the helper.
“Louie has magic powers. He can’t get into trouble,” says Danielle Wilcox, one of Louie’s top-notch helpers. She needs just as much energy as Louie to keep up with his antics.
Wilcox, along with Stephanie Saarbach and Lauren Phillips, are Louie’s top three helpers. At any given time, one is always by Louie’s side. Each game, three of the 20 helpers switch off as his guide. Phillips helps run the brigade and always accompanies Louie at the beginning of the game.
The excitement of the fans, his passion for entertaining and his love of the game keep Chris Rogers going as Louie. And for the loveable green giant, although his jersey sports the numbers 00, to his fans Louie is number one.
Michelle Steel, of The Willows, is a former Montessori teacher who enjoys writing about odd jobs for Bay Weekly.