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That Phanatic Pheeling

These days, it’s easy being green. Just ask St. Joe’s Prep grad Tom Burgoyne.

By J.F. Pirro
That Phanatic Pheeling

At Veterans Stadium, Tom Burgoyne’s dressing room was so cramped that, to create space, everything he wore had to be hoisted onto two metal bars. In his new digs at Citizens Bank Park, Burgoyne has a 300-square-foot suite with an office-lounge area and his own bathroom and soaking tub, where he washes his green—and, once a year, red—outfit. The full-time Phillie Phanatic since 1994, he has two costumes, plus the red one.

Now more than ever, the Phanatic is part of the draw at the ballpark. There’s the Phanatic Phun Zone, Phanatic Attic, Phanatic Phood Stand and Phanatic Shoe Slide. And with a 2007 National League Eastern Division Championship in hand, the Phillies and their Phanatic have undergone a rebranding of sorts.

“When we moved, I had hope we could rejuvenate the character because I didn’t want anyone thinking the Phanatic was a Vet thing or a ’70s thing or a Muppet Phanatic,” says Burgoyne.

Granted, it’s much easier being green when the team is winning. “The crowd is pumped; there’s more electricity,” he says. “In 1997, when we were on pace to lose 100 games, even then USA Today featured the Phanatic in answer to the question: How do you keep them laughing when you’re losing?”

If anything, winning the National League’s Eastern Division last year helped get a little-publicized monkey off Burgoyne’s back. The championship-less drought actually began the year he took over as the game-day Phanatic. “We kept that pretty quiet,” he says. “But it’s all good now.”

It is. In mid-January, Forbes magazine ranked the Phanatic the nation’s No. 1 sports mascot from a marketing and good-business perspective. The honor was like a third MVP award after back-to-back winners in the Phillies’ Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins.

In addition to games—which Burgoyne always works—he and two backup Phanatics cover 500 appearances a year all over the Main Line and elsewhere. The Phanatic once rang the bell to open the American Stock Exchange. He also appears in the closing credits of Rocky Balboa.

In the Phanatic’s 25th season, the Phillies donated a 35-pound Phanatic suit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Though it was the Phanatic—the character—who was inducted, Burgoyne treasures the induction weekend. If he endures inside that jolly green giant’s costume, maybe one day the hall will call for him.

“If I can do this for another 25 years, I damn well better be in the Hall of Fame,” he jests.

It’s the second game of the season, and another sellout crowd is arriving. All night against the Washington Nationals, the Phils will manage just one hit. Behind-the-scenes, Tom Burgoyne is in his lair surrounded by his most important equipment other than his “outfit”: a cordless telephone, a water cooler and refrigerator, a flat-screen TV to monitor the game, and a plastic bin of T-shirts. By August, he’ll soak through four to five shirts a night.

When he soaks his shaggy, green carpet of a costume, it takes two days to hang dry. He does his own minor alterations if needed—and provides his own props. There are an Elvis costume and another for Super Phanatic, a karate suit, Mexican hats and blankets, a set of pretend barbells, foam guitars, and dresses for his mother, Phoebe (including a blue dress for unsuspecting seventh-inning dugout-roof dance partners for the song “Devil with a Blue Dress On”). Burgoyne recently shopped for a new blue dress at Ross department store. That really turned heads.

Before tonight’s metamorphosis, Burgoyne was wearing a Drexel University sweatshirt. He’s a Dragon at heart—and it’s College Night and Dollar Dog Night. The Phanatic will team up with Hatfield Quality Meats’ Smiley the Pig to deliver hot dogs in the booth to Harry Kalas and Gary “Sarge” Matthews in the third inning.

At Drexel University, Burgoyne majored in business and marketing, but he wasn’t the Dragon—though he was the Hawk his senior year at St. Joe’s Prep in 1983. He also managed 13 seasonal Halloween costume stores in his last co-op at Drexel. Thereafter, Burgoyne went to work in sales for Wallace Computer Services, then in Wayne. Six months later, he was scanning the want ads when he saw the classified that’s changed his life: “Mascot Wanted.”

In the interview, he had to dance “out of costume” to “Twistin’ the Night Away.” He also role-played the Phanatic in different scenarios. He was hired.

For five years, beginning in the spring of 1989, he was a Phanatic extra, working 250 non-game appearances when Dave Raymond, the original, couldn’t. When he succeeded Raymond, he had 1,000-plus appearances under the Phanatic’s snout.

Christine Keller, the Phanatic’s bodyguard, arrives as Burgoyne is dressing. Truth be told, the Phanatic puts on its pants—padded red leotards—the same way everyone else does. Then Burgoyne, 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, slips his size-10 sneakers into the Phanatic’s size 20.

Keller, who works at a Radnor law firm by day, clips down the Phanatic’s head. From inside, Burgoyne sounds the same. But he sure looks different.

“Once the head goes on, the Phanatic takes over Tom Burgoyne’s persona,” he says. “I’m all Phanatic after that.”

Operating with his own head at the Phanatic’s neck, where he can see through a woven green mesh, Burgoyne is able to give the Phanatic “a lot of expression and emotion” because he can move his own neck inside. It permits a double-take “when the Phanatic sees a good-looking girl.”

Dressed, Burgoyne is out the door and on his trademark four-wheeler, zooming onto the field to “Shake Your Tail Feather.” He pulls up at the third-base line, then jumps off to do jumping jacks and push-ups. When a guest mascot, Just Born’s Mr. Peanut Chew, confronts him, the Phanatic rubs his eyes, offers his crazy-loco twirl, then sniffs Mr. Peanut Chew’s armpits. In response, Mr. Peanut Chew takes over the four-wheeler, but not for long—the Phanatic sits on top of him and rides off.

In one last pre-game stunt, Burgoyne steps in on a warm-up catch between Nationals infielders Cristian Guzman and Ronnie Belliard. Washington’s bench tosses a roll of tape and a baseball at him.

“One day he had so many things thrown at him, I couldn’t believe it,” Keller says. “They started throwing stuff at me, too. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

Back in his dressing room, Burgoyne turns on the game as Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels walks Guzman to start the game. Then, he’s on the phone ordering hot dogs for the promotion with Smiley the Pig (Eric Haman). Burgoyne spends much of the break on the phone, lining up his music for his fifth- and seventh-inning appearances—Flo Rida’s “Low” in the fifth and Sammy Hagar’s “There’s Only One Way to Rock” in the seventh. He mixes Powerade with water to keep hydrated and has Keller pull the blue electric guitar he plans on coaxing someone into playing on the dugout roof.

The Phanatic’s philosophy is to keep it simple. Mostly, his routines are unscripted. “Some nights, I just old-school dance,” Burgoyne says. “My job is to stir it up.”

To his three sons—Andrew, 13, Daniel, 11, and Matthew, 5—Burgoyne is an “embarrassment.” Truly, he doesn’t lay claim to being much of a dancer. “You get brave when you’re in a costume,” he says. “It hides a lot of my dancing flaws.”

Very little, if anything, is set up with the teams. In fact, word circulates among third-base coaches to wait until the Phanatic leaves the field in the fifth inning before coming out. The Nats’ Tim Tolman can’t be found, either. An on-field security guard is his last resort, so the Phanatic gooses him—and the reaction is very real. Was he offended? “Oh yeah,” Burgoyne says afterward. “It was great.”

But then, as Burgoyne says, the Phanatic isn’t just window dressing. “He’s part of the entertainment, and I’m given the freedom to entertain,” he says.

The character is named for the Phils’ fanatical fans, and his traits are those of Philadelphia’s everyman. Height: 6 feet. Weight: 300 pounds. Physical defects: overweight, clumsy feet, extra-long beak, curled-up tongue, gawking neck, slight case of body odor. Favorite foods: soft pretzels, hoagies, cheese steaks and Tastykakes. Favorite movie: Rocky.

“The Phanatic has the [Philly] attitude,” Burgoyne says. “He has the beer belly. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. He hasn’t missed a game in 30 years. He has the heart of an 8- or 9-year-old.”

To boot, the Phanatic has causes—like his literacy program, Be a Phanatic About Reading. Along with Narberth illustrator Len Epstein, Burgoyne has written six children’s books featuring the Phanatic. The current one, Happy Birthday Phanatic, was issued at his 30th birthday party on May 18. Art-themed this year, the event also launched a public arts project. Soon, at least 20 different Phanatic statues will begin appearing all over the city. Each will be 5 feet high and mounted on a home plate.

That ought to solidify that the Phanatic is a fixture—just as so many memories are fixed inside Burgoyne’s head. During the last game at the Vet, the Phanatic was up in the 700 level hugging everyone and crying. In the final inning, he danced to Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.”

Burgoyne also remembers one of his first games in 1994, the year after Mitch Williams surrendered the World Series-winning home run to Toronto’s Joe Carter. On a walk to the bullpen, the Phanatic trailed Williams, who held up his arms and let the Phanatic soak him with a super soaker from behind. “The crowd loved it,” Burgoyne says.

Interleague play began in 1997, and the “run-ins” with Carter then became legendary. “Everyone in Philly hated him, but he’s the nicest guy,” says Burgoyne. “I never wanted to go to the well too often with him [or any player], so I laid off him one series for the first two games. Then he came over to me before the third game and asked, ‘What are we doing tonight? The people are here to see us get it on.’ We sumo wrestled and rolled around in shallow left field. Now, that’s a guy who gets it.”