From 1994-1997, AJ Mass (pictured) worked as Mr. Met, the mascot for the New York Mets baseball team .
There’s a video reel of AJ doing his thing on his blog and he is currently shopping a book about his experiences working it as the big-baseball headed one.
Read on to find out how he got the job, what challenges donning the head brought and what shocking tell-all mascot revelations might be revealed in a Mr. Met book.
First off: Are you a Mets fan? Was that a prerequisite for the job?
I am. Growing up within walking distance of Shea Stadium, it was going to be difficult to not root for the hometown team. However the first prerequisite for the job was whether I fit the suit.
How did you get the job and who was Mr. Met before you?
I was the first Mr. Met of the modern era. There was an incarnation of Mr. Met in the 60s, but he was phased out long before the the Phillie Phanatic or the San Diego Chicken redefined what mascots were going to be.
I actually auditioned to be an actor in the Nickelodeon Stage Shows that were going to be part of a mini-theme park outside of Shea. I got the gig, and then they mentioned they were going to bring back Mr. Met and anyone interested could volunteer to learn more. Only three of us stuck around, and much like Johnny Bravo on The Brady Bunch, I fit the suit.
How is the pay? The hours? What kinds of events did you do outside of games?
The pay was hourly at first, just as an extra part of the Nick job. After the baseball strike in 1994, though, the theme park closed down. I was asked to stay.
By the time I left it was a full-time job but with no health benefits. The hours? If there was an appearance at a charity event or Little League field or some such event, I could be in the costume at 9AM, back at the stadium for the day game scheduled at 1PM (with pre-game duties/birthday parties starting at 11AM) and after three hours of baseball, finally done for the day at 5PM assuming the game didn’t go extra innings, of course. Considering that home stands could last 7-12 days, I might be working for weeks at a time without a day off.
Was the job more or less fun than you expected?
I loved the interaction with kids. That alone was worth every bit of grief from management, who never quite understood what it took to do the job of mascot properly.
For example, they didn’t know why I couldn’t bend the laws of physics to be in three different locations in the stadium at the same time, or why I needed to take a 20 minute break after an hour in the costume on an August afternoon. Part of the reason I did stay in the suit longer than I probably should have is that I didn’t want any of those kids being disappointed.
How hard was the costume to wear? Is the head heavy? How do you stay cool in it on hot summer days?
The costume itself went through changes over the years to make it easier to move around in. The sheer size of the head made it difficult to maneuver. Forget about peripheral vision.
There’s no way of sugar-coating how hot it got being encased in a 20-pound polyurethane sphere in the middle of a heat wave. You’d take a towel and soak it in ice water and wrap it around your neck and shoulders and it would be bone dry by the time you hit the field. You simply endured.
Which ballplayers gave you an especially hard time?
There still weren’t a huge number of baseball mascots around when I started, maybe a third of the teams had one, but the players who had played for teams with mascots tended to get it and were supportive.
Surprisingly, it was some of the Mets themselves, who were not used to having a stranger around the tunnels leading to the clubhouse, who were unreceptive at best and antagonistic at worst. I’ll save the naming of names for the book I’m currently shopping around.
Does your book proposal contain shocking revelations like mascot groupies or mascots injecting one another with performance-enhancing drugs?
Mr. Met is actually part-zombie and part-vampire. That’s not true, but I hear that’s the only way to get a book sold these days
Seriously, part of the reason I wanted to write a book about my time as a professional mascot is that most people have no idea what a mascot actually goes through on a regular basis. In my four years on the job, I was abused by players, reprimanded by umpires, nearly trampled to death by exuberant parade-goers, and even had my life threatened by Secret Service agents. Not to mention that I once a encountered a very gruesome naked celebrity.
Your head is a huge baseball. Did it ever occur to you that the best place to hang around was not a baseball park, where everyone had baseball bats? Or were you safe because the Mets aren’t very good at hitting baseballs?
Touche! Actually, imagine how bad of an idea Bat Day was for a team with a baseball-headed mascot. And yet, management didn’t seem to understand why I had a problem with visiting the upper deck when they’d armed hordes of under-supervised summer campers with large wooden sticks. Talk about nightmares!
Was there ever a Mr. Yankee? Why not? What have you done with him?
The Yankees never needed a cartoonish mascot since they had Phil Rizzuto, their beloved announcer. And I mean that with complete respect. The Scooter was a living embodiment of fandom and excitement that made a mascot unnecessary for the Yankees, just as Harry Caray served that role for the Cubs.
What do you think of the Mets new ballpark?
I haven’t been to CitiField yet. I do watch most games on TV, thanks to the dish, and it looks great. As much as I loved Shea from the standpoint of a lot of great moments in my life happened there, it was a dump.
Why did you stop being Mr. Met?
The short answer is that I was fired by e-mail during the 1997 off-season. Looking back, I probably could have fought and gotten the job back, but in my heart I knew it was time to move on.
In general, whats the turnover rate in mascot land? Like how long does your typical Philly Phanatic reign?
The current Phanatic, Tom Burgoyne, is only the second in the history of the character which dates back to 1978. Dave Raymond was the first and worked until 1993.
So Tom started the same year I did, and is still going strong but that’s the exception, not the rule. Unfortunately, other organizations aren’t as kind to the guys (or girls) inside the costumes as Philly is, and as such, when it’s time to cut costs, they’ll usually take the guy making $40K a year and replace him with a $10 an hour college kid, thinking it won’t matter. But it does.You really do get what you pay for, but it’s hard to convince some people otherwise when it comes to mascots. It’s amazing to me that teams seem to care so little about the way they support their most visible marketing tool.
Images: Left; AJ with Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s widow, 1997. Right; AJ with his son at a minor league game. Bottom left; Mr. Met as Elvis from AJ’s reel