Today was a much nicer day here than it could have been for mid-November, and my eight-year old was at Toyota Park in the suburbs for the annual Girls on the Run event. It’s a nice field, and I’m sure the soccer team (or is it a club?) likes that it doesn’t have to share space with an American football team. The 5K run began outside the stadium but ended up at the finish line inside the stadium. All in all, it was a very well-run event.
After the race began, I went inside to find a spot near the finish line. There was some downtime as the runners were out on the course, and the antics of the White Sox mascot (his name is Southpaw, apparently) and the Chicago Fire’s mascot (I think his name was Sparky) kept the crowd amused. They were also there at the finish line to high-five the runners as they finished the race, just in case being on the Jumbotron at the finish line wasn’t enough of a thrill.
My thoughts are never very far from baseball and the Cubs, so I got to thinking about their mascot-free status. The Cubs are more bound to their tradition than any team I can think of, and this probably extends to mascots as much as–maybe even more than–anything else. Some cute, little Cub E. Bear, or whatever they would end up calling it, just isn’t going to happen. And I’m not saying that I want it to.
What a great outreach tool Southpaw is for the White Sox. It’s the offseason now, and baseball might be far from a lot of people’s minds, but there’s some guy inside the costume, getting paid a few bucks to ham it up, pose for pictures with little kids, and generally give the impression the White Sox are trying to spread their recognition to the next generation of fans. It also makes the Cubs look more disconnected from the general population, at least some of whom are bound to be baseball fans.
The lady sitting a few rows behind me yelled out to the mascot “Is that what Ozzie’s new job is?” but heckling a mascot seemed like a petty thing to do. And I realize that the Cubs have issues that extend far beyond mascots. But it was a bit strange to see the White Sox getting all of the attention, while the Cubs seem to be content with just sitting it out in this arena.
The Topps Opening Day baseball card set this year contained an insert card for each of the teams that have a mascot, and most big league teams do already have one. This, again, is not to argue that one should be created, just for the sake of keeping up with the White Sox or anyone else. But it is also something that I would not have considered before today.
Would I like for the Cubs to roll out a macot? Probably not. Is it anywhere close to being as important to me as winning a World Series? No way. But is it something that could help to bring the Cubs into the hearts and minds of the next generation of fans who, let’s face it, don’t have either a winning tradition or a Jack Brickhouse-type of an announcer to draw them in? It could be.
The Cubs have been marketed masterfully over the years, with Beanie Baby giveaways and Barbie Doll giveaways and lots of others that I can’t think of right now. They were far ahead of the MLB curve in this respect. But the guy responsible for that is with the Blackhawks now, and putting up new statues outside of Wrigley Field every year is already getting old. Is Ronnie Woo-Woo next?
If the team wants to move toward a more family-oriented experience at the ballpark, like the South Side already has, and many other Major League teams already offer, as well as minor-league teams out in the suburbs, they could do a lot worse than paying attention to what’s out there already. Or they can just win the World Series instead.