At the start of every game he'll jump onto his four-wheel buzzmobile and zoom onto the field, with his head thrown back and that megaphone mouth shouting a silent "Wahoooooo."
He'll zoom out to center field, where a high school marching band is playing. Now, you know the kids have practiced this routine for weeks, and a nice, sensible guy like Dave Raymond knows it too. But the Phanatic will snatch the drum major's baton and lead the whole band giggling into a wall. Then he'll jump on his machine and zoom down to the visitors' dugout. He'll stick out his tongue, thrust out his big potbelly - wadoom - and confound their batting practice.
Next he'll zoom over to home plate, where a well-dressed woman is about to receive the Distinguished Citizen Award, or something equally solemn. He'll waddle up to her, take her in his arms, press his megaphone face over hers, and give her a big fuzzy kiss in front 22,000 people. Smmmmmack! And as she quivers with laughter he'll whirl around, pinch a startled umpire on the butt, and zoom away. Wahoooooo.
For eight straight seasons his shenanigans have been part of Phillies baseball. But his perfect attendance streak was broken last month when pneumonia sidelined Raymond for five games, and things just weren't the same. Hundreds of kids sent him get-well cards. And the Phillies tripped and fell right into the cellar. Now he's back - something he couldn't have predicted when he began eight years ago.
"In the beginning we weren't sure if the Phanatic was going to be around for a month, or two months, or whatever," Raymond, 31, said one recent afternoon, before a home game with the Cincinnati Reds. He wore gray slacks and a red polo shirt. Dangling from several coat hangers were a pair of green legs, a large green belly, and a long, green, bug-eyed head. Size 56 sneakers and a foam-rubber sledgehammer lay on the floor nearby.
In 1978 Raymond was a boyish, exuberant physical education major at the University of Delaware. He was working his third summer as a stockboy for the Phillies' promotions department when his bosses approached him with their newest promotional gimmick: a 40-pound, $4,000 costume of rubber and canvas and green fake fur (designed by the television costume designers who created some of Sesame Street's Muppets) called the Phillie Phanatic.
They explained that the ball club was looking for somebody who would wear it out onto the field and um . . . who would, uh . . . Well, nobody knew what it should do, but they'd pay him $25 a game to do it. But was he interested?
"And I said, 'Sure,' " recalled Raymond, whose father, Tubby Raymond, is head football coach at the University of Delaware.
"Now, you have to realize," he said, "that we didn't know if people would just say, 'Oh, look at the cute costume' or what, so we didn't really
put any parameters on how we wanted the person to act. We never thought anyone would care. So the first night I said, 'What do I do out there? What do you suppose this character should be like?' And nobody said anything. It was, like, 'Well, gee, I dunno. . . .' Finally they said, 'Just go out and have fun.' "
And on April 26 of that year, shortly before a Chicago game, the Phanatic made his debut. He dusted the bases with his butt, and the crowd laughed. He swung his tummy out at a few ballplayers, and the crowd laughed some more. ''And then Bill Giles (then a Phillies vice president) said, 'Go out with the ground crew,' " said Raymond, "and I accidentally tripped over one of them, and everybody laughed. And I realized it's funny when you fall, and it's funny when you trip people."
He had thought about being a schoolteacher, but now he was studying Three Stooges movies and Daffy Duck cartoons for gestures and gags. He practiced his Phanatic walk, perfected the belly bump - wadoom - and the rest, as they say, is history. Some purists still grumble that his in-the-stands buffoonery distracts attention from the game, but to thousands of kids and casual game- goers he is as much a part of Phillies baseball as the hot dogs and Cracker Jacks.
Except for the recent bout with pneumonia, he has played the Phanatic at every home game - about 650 games in all - and is the only person ever to play him at the Vet. The Phanatic also makes 200 to 250 appearances a year at hospitals, senior centers, store openings, bar mitzvahs and fund-raising events. Raymond says that nine appearances out of 10, he's the guy inside the fuzzy green suit, but another Phillies employee, Michael Stevens, does about 35 appearances a year.
"Going to the hospital and seeing sick kids or the elderly or mentally retarded - that's a fulfilling thing," he said. "I mean you just see them laughing, and every time you go there's somebody who pats you on the back and says, 'Johnny hasn't done anything for eight months, and you just got him to smile for the first time, and you don't have any idea what it means to us to see him respond that way.' At least once a week somebody will say that, and that's a really neat thing."
He won't say exactly how much he makes a year for playing the Phanatic, but it's "almost six figures." He has considered a career in financial planning, and "wouldn't mind a job in baseball in the front office." But he concedes he would have a hard time finding another job that pays as well or that he enjoys as much. So, he has just signed another three-year agreement with the Phillies, with a one-year renewal option.
"Every year since I started I've been saying I'll probably quit in four or five years . . .," he said with a laugh. "Now I've said it again. I feel that if I don't have any physical problems and if I can physically stay 30 or younger, sure: I could do it for my whole career. But, it's a strain
physically and a strain emotionally. . . . At the end of this agreement, possibly, it might be it."
Most fans are probably laughing too hard to notice just how grueling the Phanatic's 20-minute appearances in the second, fifth and seventh innings can be.
The costume heats up even on the coolest of nights, he said, and on some summer days he'll wear icepacks strapped to his chest and still lose five pounds in a single game. It's not hard to see why.
During a recent Phillies-Cardinals game, the Phanatic emerged from his dressing room at 8:05 p.m., the start of the second inning. Accompanied by his official path-clearer, Jan Rosetti, he boarded an elevator and emerged next to a hot dog stand on the 200 level of the Vet.
He waddled into the hot dog stand and seized one of the teenage vendors. As she squealed with laughter he filled her face with a megaphone kiss - and was gone. It was funny to watch, and strange, too: This wasn't Dave Raymond anymore; it was the Phanatic. He stopped to sign an autograph for a little girl, grabbed a musclebound guy in a T-shirt and gave him a kiss, and pinched a middle-aged usher who was calmly smoking a cigarette. "What the he-?" the guy exclaimed.
"It's the Phanatic," said his buddy, and the guy laughed and laughed and laughed. By now a crowd was gathered around the Phanatic as he bounced down the hall. "Hey, man," shouted some tough guys who slapped his palms. Parents held up babies, and he hugged them. Little kids asked for autographs, and he signed them.
He emerged in the stands, and the effect was electric. Somebody handed him a Phanatic doll and he kissed it. A pregnant woman stood up and he gently bumped her on the belly. He stepped over the tops of seats, switched hats on a few fans, and then took his pin-striped jersey and buffed the head of a bald man who laughed and laughed.
He unfurled his paper tongue on a woman's head, which sent the whole 252 section laughing, then swiped somebody's nacho chips and tossed them in the air. He reached out to shake hands with a 10-year-old boy, then pulled his hand away, and reached again, and pulled his hand away again, and finally grabbed the boy's hand and pumped. The boy grinned. "Aww, that made his day," said a woman sitting nearby.
"He's great," said a man in the crowd.
A beer vendor strode by and the Phanatic imitated his walk, then lifted a little boy in his arms and gave him a hug, and then spotted a newspaper reporter scribbling notes. Suddenly, he turned. "He can't be coming for me," thought the reporter. "He knows I'm working."
But the Phanatic was coming, growing larger and greener and fuzzier with every step. This can't be happening, thought the reporter: Dave, Dave, can't you control that thing?
But it was too late. If Dave Raymond was inside that costume, it made no difference: The Phanatic really had taken over. The Phanatic was real. He grabbed the reporter with both arms, pressed his megaphone mouth closer and closer and - smmmmmaack! - all was dark and fuzzy.
In an instant he was gone. He leaned over the rail, showered himself with somebody's popcorn, and bounded up the concrete steps and was gone. All in 22 minutes.
The day will come when the person running the Phanatic - or the person run by the Phanatic - will be somebody other than Raymond. He tries, he says, to be philosophical about it.
"I believe there's a number of people out there who could have done the same thing I do," he said. "I hope whoever comes in (after he's gone) won't feel inhibited trying to mimic what Dave Raymond decided was right for the personality. He's going to have to do that initially, but as time goes on he can add things to the personality that are his own decisions, and they'll eventually become part of that character.
"And I hope when I'm 65 I can come to a ball game, there'll be someone doing the Phanatic. That would be fine by me - I'd love to see it. I'd love to say we started this thing, and part of his personality is still me."