Trash and New Jersey, perfect together? It's not exactly Florida and orange juice.
Let's face it, the Garden State has an image problem. You wonder what team executives were thinking when they came up with Mr. Trash.
Seven years on, the origins of Mr. Trash have been largely lost amid the turnover that defines a baseball team in an independent league. Stu Cohen, director of business development, wasn't with the Riversharks then, but he recalls that a sponsor, Waste Management of Ewing, N.J., wanted a character that reflected the business.
In real life, Mr. Trash is - naturally - a guy from New Jersey named Vinny.
That's Vincent Tarricone, 22. He lives in Blackwood with his parents and two brothers, and works full time at a mortgage company. He's a huge baseball fan. If you want (and you probably don't), he'll tell you about the stacks of baseball cards in his closet.
Tarricone has performed as Mr. Trash since 2001, inheriting the role when he was a 16-year-old high school student in need of a summer job.
"I went to a meeting, and they said, 'You're going to be a couple of mascots. One is going to be Mr. Trash.'
"I said, 'What is that?' They said, 'He's an usher, and he dances on the field.' I said, 'That's dumb.' "
Dumb, but brilliant.
Part of the intrigue of Mr. Trash is the uncertainty over exactly what he's supposed to be or do. His official biography says he's an usher. But what usher wears a tuxedo with a Waste Management logo on the back? Or dances madly past home plate to the beat of OutKast's "The Way You Move"?
When the music fades, Mr. Trash whips out a plastic garbage bag - as if producing a dove from thin air. Then, as if that needed topping, he proceeds. To. Pick. Up. Trash. Slowly. He goes fan to fan, collecting mustard-smeared wrappers and empty cups.
This is not the sort of act that wows them at Carnegie Hall. But people love him.
"He's great," Eileen Boyer of Deptford said at the game Tuesday night. "I think he's a good dancer."
These days, it's not just the team's Finley the shark who gets invited to carnivals and Little League events. The Polish American barbecue couldn't possibly proceed without Mr. Trash.
"It has gone to his head a little bit," Cohen conceded.
How could it not? To be Mr. Trash is to live on the edge.
"In one sense, it's terrific, because it's a great public-service message: We're eco-friendly. We're trying to teach young people to pick up, to not be litterbugs," said professor Robert Jarvis, who cowrote a study on mascots.
"On the other hand," he said, "you open yourself up to all sorts of snickers and side comments. Does Mr. Trash take out the team if the team isn't very good?"
A mascot, said Jarvis, of Nova Southeastern University Law Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., must perform a variety of crucial roles. Entertain fans. Help drive ticket sales. Promote the club through visits to schools, libraries and hospitals. A popular mascot can even generate revenue through sales of baseballs and T-shirts bearing his image.
Mascots are especially important to minor-league teams, because they offer fans continuity at a level where players constantly come and go.
The Trenton Thunder have Boomer, a friendly blue-and-gold bird. The Wilmington Blue Rocks have Rocky Bluewinkle, a moose. The Atlantic City Surf are looking for someone to perform as Splash, a genial sea monster. If you're interested, the pay is $45 a game.
In Camden, Finley employs a toothy grin to help the Riversharks draw an average of 3,577 folks per game. He's not the only lure. On Sundays, the entire team signs autographs. And if you bring a group of 150 to the ballpark, the Riversharks will let you sing the national anthem.
Last night, festivities were to include a baby bottle sand-sculpting contest sponsored by Johnson & Johnson and WXTU-FM (92.5).
Mr. Trash appears at all 72 home games, making his entrance just before the sixth inning. Early in the game, Tarricone works as Bones the T-Shirt Guy, sponsored by a radiology firm, and River Line Larry, for NJ Transit.
It's not all glamour, Tarricone said. He has been drenched by half-finished Slushies and sodas that people toss at his bag. After six years, his tuxedo pants are wearing out. On the other hand, he has gotten more than a few phone numbers from women who like his moves.
When Tarricone accepted the job, the first thing he decided was to take it seriously. If he was going to dance, he wasn't going to look like just another dork from Jersey in a Mr. Trash suit. He began rehearsing to tunes like James Brown's "Living in America."
"I get up here, get in my zone, get ready to go out and do my thing," he said Tuesday before hitting the field.
Does he think being Mr. Trash could lead to better things, maybe a mascot job with a bigger club?
"It could," Tarricone said. "But I highly doubt it."
And that's fine, he said. It's so much fun. He has made great friends. His buddies think working for a baseball team is the coolest job on earth.
"It's a lot of people's dream to walk on the field," he said. "I get to dance on it."
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Contact staff writer Jeff Gammage at 610-313-8110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.