Going Behind the Scenes with the Bird

April 9, 2009

Dressing the Bird:

The Bird skins are machine washable, but the chest pad (which puffs out the Bird’s upper chest), the tail, and the head have to be hand-cleaned. And with sweat from the inside and dirt from the stadium, cleaning is necessary: “A lot of times people spill nachos on you. I’ve had beer thrown at me,” Butz says.

Under the skin, the Bird performer is wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and a black hood that helps disperse the sweat from his head. Other than the hood, there is no cooling mechanism inside.

Those big black shoes with floppy orange laces aren’t sized to the performer’s foot. They are just big shoes that the performer has to learn to walk in. “One of the things you learn is to keep your feet up high,” Butz says.

The Bird’s tail buckles around the performer’s waist, attached with a clasp similar to a high chair strap.

The performer needs help with only one aspect of the costume—fastening the second black furry glove to the inside of his arm. Everything else he can manage on his own.

Inside the Bird’s head is a lacrosse helmet.

The Bird’s costume fits inside a large black hockey goalie bag that says Sherwood Archery on the side. This season, the Bird performers will get new bags featuring the Orioles logo.

The Bird can’t see well. He looks through sunglasses-type material in the eyes, and he can see a little through mesh inside the Bird’s beak.

What’s inside the Bird’s dressing room?

A row of Oriole Bird heads with different Oriole hats lines a shelf, smiling down on a disorganized pile of props, including a large slingshot, used to propel T-shirts into the stands. One Bird head is dressed as a mama bird for a Mother’s Day skit.

The room is named for Jamie Parker, an Oriole Bird performer who died in a car accident after, as the Bird, he visited a child in the hospital.

A collection of bobble heads of other team mascots, such as the Philly Phanatic, lines the shelf above the Bird lockers.

On one wall hangs a photo of the first scraggly Bird mascot standing at a young, underdeveloped Inner Harbor. That costume was accidentally thrown away in the move to Camden Yards from Memorial Stadium.
Photos and notes are pegged to a large bulletin board on one wall.

One handwritten note on the board reads: “Hey Bird—If there is No Mrs. Bird + you are interested give me a call!” (Those are common proposals, Butz says. “My very first appearance at ESPN Zone, a girl named Ginger wrote her name and number on a coaster and gave it to me.”)

    What does a Birdkeeper do?

    The Bird relies on his keepers, the people who accompany him around the stadium, to tell him about children and others he might not see with his limited visibility. “They’re our eyes out there. They can tell us, ‘Hey, Bird, you’ve got a big guy coming at you.”

    They keep the Bird hydrated. They take photographs of fans with the Bird. They carry walkie-talkies so they can radio for help, such as the police, if necessary.

    Not everyone loves the Bird: “You can be somebody’s best friend or—throw alcohol in or if they’re losing—you can be a piece of gum stuck on somebody’s shoe.”

      The life of a celebrity

      The Bird easily signs 100 autographs a game.

      The autograph has been a standard for 15 years and all Bird performers have to learn to sign the same way.

      To practice, Butz sat at his dining room table wearing the Bird head and hands and signed over and over. “Now I can almost do it without looking at it.”

      “I’ve been asked to sign everything, and I mean everything—empty potato chip bags, used ketchup packets.” What about skin? “I did one time. A guy had a bald head and he was all decked out in Orioles gear and I couldn’t resist.”

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