Jul 30, 2017

The Dog Days of Summer Raise the Woof at Dell Diamond

Reporting Texas

Casey Lee, a marketing coordinator for the Round Rock Express, dances  with Spike, the mascot, before a game.  Christian Benavides/Reporting Texas

Four minutes before the first pitch, the 5-foot-4 mascot for the Round Rock Express fastens an ice vest to his chest and buttons his blue overalls. He pulls on a pair of faux paws and a 4.8-pound bulldog head.

It’s time again for Triple A baseball.

Here, Spike!

Along comes a loyal, goofy and cartoonishly big canine, ready to perform. Spike has been hounding Express fans since the team’s first season in 2000, and he’s having his day again in his 17th season at the Dell Diamond.

Inside the suit, there’s a 23-year-old St. Edward’s University graduate who loves to make baseball more than a game. That person has a name. But American sports teams such as the Express like to keep secret the identities of the people who animate their mascots, all the better to maintain the illusion. They’re like spies or restaurant critics in that way. Except they wear costumes and dance on dugouts.

Spike leads a hacky-sack relay race in the first inning. In the third, the mascot signs autographs at the Dog House. The chicken race is in the sixth. There are dance cams, flirtations with fans and T-shirts thrown to the crowd. Spike and his handler have three outs to get from one place to the next, a period of time that ranges from two to 45 minutes.

“I have to stay in great shape,” Spike said. “They run me around and around that stadium all day in some pretty intense heat.”

Seventy-one home games in the season means Spike stays busy. Last season, the Express topped the Pacific Coast League’s attendance with an average of 8,637 fans a game. Since the team’s start in 2000, it’s always ranked among the top three teams in the 16-team league.

Spike has his own locker at the stadium. Christian Benavides/Reporting Texas

At the major league level, it’s easy to promote one or two players as the cornerstones of the organization. But in the minor leagues, players come and go. Spike has been a mainstay since he jumped off the train with a railroad spike in his mouth on Day One. Whether the names on next season’s roster are recognizable to fans or not, one always will be No. 00 in the bulldog head.

“He is the face of our franchise,” ballpark entertainment director Steve Richards said. “While we certainly have fans here purely to enjoy baseball, we also have fans here to be entertained. Spike is an integral part of that.”

He’s more than a pretty dog face. Spike also participates in community events such as the Chuy’s Thanksgiving parade, mascot birthday parties, nonprofit walks and corporate celebrations.

Piles of fan mail – Santa-esque letters and hand-drawn pictures – are stacked in his Dog House. Certain faces stick out to him, like the blonde teenager with Down syndrome who has attended every game for 10 years just to give Spike a hug.

Spike stands at attention during the national anthem before a game. Christian Benavides/Reporting Texas

“It’s a stadium full of people crazy about [me],” Spike said.

Spike’s favorite baseball mascot is the Baltimore Oriole Bird, which inspired him to become a mascot when he was just a pup. Spike does not aspire to the big leagues, though – he’s perfectly content in Round Rock. He thinks he has the best job in the world.

At the end of a game — once the last bat has been swung, bag of peanuts sold and fan hugged — a weary, sweaty Spike makes his way off the field.

He’ll be back tomorrow, ready to lap it up again.