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Whenever I attend a baseball game today, many of my memories come to mind, none more than a recent appearance in Louisville by the top bird of them all, The Famous Chicken.
“Hatched” in San Diego in the 1970s, the Chicken moved on from the home nest in Southern California to entertain major and minor league baseball fans throughout the world. He even worked football, basketball and hockey games, along with a few TV and movie appearances.
I could recall my first visual of the Chicken, popping out of a Cardinal Stadium dugout with bright orange and yellow colors, bopping his head and running across the astroturf, taking pot shots at umpires, putting the “Whammy” on the opposing pitcher and coaching first base for half an inning.
The best part was that my Dad received some great seats that first night and the Chicken was right in front of us. Baseball with Dad was always so fun, but this was another level.
The Chicken mimicked the other team’s first baseman, held up eye charts when the umpire made a call, slid hard into third base like Pete Rose. I’d never experienced anything like this.
I also recall that those particular games when the Chicken came to Louisville set records for all-time attendance at minor league baseball games. The Chicken was a superstar.
When the Chicken came back to Louisville I had the pleasure of taking a young friend, nine years old, to the game. I realized I was about 10 or 11 when I first saw the Chicken.
The person inside the suit, Ted Giannoulas, is the original and only Chicken. He’s still doing it after all these years. His schtick was similar, though the physical side is toned down a bit.
No Pete Rose slides, but a water balloon fight with the other team’s bullpen was a highlight.
When I first saw the Chicken, the game itself became secondary. I couldn’t wait for the third out each inning so I could see what he would do next.
On this night, when the third out arrived, my young friend was busy looking for which concession stand to visit next. I had to keep reminding him we can’t go now, it’s time to watch the Chicken. I had to keep reminding him that the Chicken was performing on the field.
My guess is that he did enjoy the Chicken, though not the same way I had. It wasn’t the be-all end-all for my friend, it was just a cute sort of time killer. It was a commercial during the game.
Maybe it skips generations; I don’t recall my father going crazy at the sight of the Chicken, either.
Maybe I have a different appreciation for what this entertainer goes through, having watched another mascot, first-hand, sweat off 20 pounds each summer night in a heavy, ripe outfit.
Maybe I’m old (the option I keep fearing each time a situation similar to this takes place).
I can remember watching my old hero on the field that night, appreciating his humor, thinking it would make a great editorial.
My young friend made me think otherwise. In fact, I’m not completely sure that he hasn’t become the editorial’s focal point.
When I was younger, I appreciated things that entertained my Dad, like The Honeymooners, the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello... today these things make me laugh as much as they made Dad laugh when I was a kid.
With today’s generation, my nieces and nephews don’t appreciate these things as much, but I have found some mutual success in old Gilligan’s Island reruns.
And they show intrigue with “Who’s On First” though not all of them realize yet that it’s just a joke.
Maybe one day my young friend will have a son or daughter, or know a younger person, that he will have an opportunity to spend some time with.
Maybe, on some future day, my friend will take this person somewhere and there will be an entertainer there that my friend enjoys, attempting to entertain in whatever unique way their brain can invent.
Maybe, just maybe, my young friend’s more mature nostalgia of the time will recall a night in Louisville where he was graced with the presence of a true original, the Famous Chicken. Maybe it’ll bring a smile to his face.
That would be nice. The thought makes me smile.
Maybe the kid with him that day will instead look around and eventually ask for a cheeseburger.
This thought made me smile, in a wry sort of way. I think it would make my Dad smile, too.