Filling in as the Kannapolis Intimidator mascot is hard work

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 8, 2011

By Mark Wineka
KANNAPOLIS — Lisa McLean should have known she was in for a tough morning when Greg Pizzuto told her the huge alligator head was a bit front-heavy and might strain her neck.
“This goes on your head like a helmet,” explained Pizzuto, group sales director for the Kannapolis Intimidators minor league baseball team.
Pizzuto already had helped McLean into the bottom part of the bulbous suit, which up close looks like green and yellow carpet sewn together into a big Snuggie.
Some furry, floppy gloves, with one of the fingers held together with duct tape, came last.
Pizzuto explained that he didn’t want McLean to try any stairs, because she wouldn’t be used to her oversized green feet. And on the first walk along the concourse, he would hold her hand or back to help her balance.
With the giant head on and looking through the alligator’s mouth, McLean had no peripheral vision. She’s only 5 feet, 7 inches tall.
“Just give us what you can,” an appreciative Pizzuto said.
The Intimidators’ regular mascot, Jason Patrick, had another commitment Monday, prompting the staff to seek a last-minute replacement among all the volunteers who had shown up for “Education Day.”
McLean, 24, stepped forward even though she had never worn a mascot suit.
Steadied by Pizzuto, she emerged from the pressbox as Tim E. Gator and headed down the third-base side of the concourse. A middle-school boy spotted her first, and running like a linebacker, he crashed into her for a hug, snapping the giant head backward and almost knocking her down.
Over the next 15 minutes, Tim E. Gator accepted countless other hugs, posed for group photographs and waved his wiggly fingers at all the fans.
Pizzuto soon guided the mascot back to the air-conditioned pressbox for a break. The outside temperatures already were in the 80s.
Alligator head off, a flushed, sweating McLean took swigs from a water bottle.
“Yeah,” she confirmed about the costume, “it smells bad. … It’s raunchy.”
Her biggest frustrations were her limited vision, the big feet rubbing together and the realization that her hair was poking out from under the alligator’s head.
“If I could see,” she said, “I’d be great to walk around, but I can’t see the kids coming up the side of me.”
When McLean starred as a center fielder for the University of Akron’s softball team, she knew something about speed.
She set season and career school records for stolen bases, led the Mid-American Conference in swipes and often was ranked among the top 10 nationally.
So it was funny — and weird — to see her waddling through a huge crowd of Rowan and Cabarrus County students bused in Monday morning for the Education Day game between the Intimidators and the Rome Braves.
McLean only donned the Tim E. Gator costume because she’s a good sport.
Now an assistant coach at Pfeiffer University, McLean showed up at Fieldcrest-Cannon Stadium Monday morning after she received an email the night before, calling for volunteer help for the unusual morning game with all these rambunctious elementary and middle school kids.
Andrea Wagner, a Pfeiffer outfielder and sports management major, works as a seasonal intern for the Intimidators, so that was the connection. McLean made the trip to Kannapolis with assistant basketball coach Becca Walters.
They assumed they would be ushers or whatever extra adult supervision was needed for the game.
McLean had never heard of Tim E. Gator, esquire.
Pizzuto solicited N.C. State University intern Steven Becker to chaperone McLean during two more passes through the crowd as the mascot.
Returning to the pressbox after the second foray, McLean immediately took off the alligator head and the unwieldy gloves and starting fanning herself.
“Oh, my gosh,” she said of the heat, which she judged was at least 100 degrees inside the suit.
Becker made a quick inspection of the suit and made a grim discovery.
“There’s gum on the back,” he reported. Kids had planted two giant wads on Tim E. Gator during some devious hugs.
“Aw, gross,” McLean said.
During the offseason, McLean spends a lot of weekends on the recruiting trail. Her family lives back in Canton, Ohio, where she grew up a diehard fan of the Cleveland Indians and Ohio State football.
She majored in child development at Akron and said she loves little kids. As the mascot, she said, it was fun to be interacting with them.
“Kinda,” she clarified.
McLean eventually took off her Tim E. Gator suit in the closet bathroom that serves as the changing room in the pressbox. Her neck was already hurting a bit, and she acknowledged respect for Patrick, who has to wear the suit at all the other games.
“My shirt smells pleasant,” she added.
Yes, she was kidding.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@