Erin Blank has been a dog and a cat, an eagle and a human baseball. She's even worn the blue fur of That Milk Thing, but now she wants to wear a new costume.
She wants to be a Raven.
"I want a big belly I can jiggle," said Blank, wearing the tubby brown suit that transforms her into Coco Bear, mascot for the Hershey Bears hockey team. "Kids love to hug a big belly."
Ravens officials aren't ready to unveil the mascot costume or who will be wearing them, preferring to wait until closer to the football season. After playing two seasons at Memorial Stadium, with its hallowed grounds but relatively bare-boned facilities, the team is proceeding with plans to provide more glitz on the sidelines of its new downtown home.
Last month, the team auditioned prospective cheerleaders. Yesterday, the job of finding humans to wear bird suits began in earnest.
The casting call read, "Previous character performance experience preferred."
But that did not discourage Al Morris, a 30-year-old grocery store worker who asked the judges to overlook his spare resume and consider his chief assets: energy and enthusiasm.
Morris told the judges that he cried when Baltimore was bypassed for an expansion team in 1993. "Now we've got a home team, so I'm pumped," he said. "I want a job with the big team."
Most of the candidates had experience in costumes, whether playing Santa Claus in hospitals and nursing homes or donning furry suits to lead cheers for thousands of sports fans.
Some candidates were reluctant to go public with their roles. Karen Stitely, a 30-year-old actress and office worker at a Frederick hospital, said she played characters at "the major theme park down in Florida."
Laurie March, a 20-year-old student, wanted to keep her experience out of the news. Let's just say she has led cheers at a Delaware college where the mascot is a chicken. She would say this much: "I'm moving up in the food chain, from a hen to a Raven."
Other candidates have played mascots for the Washington Mystics of the WNBA, the Baltimore Stallions football team and Towson University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Blank, of Hershey, Pa., has been a Phillies Screwball (a character built to be a human baseball) for the Reading, Pa., farm team. She's also been Jinx the cat, mascot for the Baltimore Spirit soccer team; Winger the Eagle, mascot for the Washington Capitals hockey team; Striker, the dog mascot for the 1994 World Cup. And she's been That Milk Thing, the furry, blue, 7-foot "whatchamacallit" designed to turn youngsters into lifelong milk drinkers.
As the candidates prepared for their turn before the judges, some talked of the unwritten rules a mascot must follow, such as never removing a costume head in public -- or at least not in the presence of small children.
Others talked of the San Diego Chicken and other performers who have influenced the mascot field. Blank recalled being 8 years old when she first saw the famed Phillie Phanatic at a baseball game.
"I saw this big, neon-green thing running around the stadium, and I went running around the stadium chasing him," she said. "That's when I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up."
Most who auditioned yesterday wore a polar bear suit on loan from the Baltimore Zoo. But Blank brought her own game face -- her tubby, Coco Bear costume.
With Oriole Bird Bromley Lowe presiding in street clothes, Blank began her performance with a cartwheel. Like the other candidates, she was asked to run through the basics: shadowboxing, karate moves, reacting to a bad call by the referee and rousing the fans for a goal-line play.
She danced. She swooned. Then, the final touch: With a #F Calypso-tinged version of the Beatles' "Hey Jude" for a soundtrack, Coco Bear stripped a dummy of its Pittsburgh Steelers jersey and turned the shirt inside out -- revealing the purple-and-black of Baltimore's NFL team.
Allyson Yospe, marketing coordinator for the Ravens, said the team could have three Raven mascots roaming the field this year. If the characters have names, she's not telling -- at least not yet. She said the team will select five actors to take turns in the suits.
Contestants said they can hardly wait to be among the new attractions for a new season in a new stadium.
"It's like this grand opening. Everything's going to be new and cool and fresh and hot," said Stitely. "I just want to be part of it."
Pub Date: 6/15/98