BY CAROLYN LaWELL
SAN ANTONIO | Kids scream his name, adults slap him high-fives, and all the while Ballapeño is silent, his only emotions displayed by his arms waving in the air and his googly eyes rattling.
The jalapeño with legs, a baseball jersey and a cap pops and locks on the dugout. He rides in the back of an ATV around the field shooting T-shirts into the crowd. He meanders on the concourse. And every time he’s spotted, the crowd screams “Ballapeño” — just as it was designed.
The man behind the mascot, Patrick Laredo, has put thousands of hours of work into getting that reaction. As silly and hyper as Ballapeño is, Laredo is serious about playing him. He’s been with the San Antonio Missions for two years, and what started as a fill-in-position for no pay is now his full-time job and, he hopes, a long career.
“Basically everything I do here is my passion,” says Laredo, 22. “I don’t see myself doing anything else for a very long time. I put almost every minute of every day into it. What I like to do is make sure that not only are the fans entertained but they say, ‘Hey, did you see Ballapeño last night? He did some crazy moves.’”
"You can’t jump into a mascot and act the same way for every one." - Patrick Laredo
Laredo’s character preparation starts long before the first pitch. He keeps current on popular music and works with Jerome Bartlett, the owner of the mascot training and staffing company Higher Impact Entertainment, on dance moves and mannerisms. He edits music and choreographs dances for the Missions mascot family — Ballapeño, Henry the Puffy Taco and Ballapeño Jr. — keeping in mind his big inspiration's Michael Jackson and Black Eyed Peas.
“I wanted to bring the mascots back to life,” Laredo says of taking over first as Henry the Puffy Taco, and now Ballapeño. “I wanted to improve the character as best I could. I started to do choreography a lot more, a lot more mashups, comedy skits, just anything I can to make the mascots stand out just that much more. It’s fun to control the crowds.”
He treats being a mascot as an art. It’s actions and movement and a way of thought. It’s far from arriving at the ballpark, putting on a suit and running out to the field. It’s actually becoming a character.
“You have to keep that mindset because you can’t jump into a mascot and act the same way for every one,” Laredo says. “Ballapeño has been around for 14 to 15 years, so in technicality, he’s a kid still. When I get into him, I do a bunch of crazy stuff, especially with the googly eyes — everybody loves the googly eyes. When I’m in Taco, he’s actually around my age, so I walk around and jive, act all cool. I wouldn’t say adult humor, but since he’s an older mascot, he’s more popular with the older crowd.”
There are a few quirks to the job. Most days Laredo is both Ballapeño and Henry the Puffy Taco, switching between suits for Ballapeño’s intro and Henry the Puffy Taco’s signature base-running kids race. There’s the fact that the mascots are foods not some deviation of an animal or alien, as many are. Henry the Puffy Taco doesn’t have eyes, which prompts children to constantly ask what he is. Of course, Laredo can’t answer. Running around, covered from head to toe as a mascot in 100 degrees has prompted weight losses of four pounds in a day.
But that’s nothing to Laredo, who is just happy to find his career calling.
“My basic goal is to stay in this organization long enough to have a reputation as the mascot,” he says. “Not only bring the characters back to life but, in general, make it that much more exciting. That’s my main goal. After that, I’m hoping to move up to another professional mascot position.
“Personally, I like it here. I like this town. All of my family is here. I was born and raised here in San Antonio. I’ve been out of San Antonio maybe on six or seven occasions. Texas and San Antonio is my home, so being that I can do what I love and be at home at the same time, it’s a hard decision to move or do anything else.”
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Time for minor league trivia. San Antonio was one of the Texas League’s charter members. What year was the league founded? We’ll make it easy and give you multiple choice: 1885, 1888 or 1890?
San Antonio was shut out at home, 2-0, by the Frisco RoughRiders on Tuesday night. The Missions loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth but couldn’t capitalize. Missions starter Robbie Erlin took the loss, but went a strong eight innings with 10 strikeouts, one walk and two runs. Rough Riders starter Tim Murphy picked up the win after allowing three hits over five shutout innings.
The Missions play at Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium, the oldest stadium in the Texas League by eight years. It opened in 1994 on the city’s west side and sits about eight miles from the Alamo and downtown San Antonio. Who is Nelson Wolff? He’s currently a Bexar County judge. He represented San Antonio in the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate. Also, he was the city’s mayor from 1991 to1995 — during which time he helped spur the development of the stadium.
Want the answer? The Texas league was founded in 1888. Of the eight teams that play in the league today, only half — the Missions, the RoughRiders, the Corpus Christi Hooks and the Midland RockHounds — are actually based in Texas.
And in random statistical news, the game started one minute late, the first pitch was a ball and the first batter singled and scored. A four-piece brass band performed the “Star-Spangled Banner” in 1 minute and 13.3 seconds. Also, we ate a buffalo chicken flatbread with Gatorade and coffee, the first time we saw either in a press box.
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