- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

Bromley Lowe did not need a study from a Johns Hopkins University orthopedic surgeon to convince him that working as a sports mascot can be a dangerous pursuit.

But a May 31 report by Dr. Edward McFarland, who heads the school's sports medicine program, catalogued many of the dangers that Mr. Lowe has faced since 1994.

That was the year Mr. Lowe, a 30-year-old newlywed and native of Bucks County, Pa., strapped on the black and orange suit that gives him his identity as the Baltimore Orioles' official mascot, the Orioles Bird.

In seven years Mr. Lowe has been kicked, has suffered heat exhaustion, had the end of his finger clipped off in a door and has had to absorb crotch shots from aggressive children still learning about human anatomy. He has seen colleague John Krownapple spend 40 days in a wheelchair with a broken leg after a drunken fan pushed him off the outfield wall at Camden Yards.

When Mr. Lowe takes the field as the Orioles Bird at the team's home games, he tries to amuse and entertain. But what looks like a comedy routine is also rigorous work.

"It rarely gets to the point where it gets really ugly. But we avoid that by having people around who help. I don't think I would even go out there now without the bird-keepers," Mr. Lowe says before a game last Monday against the Texas Rangers.

The bird-keepers are people like Paul Stefano, who walks with the Orioles Bird and helps guide the mascot through the stands.

Fans see only one bird at a time but Mr. Lowe, Mr. Krownapple and Eric Jacobson in his first full year as the Orioles mascot after working as the Virginia Tech hokie while he studied there share the duties. Two of them work each home game.

One works while one rests. And the thick suit that the mascots wear is the chief reason they can work only a few innings at a time before they must take a break.

"It's quite hot in there, and it does take a toll on you. It's basically a big furry jumpsuit," Mr. Lowe says.

Moments before the start of the game Monday, Mr. Lowe returns to the Jamie Parker Room, a locker room used by the birds and the ballgirls that was named after a former mascot who died in a car wreck in 1991.

Mr. Lowe has just finished his pre-game routine, which took about 30 minutes. It included playing whiffleball with children in shallow left field, walking from left field to right field to shake hands, posing for pictures and signing baseballs and caps. In his final pre-game duty, he ceremoniously placed a baseball and rosin bag on the pitchers mound.

Five minutes before the first pitch, he is back in the locker room. This is the moment that illustrates the toll the job will take on Mr. Lowe and Mr. Jacobson.

Mr. Lowe starts peeling off his suit and reveals sweat pouring down his face. After the oversized head comes off, he unzips the body of the suit and steps out. The tail is a separate piece, and there is a breast plate that looks like an umpire's chest protector. It's all on the floor or hanging in front of a fan so it can dry.

Mr. Lowe, wearing a pair of socks and green gym shorts, uses a towel to dry his red face and soaking-wet scalp.

It's a beautiful night, no more than 75 degrees. But the thick suit has drained Mr. Lowe of fluids and he chugs a 16-ounce bottle of PowerAde until it is empty.

He flops on the couch underneath an air-conditioner vent and tries to catch his breath.

Mr. Jacobson sits across the room, half-dressed in his bird suit, and they talk about the crowd and what's on the agenda. Mr. Jacobson, accompanied by Mr. Stefano, will parade through the upper deck until the fourth inning.

Despite the obvious difficulties the job presents, Mr. Lowe and Mr. Jacobson play the part so well it appears effortless.

In fact, they play their parts so well that the Orioles Bird, which debuted in 1979, is in demand. Mr. Lowe, who has seniority among the three men who dress up as the mascot, makes an estimated 300 appearances a year between home games and Orioles promotions.

He also works during football season as one of the three Baltimore Ravens mascots, and he began developing his skills at American University, where he worked as Clawed the eagle for three years until he graduated in 1993.

But it requires more than just experience to make the job look easy. Mr. Lowe is helped in this because he possesses the irreplaceable quality of humor. Before he goes out on his pre-game rounds as the Orioles Bird, Mr. Lowe is just a guy about to go to work.

Once inside his bird suit, though, he is a maniac who makes even simple gestures seem funny walking, running, dancing. The plan is to make a cartoon character come to life, he says.

"A lot of it is improvisational stuff, and after 10 years, you build a library of responses. You pick up something new every day and store it and bring it out later," Mr. Lowe says.

Not only do they work hard to be funny, Mr. Lowe and his colleagues work hard during the game to be seen. So when Mr. Jacobson returns from the upper deck in the fourth inning, Mr. Lowe heads straight for the top of the Texas dugout.

Twice he runs along the top of the dugout and launches into a headfirst slide. Fans take notice and are amused. Mr. Jacobson tried this recently and slid off the end of the dugout onto the ground. He was unhurt. It was just another hazard of the job.

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