- Ourtesy Of Vermont Lake Monsters
- Champ entertaining the crowd
It's the "hands" that you notice first. Not the googly eyes or the mullet of spiky scutes on his head or the gleaming Gatorade-green of his dino dermis. Your eyes go to the paws: quite nimble but lacking the human complement of digits. That Champ signature salute? High four, baby!
For nearly three decades, Champ has been the mascot of the Vermont Lake Monsters baseball team and its precursor, the Vermont Expos. With that milestone in mind, Seven Days sought out the longest-serving Champ, a fixture for more than 20 years until handing the bat in 2021 to the current Champ, his brother-in-law.
Semiretired and living in an unassisted cavern community below the Crown Point bridge, the elder Champ reflected on the joy and jeopardy of performing before thousands of fans at Burlington's Centennial Field. Refreshingly candid in our interview, Champ was coy on one subject: a rumored autobiography, Dancing on Dugouts: My Life as a Mascot, detailing his mastery of mascotery after being discovered off Shelburne Point by promoter Jean-Claude Tremblay. However, he did discuss a movie, Lucy and the Lake Monster, based on the children's book by Richard Rossi and Kelly Tabor, that is currently being filmed.
Champ's dino dialect was translated by Bryan DesLauriers of St. Albans, who served as Champ's human assistant both at the ballpark and at private events. Champ emphasized that the views expressed are purely his own and not those of the Lake Monsters organization.
SEVEN DAYS: Why become a mascot?
CHAMP: I needed to get out of the lake. For me, making a few stealth appearances to support the legend of a monster living in Lake Champlain was so limiting. Luckily, Mr. Tremblay came along and recognized my potential.
SD: That sounds a bit critical of your relative in Scotland.
CHAMP: Nessie? Don't get me started!
SD: What was the hardest skill to master?
CHAMP: That's a great question. Learning not to hurt people. Little kids would run up to me, and I couldn't always see them down below. I'm kinda big, and I was clumsy in the early days. If I didn't control my tail, it could swat someone into next week.
SD: Speaking of that appendage, you don't like having your tail touched.
CHAMP: Yeah, it's no secret that my heinie is hands-off. Kids like to grab it, pull it — one wiseacre even tried to tie it in a knot. I shake my booty to show I'm annoyed. Middle school kids are the worst, and sometimes Bryan has to tell them to knock it off. If someone is hanging on, I will sit down hard. That usually does the trick.
SD: So were you worried about falling off the dugout?
CHAMP: You're dancing on the dugout, and you need to know where the edges are. That's before they had the netting, so you could literally fall off the dugout and into someone's lap. Then I'd bring kids up there, and that's a whole 'nother kettle of kelp. I was very careful to always hold their hands.
SD: I understand you've taught your successor how to hex the opposing team.
CHAMP: That's pretty easy. You put out one hand and then the other, wave your fingers, and then turn and show them your caboose and shake it. Never knew whether it really worked.
SD: What were some of your trademark moves?
CHAMP: I do a split using my tail for balance. Actually, to be truthful, it looks like a split, but it isn't. I go down halfway and then back up, and it looks like a split, but it's just because my thighs are so big. I really need a "thighs smaller." Ha ha, that's mascot humor!
SD: You said you enjoyed signing autographs. True?
CHAMP: The thing I learned was to try to keep moving while signing your name; otherwise you could get trapped in a goat rodeo. My person always carried a Sharpie. Sometimes I'll stop to pose for a photo, but then I'm surrounded and it's tough to get moving again. I worried I'd get stopped so long, well ... let's just say sea monsters have small bladders.
SD: What do you do when fans offer you food?
CHAMP: Usually I just give it to my human. Except for popcorn. One of my gags is to spot a kid with popcorn, grab some, tilt my head back and toss it to my gullet. Some bounces away, but the fans love it. Gets a lot of laughs.
SD: What other stuff do they give you?
CHAMP: Artwork. They do lots of drawings of me. I'm really touched. It really gets to me. I don't know if I'm a softy or what it is, but we never threw any of that stuff out. So we would hang some stuff up in the team office. And a lot of homemade birthday cards.
SD: Back in the day, you did more skits than the new Champ does now. Describe some that you liked doing.
- Ourtesy Of Vermont Lake Monsters
- Champ with young fans
CHAMP: Oh, I had few. A fan favorite was when I would come out before the game and notice that the flag was missing on the pole. I'd pick up this huge mock cellphone and call the grounds crew. Then an intern would come up and raise the flag. I'd get a big round of applause and lead the singing of the anthem.
Another one the crowd loved was when I would get into it with an "umpire" — also an intern — between innings. I'd go out on the field with a huge wad of greenbacks and offer the umpire money to help us out. He refuses, and I argue and start kicking dirt on his shoes. He tosses me out of the game, but I come roaring back on my four-wheeler, just missing him. Love that one!
SD: You also liked taunting the other team, grabbing their hats and stomping on them. Did they ever try to retaliate?
CHAMP: One game, I got on my four-wheeler and rode by the visiting dugout, pulled out my Super Soaker and let them have it as I passed by. The crowd went nuts. I sped up to get away from them when all of a sudden I felt this massive thump to my noggin. It didn't hurt exactly, but it shocked me.
What happened was one of the opposing team's pitchers had fired a strike from the bullpen. That was a doozy. I think that pitcher got in a bit of hot water.
SD: What kinds of things did you teach your successor?
CHAMP: Always make sure your movements are big when you're performing, so that all of the crowd can see you and get into your act. But when Champ is meeting with little kids, you have to do the opposite — make yourself a bit small, bend down and whatnot. Because I can seem a little scary to the small fry.
So despite being a so-called monster, I'm also kind of fuzzy and cute, so that makes the kids more comfortable about interacting with me. It's not an easy thing to teach, but he's got it.
SD: What was your favorite thing as a mascot?
CHAMP: We had a lot of sold-out crowds in my day. And when you're up on the dugout and start stomping your leg and the whole place starts clapping to the rhythm — all 4,200 of them — and the beat grows so that the place is practically shaking, you know, that's about as good as it gets. Just thinking about it makes me want to stomp my leg and have a long, cold one.
SD: Whoa, you're a beer drinker?
CHAMP: Are you kidding? I'm talking a long, cold mackerel. That's my favorite postgame treat.
SD: What was the thing you liked least about performing?
CHAMP: Well, hot days were no treat — I'd sweat frogs. But what I most didn't like was performing outside the ballpark, say at a kid's birthday party. I did four or five extra gigs every weekend. But I arrive, and the hosts haven't been briefed on my routine. One group thought I was there to do magic tricks! That sucked.
SD: Do you miss being a mascot?
CHAMP: Yeah. I mean, I'm not officially retired. And I definitely miss it. Just interacting with a 4- or 5-year-old kid is pretty fun. And I got good at knowing when they're about to cry — that's my cue to back off.
SD: But we're about to see you on the big screen?
CHAMP: That's right. I'll be appearing as me in Lucy and the Lake Monster, the story of Lucy, an orphan girl, who believes in me, the legendary sea serpent of Lake Champlain. Lucy and her grandpa, Papa Jerry, look for me despite forces opposing them. I think it could be Oscar worthy.
SD: Sounds great. Any parting words for your fans?
CHAMP: Remember, everyone: Champ has feelings, just like you. As my friend Kermit says, "It's not easy being green."
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity and length.