The Biggest Faces in Town
Triangle’s minor league mascots have influence
far beyond the baseball diamond.
Story and photos by Dave Droschak
When the Milwaukee Brewers recently purchased the minor league Carolina Mudcats from longtime owner Steve Bryant, there was immediate change in Zebulon. Additional staff was hired, a new outfield wall was built, and the marketing budget was increased. But there was little or no discussion about revamping the team’s mascot—Muddy the Mudcat.
“He’s very unique and very recognizable in the area. He has been around since the very beginning of our organization. We wanted to keep that uniqueness,” says Cassie Tomasello, the team’s coordinator of community relations who is in charge of Muddy’s appearances.
Just as recognizable is Muddy’s counterpart in Durham—Wool E. Bull—the mascot of the Triple A Durham Bulls since 1992. And while the movie Bull Durham (celebrating its 30th anniversary this season) made the franchise internationally famous, Wool E. Bull is a close second.
“If you see all the marketing material we put out there, most of the time it’s centered around Wool E. Bull. For all of these guys playing in Durham it’s just a stomping ground for them—their ultimate goal is to make it to the majors,” says Nicholas Tennant, the team’s mascot coordinator for more than a decade. “Our hardcore fan base gets to know the players, but for the casual fans who come for a night out with the family or for some great entertainment, we like to make Wool E. Bull the center of our show—and he’s the star of it. Almost everything revolves around him.”
Donning the costume as a minor league mascot is a full-time job. Muddy and Wool E. Bull make hundreds of appearances each season, hug thousands of little kids at games, help formulate and create in-game, on-field entertainment, and pose for photos with countless fans.
Each also serves as a community outreach arm of their team. For example, Bully Busters is a free assembly program created by the Bulls and designed to use the star-power of Wool E. Bull to reinforce anti-bullying behavior. At the end of each 20- to 25-minute school assembly, Wool E. Bull challenges students to take the “Bully Busters Pledge.” Every student who takes the pledge home, reviews it with their parent or guardian, and returns it to their teacher receives two complimentary tickets to a select Bulls game.
“A lot of teams do reading programs, but I wanted something a little more substantial,” Tennant says of the anti-bullying program that runs annually from January through March and just completed its fifth year.
The Bulls’ anti-bullying program began in Durham County, but has been expanded to Wake and Orange counties, and has been so successful that Tennant says the team may expand into Chatham, Granville, and Person counties in the coming years.
The Mudcats also have executed an anti-bullying program in the past, along with reading programs in local schools. “The kids just love Muddy’s energy and how funny he can be when he’s doing things on the fly,” Tomasello says. “When I’m reading a book to kids in school, he likes to act out the story. He can be so funny and off-the-cuff.”
Minor league teams work on tight budgets, where every hot dog, cold beer, baseball cap, or team jersey that’s sold adds to the bottom line—so mascots are priceless, and a relatively cost-efficient way to market to area fans and beyond.
And their images—and oversized heads—can often create powerful and lasting branding.
“It’s super important for Muddy [to be] going out into the community and getting our name, our image, out there to people who may not know where we are or who we are,” Tomasello explains. “Just having our mascot there to bottle up the fun and bring a lot of positive energy and showcase what we can bring to the table as the Carolina Mudcats organization is so vital. Our staff members can’t be out there all of the time. Besides, people want to see Muddy because he’s funny; we’re really not that funny.”
“It’s a central part of minor league baseball because all of the players are always coming through; it’s never a consistent basis, but Wool E. Bull is always that consistent figure,” Tennant adds.