Desert Companion

Fandom: Suited for the Job

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Photo: Courtesy Las Vegas Aviators

Three of our city’s professional mascots discuss what it’s like to be the life of the party — both on and off the playing field


YOU SEE THEM dart across the court, waddle on the ice and roam the stands. Sometimes they embody a person or cryptid creature, but mostly they’re oversize depictions of fun-loving animals.

We’re talking, of course, about mascots, those always-effervescent, perma-grin wearing characters who serve as the closest tangible connection fans have with their teams — despite never saying a word.

We recently checked in with three of our city’s most beloved mascots — Spruce the Goose (Las Vegas Aviators), Bucket$ (Las Vegas Aces) and Chance the Gila monster (Vegas Golden Knights) — to learn a bit about the characters behind the characters and the role they play in fan engagement.

The younger, goofier “brother” to The Aviator — our Triple-A baseball team’s other mascot — Spruce was created with a “toddler and child-type mentality.” The only thing zanier than Spruce’s backstory — he lives in the Fountains of Bellagio and found his way to Las Vegas Ballpark by crashing into the prodigious video board — was his introduction to Aviators fans.

“My first game with the Aviators was absolutely out of control,” says the individual who has donned the Spruce suit since the Aviators (formerly the 51s) opened Las Vegas Ballpark in April 2019 (and who prefers to remain anonymous). “There was no time to even build the character, so it’s hard to say how it developed.”

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A year before Spruce landed in Summerlin, the Las Vegas Aces introduced their fans to Bucket$, a two-legged hare who has been the WNBA team’s mascot since the franchise relocated from San Antonio ahead of the 2018 season. Three individuals have portrayed Bucket$, with the most recent taking over before the start of the 2022 season (which ended in September with a WNBA championship).

While the gig with the Aces may be somewhat new, the current Bucket$ is a mascot veteran. In San Antonio, he was the mascot for the NBA’s Spurs and the WNBA’s Stars. The opportunity to fire up half-court shots and throw down slam dunks on a professional court — albeit during timeouts — has fufilled a dream for Bucket$, who grew up wanting to play professional basketball .

“If I wasn’t going to become a professional athlete, then I was going to be in professional sports one way or another,” Bucket$ (also anonymous) says, “For me, the opportunity was in the entertainment side.”  

The enthusiasm both Spruce and Bucket$ have for their jobs — not to mention their teams and fans — is evident with each performance. The same is true for Clint McComb, who has been rocking the suit for Chance since the Vegas Golden Knights’ mascot was unveiled to fans before the NHL team’s inaugural season in 2017.

You may recall that Chance’s initial introduction was met with mixed reactions — namely, “What is it? And what does it have to do with hockey?” Indeed, the choice of a Gila monster to represent our city’s first major professional sports franchise seemed as peculiar as ice hockey in the desert. Eventually, though, fans warmed to Chance. And the feeling was mutual.

“It is a job,” McComb says. “But the most successful mascots — the ones who last a long time — are the most passionate.”

Although Spruce, Bucket$, and Chance each work for separate organizations, they share the same job description: They are conductors and ringleaders of the field, court and ice, responsible for entertaining fans and keeping them engaged in the game.

“Seeing the (fans’) reaction — seeing the joy in their faces light up during games — is exactly what it’s all about,” Bucket$ says.

Spreading that joy goes beyond the game, too. All three mascots and their teams volunteer in the community, frequently appearing (often with players) at hospitals, schools and public events. As very recognizable faces of the franchises they represent, mascots can be as responsible for growing a team’s fan base — particularly among youngsters — as the athletes themselves.

Case in point: The entire Golden Knights’ organization — Chance included — thrust itself into the community in the wake of the 1 October tragedy five years ago, visiting hospitals, comforting families, attending blood drives, and offering a ray of light in the city’s darkest hour. Not so coincidentally, the community has had Golden Knights fever ever since.

“Since day one, being involved in the community has been a huge part of (the organization’s) presence,” McComb says. “Our team has always made that a top priority.”

Yes, the job of mascot comes with its fair share of challenges — not the least of which is running around in a hot, heavy costume for hours at a time, all while remaining upbeat. However, for three of our city’s fun-loving sports ambassadors, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

“Sports has a unique way of bringing people and the larger community together,” Bucket$ says. “To be a pillar for that is amazing.”

Adds Spruce: “My job is to bring joy to the fans. And it’s a job that fills my heart.” Φ

 

Puppy Love

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone. Las Vegas Aces star and two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson. All are enormously popular with local sports fans.

That said, if you were to conduct a poll asking Southern Nevadans to choose their most beloved local sports figures, the top vote-getters just might be two individuals who have never thrown a pass, fired a slap shot or drained a three-pointer (mostly because they don’t have opposable thumbs): Finn the Bat Dog and Bark-André Furry.

Finn frequently attends Las Vegas Aviators baseball games, where he amazes both fans and players with his swift bat-retrieval skills. Meanwhile, Bark-André is a therapy dog who brings joy and comfort to kids and their families, often dressed in his alter ego’s Vegas Golden Knights jersey.

Here’s a “tail” of the tape on our community’s most famous four-legged sports icons.

 

Bark-André Furry

  • Breed: Jack Russell Terrier
  • Age: 14
  • Social media accounts: @BarkAndreFurry (Twitter & Instagram)
  • Followers: 14.9k (Twitter)/27.1k (Instagram)
  • Celebrity follower: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department
  • Partner in crime: Deke (brother)
  • Claim to fame: Vegas Golden Knights “superfan” named in honor of former Golden Knights goaltender Marc-André Fleury; therapy dog and ambassador to the Tyler Robinson Foundation, which supports victims of childhood cancer and their families

Finn the Bat Dog

  • Breed: Labrador retriever
  • Age: 9
  • Social media accounts: @FinnTheBatDog (Twitter & Instagram)
  • Followers: 27.7k (Twitter)/26.3k (Instagram)
  • Celebrity follower: Los Angeles Angels star centerfielder Mike Trout
  • Partner in crime: Lambo (sister)
  • Claim to fame: Retrieves bats from home plate and delivers water to umpires at Las Vegas Aviators games; chases down and catches frisbees in between innings

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