Behind the scenes with the Skeeters’ Swatson
See Related Article: One-on-one with Swatson
By Joe Southern
The mischievous mosquito is a fan favorite at Constellation Field. Touted as the “best mascot in the Atlantic League,” Swatson is active on game days on the field, in the stands, on the dugouts and anywhere else he can make a pest of himself.
Handling Swatson requires the full-time attention of Skeeters Mascot Coordinator Zach Bohls. Fortunately, the 25-year-old Texas Tech graduate is bounding with as much energy and enthusiasm as the grinning, green-snouted goofball he manages. He took over the responsibilities of wrangling Swatson last November and has been loving every minute of it.
“What attracted me to the position is that it was close to home and it’s baseball,” he said. “How many people work at places where people are coming to your job to unwind or have fun! It is a great job and I have been blessed to have such a great opportunity.”
“Basically, in middle school I wanted to become a mascot because who has more fun than mascots?” he said.
He tried out to be his middle school mascot but didn’t get it. In high school he put in his name every year to be the West Ridge Wildcat but was always told no because one had to be a senior to wear the suit. Finally, in his senior year, Bohls’ dream came true. He became the mascot and the next year auditions were opened to all grade levels.
It was a lot easier for him in college. He went to Texas Tech where he majored in public relations. He got to handle the mascot Raider Red for three and a half years.
“Raider Red was the mascot at Texas Tech, and we got to be best friend for about three and a half years and during that tenure I was the team captain two of the years,” he said. “We participated in the Capital One Mascot Bowl and I got to spearhead that campaign. Luckily we fought 16 mascots throughout the year and we ended up winning the mascot title and we won $20,000 for our program and got a lot of exposure.”
Bohls’ success with Raider Red led to professional opportunities. In 2012 he worked with the National Cheer Association, going around the country teaching people in college and high school how to be a mascot. During and after college he has handled “Rowdy” for the Dallas Cowboys, Austin Toros “Da Bull” for the Austin Spurs (a minor league team for the San Antonio Spurs), “Spike” for the Round Rock Express, and “Deuce and Daisy” for the Frisco Roughriders.
“They were big, well-rounded prairie dogs and they were a lot of fun,” he said of the Frisco mascots.
“I would say I am somewhat of a zookeeper,” he said.
With the exception of Sugar Land, all of his other mascot-handling gigs have been part-time jobs. Bohls said he enjoyed working with Rowdy but likes the opportunities Swatson affords him.
“I loved working with the character Rowdy and working games was just a whole different world experience ’cause you’ve got 80,000 fans cheering and you’ve got this giant jumbotron and it’s as big as the horizon almost,” he said. “That was just a lot of fun and great sports environment.”
He said characters like Rowdy don’t get as much direct fan interaction and have less time to perform and show off the character’s skill set at games.
“It’s a lot harder for the mascots to do skits or do videos or anything like that, but that’s something I kind of feel at home here. Your mascot gets to be the center of attention.”
Bohls is a real student of his craft. He has befriended Taylor Griswold, who managed the Detroit Pistons’ mascot Hooper for eight seasons. He said the two of them are always collaborating on ways to up their game.
“He (Griswold) said you just constantly need to be learning ways to improve your arsenal and make your character stand out,” Bohls said. “He was a great mentor and still is.”
Whenever he can, Bohls is visiting other game venues.
“I’m constantly researching and constantly going out to other ballparks,” he said.
A lot of the moves and non-verbal communication he employs with Swatson comes from imitating expressive comedians like Jim Carey, Steve Martin and the late Robin Williams. As a boy Bohls used to watch old slapstick comedies by the Three Stooges and Charlie Chaplin. All of those influences come into play whenever Swatson takes the field.
“It’s definitely a place where I can excel and use my skill set,” he said of Constellation Field and the Skeeters organization.
As the mascot coordinator, Bohls’ job entails doing much more than just getting the big, green bug around the ballpark. On a typical game day he will arrive at the stadium around 10 a.m. He will spend the day writing scripts, coordinating with the public address announcer, making notes for camera operators and setting up props.
“As soon as the game starts it’s organized chaos from there,” he said.
Swatson is on the field for player introductions and pre-game festivities. After that he’s working the crowds and visiting fans in the suites. By the fourth inning it’s time for more skits and games. Later on come the T-shirt toss, the seventh inning stretch and other fan interactions.
In between the public appearances, Swatson takes several breaks. The Texas heat is tough, especially for a furry mosquito. Bohls said Swatson drinks a lot of water and can sometimes shed as much as 10 pounds at a game.
Naturally, that means Swatson gets a bath after each home stand whether he needs it or not.
“The whole process usually takes all day,” Bohls said of Swatson’s bathing routine. “You try making a 6-foot, 4-inch, 300-pound mosquito to sit still. It ain’t easy.”
When the Skeeters are away and during the off-season, the fun and games don’t end for Swatson. He makes numerous appearances at schools and with different groups and organizations.
Bohls said he is always trying to make the game experience better for the fans. In doing so he has given his character a lot more character.
“Swatson’s big of a flirt,” he said.
So far, Bohls said, the fans have responded well to Swatson’s shenanigans.
“We’re very fortunate to have a great crowd and a great audience and they react very well,” he said.
Bohls said he hopes to teach Swatson how to fly one day.
“He is still trying,” he said. “We still have a lot to accomplish and I am pretty excited for what is to come.”
See Related Article: One-on-one with Swatson