Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Human Interest

ThunderBug lost her way in Lightning crowd, found redemption at All Children's

She should've known. Easy to say now. That night this past hockey season, though, she sat during a break inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, inside the mascot's locker room, inside the costume of the Lightning's ThunderBug, thinking to herself: That crowd out there. Too intense.

Kelly Frank was the Golden Knight as a student at the University of Central Florida. She was a giant gecko for the old Miami Fusion soccer team and a pig named Mudonna for independent league baseball's St. Paul Saints and a kangaroo named K-O for minor league baseball's Brockton Rox. She was Raymond for five years for the Tampa Bay Rays.

To be a mascot is a craft, an art, its practitioners insist, and the mandate is this: Know the crowd. Can't just let them sit there. Entertain them. Read them. Feel them.

The Bruins were in Tampa that night. The boisterous Boston fans made the Times Forum feel like a "powder keg." Frank's words. The Bruins had beaten the Lightning in the playoffs the year before and then went on to win the Stanley Cup. Some of their fans came to gloat.

"Stanley Cup!" bellowed one burly man wearing a black shirt with a big picture of the National Hockey League's championship trophy.

Frank approached him. ThunderBug held a furry yellow hand up to one of its nondescript ears. What?

"Stanley Cup!"

Hand to ear. What?

"STANLEY CUP!"

Frank then engaged ThunderBug's weapon of choice. The burly man quickly was covered in sticky pink streamers of silly string. At which point he sprung out of his seat and chased and tackled ThunderBug on some stairs. Security escorted him out of the arena. And Frank? Frank got fired.

She sat one morning this spring outside a Starbucks in St. Petersburg. She's 31 now. Getting on the old end for an active mascot. It was probably about time anyway. She has a bad neck and a trick back. She broke her arm when Raymond fell over a fence trying to be funny for fans. The team doctor had to fix it with plates and screws. Does she regret that her time as ThunderBug came to that kind of end? Not really. "Baseball fans can take a joke," she said.

Time to go. She got in her Toyota without a front bumper and drove downtown to All Children's Hospital. She went into a conference room as Kelly Frank and came out as the Easter Bunny. The hospital public relations man had to help her with her zipper. She now had large blue eyes and two buck teeth and fist-bumped a trauma surgeon on her way to meet with a different kind of crowd. Kids in wheelchairs. Kids with fractured limbs. Kids tethered to poles with medicine sacks. She posed for pictures. She shook their hands. She kissed their heads.

Michael Kruse can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8751. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelkruse.

Comments
Early Christmas decorators are happier while reliving their childhood, experts say

Early Christmas decorators are happier while reliving their childhood, experts say

It’s nearly a yearly guarantee.Even before pumpkins are replaced by turkeys, there’s one neighborhood house somewhere that will be ready for Christmas the day after Halloween, evoking groans from those who wait until the day after Thanksgiving to bre...
Published: 08/13/18
Ludacris is probably in your Whole Foods right now

Ludacris is probably in your Whole Foods right now

Last week, a woman named Therra Gwyn Jaramillo described, over the course of more than 1,200 words on Facebook, how a man named Chris had bought her groceries at Whole Foods — $375 worth — in a moment of grave need. (She was strapped, and a friend ha...
Published: 08/09/18
Still in the hunt: Largo paleontologist's old passion turns to new journeys

Still in the hunt: Largo paleontologist's old passion turns to new journeys

Twenty-something years ago, James Pendergraft took a reporter to a fossil site in Polk County. On that day, he was dazzling, spotting and identifying the ribs and teeth of extinct dugongs and sharks and mammoths. Now, in 2018, he walked Indian Rocks...
Published: 08/12/18
How to get Janelle Monae or Lady Gaga to notice you: Make them some art

How to get Janelle Monae or Lady Gaga to notice you: Make them some art

Cam Parker unrolls the painting against the wall, just enough to see a bright red pair of lips coaxed into the subtlest of smiles. Above them is the face of singer Janelle Monae, who happens to be standing just around the corner. Parker spent 3 1/2 ...
Published: 08/01/18
Tampa pet cemetery has odd Elvis connection, thank ya very much

Tampa pet cemetery has odd Elvis connection, thank ya very much

TAMPA — Tucked into a back corner of the sprawling campus of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay on Armenia Avenue is a scattered collection of stones and statues with an odd connection to Elvis Presley.It’s a pet cemetery. And it’s about to get dug up.W...
Updated one month ago
The history of drinking straws: ancient beer slurper, erotic object, ocean polluter

The history of drinking straws: ancient beer slurper, erotic object, ocean polluter

Our plastic pollution pandemic has a new poster child: the straw. Buoyed by a disturbing viral video of a researcher prying a plastic straw from a sea turtle’s nose, the utensil rose to topple the plastic bag and six-pack can holder as the ite...
Updated one month ago
When black performers use their ‘white voice’

When black performers use their ‘white voice’

In Sorry to Bother You, the wily satirical debut feature from Boots Riley, Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) lands a job at a telemarketing company, where the first rule is "Stick to the script." He stumbles during his first few calls, unable to conn...
Updated one month ago