CLEARWATER — The downside to being Phinley? The shark suit gets so hot that cooling off in a walk-in freezer at Bright House Field doesn't stop the sweat. And Little Leaguers can be, well, bad news.
But David Deas loves it. Even when the creepy guy dressed as an Elvis impersonator wants to get his picture taken with him — every game. Or when those Little Leaguers push him down.
"Once kids get in a pack, they think they're tougher than they are. The No. 1 rule is don't talk. But I get knocked down once or twice and have to say 'That's enough' and walk away," said Deas, 40, who works for the city of Clearwater as a customer service representative when he's not entertaining the crowds at Clearwater Threshers baseball games.
But he has never reached his limit. For 13 seasons, Deas has slapped palms and hugged innumerable children. Since 2006, he has embodied Phinley. Before Deas, the job turned over each year — high school or college kids handled the contests, schmoozed the suites and made the peanut-crunching rounds of the grandstand.
Deas grew up near Dayton, Ohio. He was a high school mascot — Weebe the Elk — but after moving to Clearwater he started to jones to don an itchy costume.
As Phinley, Deas makes $15 an hour. Not bad for seasonal work in a game he loves.
But the icing on that cake? That would be winning MiLB.com's Best Mascot in Minor League Baseball contest.
Last year, Deas made the final four before losing to Orbit, the mascot of the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Triple A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
This year, he wants the belt. But first, he must best the other 11 mascots in the Florida State League, a rogue's gallery that includes variations of a manatee, a hammerhead shark and a cuddly pirate.
After working the phones all day answering Clearwater residents' questions, keeping mum has its perks.
"I talk all day," Deas said, "so it's nice to put on a suit and not have to talk to anybody."
To vote for Phinley, go to www.milb.com/mascotmania and click on "Florida State League" or tweet a vote using #mascotmania and the @threshers handle by noon on Thursday.
Charlie Frago can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago.