Saturday, May 26, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Chewbacca Mom throws out first pitch at Rays game on Star Wars Day (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — When she bought the Chewbacca mask for way less than the reported $20 a few weeks ago, Candace Payne had no idea she would be an overnight Internet sensation, a guest on talk shows coast-to-coast and the next big thing, now known as "Chewbacca Mom."

And Payne sure as heck didn't know that she would throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Saturday's Rays-Astros game at Tropicana Field. It was Star Wars Day, after all.

So there she was, standing in front of the mound beside Chewbacca while Rays infielder Taylor Motter squatted behind home plate wearing, what else? A Chewbacca mask.

"Never," Payne said. "I'm overwhelmed."

Payne, 37, purchased the mask at a Kohl's near her Grand Prairie, Texas, home as a joke for her children, Cadence, 7, and Duncan, 6.

"I was a great find," Payne said.

Payne made a video of herself wearing the mask and posted it on her Facebook page. It has since generated more than 150 million hits.

Next came appearances on talk shows, a trip to Disney World, a meeting with Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams, scholarship offers for her children from Southeastern University, a spot at the Dallas' Fan Experience and signing autographs for $20 a pop in the booth next to Game of Thrones star Jack Gleeson.

When asked Saturday how she is handling her newfound fame, Payne said, "That word doesn't mean anything to me really, in all honesty. I don't understand it. I just have made a lot more new friends who want to take selfies with me. I get a lot more hugs from strangers."

It has been widely reported that this fame has earned Payne in excess of $400,000 in gifts. She denied that.

"I have? Because my bank account would really like to reflect that, as well," she said. "I've gotten some incredible gifts and offers, but my bank account doesn't reflect that."

Kohl's has run out of the Chewbacca masks, and fans of Star Wars or of Payne have been selling them on eBay. One was listed for $1,000 on Saturday.

"No way, I can't even (imagine)," she said when told of some of the asking prices, "And for those of y'all who are trying to buy one, God bless your heart right now. I hope you get one, because they're great."

When asked what is next for her, Payne said, "What would you do if this kind of happened to you? I mean really. It's been three weeks and it's been a whirlwind. I'm hoping this is more than a flash in the pan or 15 minutes. I hope that I've been given the platform to do some good in this world, share some joy and maybe restore some joy where people have been sad for a little hit too long."

Payne is an outgoing mother of two who is happily married to her husband, Chris, who got her hooked on Star Wars. Laughing is a part of her day, hence the impulse purchase to put a smile on the faces of her children.

If her video creates a smile or two —or a hundred million or so — then Payne feels she is making a positive contribution to someone's day.

"Absolutely," she said. "I don't think people take things lightheartedness enough. In think people are sometimes overwhelmed with a serious attitude, a serious mindset, and every now and then you need to make space in your day, set things aside and have a good laugh."

And for her new Facebook friends, Payne hoped they enjoyed her Saturday morning post.

"I posted pictures of me having tacos this morning, so they're in for a real treat," she said. "They're going to get some great photos of tacos and laundry. In all seriousness, I'm excited that that many people want to join my life and figure out what's going on with me and who I am. It's going to be fun regardless what's next."

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