AL HAMNIK: The World Famous Chicken not ready to fly the coop

2013-09-14T20:00:00Z 2013-09-16T20:13:05Z AL HAMNIK: The World Famous Chicken not ready to fly the coopAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
September 14, 2013 8:00 pm  • 

A 40-year-old chicken would never sell. Too tough. Too dry. You'd need a blowtorch to slice it.

Ah, but this is no ordinary bird we're talking about. This is Cooperstown Hall of Fame chicken.

He once played T-ball on the White House lawn with Bob Costas providing commentary. He was sued for beating up an obnoxious Barney look-a-like and won the case. He shared the cover of Rod Stewart's disco hit 'Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?' He's done commercials with Peyton Manning, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and James Brown.

He's to baseball what sunflower seeds are to a dugout.

The World Famous Chicken, aka "The San Diego Chicken," is the godfather of sports mascots. His costume is stuffed, pardon the expression, and on display in the Professional Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Chicken was once named one of the 100 most powerful people in sports for the 20th century by The Sporting News and has played every state, every ballpark, in the country.

"With apologies to Bob Hope, I'll play to an elevator if I have to," said The Chicken.

You may have caught his family-style act during a RailCats game a while back. But surprisingly, The Chicken has been cooped up lately.

"I've been taking the summer off as a sabbatical -- after 40 years," said his alter ego, Ted Giannoulas. "I did go to a few cities for some old friends who needed someone in a pinch."

Most MLB mascots are too dumb looking or robotic to get a rise from fans. Others blend in like the pollen count and go unnoticed.

"For myself, the demand is as strong as ever," The Chicken said, proudly.

Rather than get his feathers ruffled by MLB owners and their bean counters, The Chicken finds the minor leagues more receptive.

"With the big leagues, they have their own characters that they pay and they're afraid I'm gonna upstage them," he said.

The Chicken is a sports junkie who'll work any event with a scoreboard, though recently he has cut back his schedule to concentrate on baseball.

"Believe me, Al, I could ramp it up and hit the road 250 days a year, across the country and around the world,  like I used to do," The Chicken said. "But I'm at a point in my life where I'm looking for other experiences."

You can only climb flagpoles, dance on dugouts and hang from scoreboards for so long.

"I don't franchise it out. It's not a character like a department store Santa Claus. It's just me," said The Chicken.

Retirement? Don't egg him on.

"I've thought about it. I'm not quite there yet but I can see it from here," The Chicken said. "I can't talk out of school but I'm working on a project that could be a crowning achievement to my career. It's going to be over the top."

Of course, there will be a farewell tour. The Chicken said general managers throughout Major League Baseball want their teams want to be part of that.

While many pro athletes have fallen into the trap of performance enhancing drugs, The Chicken revealed to me that he's also hooked.

"To hear that scintillating joy of everyone laughing at your jokes is the ultimate adrenaline rush," he said.

"I put on that outfit and when the people laugh like that, I honestly feel I could live forever."

Don't you wish The Chicken worked Cubs and White Sox games? Laughter beats crying any time.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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