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Wing, Cheese, Celery: The New Boys in Town

More fun at the ballpark as mascots race to the finish

The craziness all started in Milwaukee.

Wisconsin being the home of the best sausages and bratwurst, for years now the team has squared off four of its iconic sausage mascots in a no-holds-barred race down the warning track, while fans cheer on their favorite participants.

In the mid 1990s, the Brewers took a scoreboard animation race, sponsored by a local sausage packing plant, and went with live characters on the field. The attraction proved so popular that by 2000, the final year in their old County Stadium, the famed sausage race became a regular and eagerly anticipated event.

Other teams have jumped into the act: The Pittsburgh Pirates introduced the Pierogi Race at PNC Park, and in 2006 the Washington Nationals began the Presidents Race, racing the four famous US presidents immortalized on the face of Mount Rushmore.

So it was only a matter of time before the Buffalo Bisons tried their own version of this unique entertainment diversion, and three months into the season, the Wing Cheese Celery Race is proving to be a big hit.

We caught up with Bisons public relations director Brad Bisbing and the team’s director of entertainment and promotions, Matt LaSota, to get the inside scoop on the new race, how it came to being, and how well it is working out.

“Our goal was to do something that had a clear Buffalo feel to it, so it was a no-brainer that we showcase what is arguably Buffalo’s most famous product, the chicken wing,” said Bisbing, who added that the concept has been in the works for a couple of years. “Since we host the Buffalo Wingfest at the end of the season, and we know that Western New Yorkers are so passionate about the chicken wing and how to prepare them and how to do it right, we finally said ‘Let’s stop talking about this and let’s do it.’”

So three characters were created: Wing, Bleu Cheese, and Celery. “We wanted to shake up our entertainment a bit. We want to become a spectacle,” said LaSota, who also said that coming up with the three major parts of a chicken wing meal won out over, say, offering a race with three or four flavors of the chicken wings.

This is how it works. The three characters line up at the service gate in far right field, usually at the end of the fifth inning. The race begins and they dash down the first base side towards the finish line right in front of the Bisons dugout.

Now here is the bad news…after 34 contests this year, Celery is winless. The Bisons maintain a stat board on their website, which also offers a scouting report on each character, and as of the last homestand, Wing has notched 23 wins, Bleu Cheese 11 wins. It’s goose eggs for Celery.

The scouting report on Celery doesn’t offer much hope that things might change anytime soon. “A crunchy, awkward stride” and “Bad aerodynamic design” have all put the lanky Celery at a disadvantage against his smaller, more nimble foes. On many a night, Celery has started strong, only to fade in the stretch and end a distant third. LaSota admits that his promotions team script out the races, but sometimes things don’t always turn out as planned. “There have been interference calls, there has been mischief. The spontaneity of the race is what makes it so much fun.”

Two Saturdays ago, on Star Wars Night, the great crowd on hand was shocked to see Celery sprinting alone up the warning track. With the fans roaring, Celery crossed the finish line, pumping his fists in celebration. Was the long drought finally over? “Nope,” LaSota laughed. “Turned out that a couple rogue imperial storm troopers interfered with Wing and Bleu Cheese, and they could not get down to the starting line, so the results were voided and the race was replayed at the end of the game.”

The stature of these lovable mascots is growing. “We make them available for photo ops in the concourses, and the fans are loving that,” said Bisbing. “Over in Washington, people line up for a chance to have their pictures taken with their favorite president mascot in centerfield, and we’re seeing that sort of popularity take off here as well.”

The three mascots have just launched their own Twitter accounts, @Bisonswing, @Bisonsbleu and @Bisonscelery, and the trash talk is already underway.

So the question remains: Will Celery finally break into the win column? Can Bleu Cheese make a run for the title for 2011? What other mayhem might fans expect to see this season? “There is much more in this storyline to come,” said LaSota. “This is not something that will be gone in 2012. We’re in this for the long term.”

For fans rooting for just one Celery win, take notice that Teddy Roosevelt has yet to win a race down in DC, futility that is now in its sixth season. That drought has sparked a blog site, named “Let Teddy Win.” Indeed, a no-hitter may prove to be far less elusive than Celery’s ultimate triumph.

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