Ranking the Saints Ushertainers

[Saint Paul flag flying over CHS field.]
Saint Paul isn’t known for much. Blank walls. Garrison Keillor. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Coney island dogs with grilled buns. Hockey. Amazing Asian food. Drunken Irish Death Roads.

OK, Saint Paul is pretty cool. (Except for that last one.)

But to add another one to the list, there’s the Saint Paul Saints, the local city’s famously obscure independent “minor league” baseball team co-owned by Mike Veeck, he of the Disco Demolition Derby riot, and Bill Murray. There are many reasons that the Saints are awesome, not least of which is their great new stadium in Lowertown, but it’s easily my best-recommended baseball experience for people who don’t like baseball. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. It’s a thing. There’s so much good stuff in the “fan experience” category at a Saints games that it almost doesn’t matter if you can’t name any of the players, don’t know what the score is, or don't even know the rules of baseball in the first place.

(On the other hand, it’s also legitimate baseball, with quality players. And if you’re into it, the game is worth watching. So it’s like the best of both worlds.)

The entertainment factor is so high that the Saints actually hire people to be what they call “ushertainers.”

What’s an ushertainer?

[Seigo Masabushi, Mudonna, and a (retired ushertainer) lumberjack.]
No, it’s not the same thing as a mascot. The Saints have a mascot, defined as a person wearing a furry suit. It’s Mudonna, a giant female pink pig, and she’s OK as far as mascots go.

But on top of that, there are the ushertainers: people who are dressed up and (presumably) paid to hang out on the top of the dugout or in the concourse, mingling with kids and fans, and raising fan spirits in support of the home team. They’re like cheerleaders combined with vaudeville actors, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Each year, the Saints add one or two to the stable, and if you go to a game you might see a couple of the ushertainers hanging out in your section. Unless you’re a misanthrope, they’re a lot of fun.

But how much fun?

[Ushertainers waiting in the wings.]
There are a few keys to evaluating an ushertainer, little things that separate the good ones from the great. I’d say there are three categories, each ranked from 1 to 10:

Visual Appeal - how they look from a distance
Inter-personal Appeal -
how they interact with the crowd
Je Ne Sais Quoi -
I don't know what

Together, you get the overall cumulative score, with 30 being the theoretically perfect ushertainer.

One final note concerns gender. As it turns out, a great deal of ushertainment depends on playing with a cultural repertoire of visual cliché, easily recognizable roles or figures. And as it turns out, many of these roles stem from professional images that wouldn't be out of place an any children’s book. (Think of doctors or nurses, fire fighters, or a Richard Scarry's Busytown.) The problem is that, most of the previous generation’s public roles were male roles, and for that reason, I suspect it’s a lot easier to become a male ushertainer than a female one. In an era when most working women had to choose between becoming a nurse, a teacher, or a secretary, there are simply fewer iconic female archetypes. And so much the worse for the modern day ushertainment industry.

So without further ado, here are the playful rankings. The stable of ushertainers changes every year, so I reached out to the Saints to find a definitive list of this year’s crop of eleven candidates. 

#10 [Tied]: Belle of the Ballpark and Miss Adventure

These two are tied because I don’t know who they are. I have been to about five Saints games this year, and I think I might have spotted an ushertainer I didn’t know on the far side of the field. There used to be a “Stepford Wife” ushertainer, and she wore fabulous skirts, all of which reinforces my gender role hypothesis. Sorry ladies!

Visual Appeal: n/a
Inter-personal Appeal: n/a
Je Ne Sais Quoi: n/a
Total Score: n/a

#9: Pig’s Eye Pete

[A glimpse of Pig's Eye Pete.]
This is the guy who dresses like a pirate who has to hang out on the pirate ship for underwriting reasons having to do with Treasure Island Casino. Props for the name, though an actual eye patch would really tie the look together. I never go over to the pirate ship so I have no idea what's going on over there. I assume it’s not that great, because to me it seems like people who are into casinos aren’t interested the kind of people that would be interested in ushertainment in the first place.

But on the other hand, I bet he gets to do a fun pirate accent the whole night if he wants to!

Visual Appeal: 7
Inter-personal Appeal: 3
Je Ne Sais Quoi: 4
Total Score: 14

#8: The Chef

This is the guy int he chef suit and chef hat with the thin black mustache painted on his lip. Maybe it’s just me, but I never really get why a chef with a wooden spoon would be that entertaining. I guess it dates back to the Muppet Show or maybe some sort of cartoon like Rattatoille (underrated, IMO!)

Chef doesn’t speak much, in my experience, but when he does, he uses an outrageous French accent. But what would a chef have to say about baseball? He could comment on hot dogs being consumed?

But you recognize the Chef and it's nice to see him I guess.

Visual Appeal: 7
Inter-personal Appeal: 3
Je Ne Sais Quoi: 5
Total Score: 15

[Pretty sure this is the "dancing homer."]

#7: Al Aboard

[Al Aboard and Sir Homer watching a double-header.]
This is the railroad engineer guy in the overalls and the engineer hat. He has a hankie hanging out his back pocket, so that’s a nice touch. But his greatest asset is the wooden railroad horn whistle that he blows. It’s great!

Plus while the concept of railroad engineers might be lost on most kids, Al Aboard's dance moves are certaintly not.

Visual Appeal: 6
Inter-personal Appeal: 5
Je Ne Sais Quoi: 5
Total Score: 16

#6: Sir Homer

An up-and-comer in the ushertainment industry, Sir Homer is the guy with the cape and the sword dressed as a knight. He strides back and forth atop the dugout rallying the fans like Henry V, kneels before young ladies bequeathing their charity, and when he speaks he does so using flowery rhetoric. Sir Homer is basically one of the Monty Python knights, which for me is great fun. A relative newcomer to the Saints ushertainment world, I think the character works in ways that fit perfectly with the crowd and atmosphere, especially for kids.

Visual Appeal: 6
Inter-personal Appeal: 6
Je Ne Sais Quoi: 5
Total Score: 17

[Sir Homer leading a charge.]

#5: Seigo Masabushi

[Seigo singing karaoke while a Saints guy holds up the words.]
While there might be something unsettlingly Orientalist about Seigo Masabushi's place at a Saints game, what with all the white people gawking and/or chuckling at an Asian man's funny clothes and accent, probably ignorant of most of the cultural references at work, Seigo does bring something no other ushertainer has to the ballpark. Despite or perhaps because of the white tuxedo coat and cowboy hat, Seigo Masabushi is the most authentic of the ushertainers. After all, he's the only one that uses his real name as an identity, and is playing "a Japanese guy who likes karaoke" which, I can only assume, he is and he does.

And he backs it up, too, with honest renditions of pop classics coming from the heart. Seigo has a decent singing voice, though nobody will mistake him for Adele. His nightly rendition of a karaoke song from atop a dugout is a Saints tradition going back around ten years, I'd bet. And, though I might be wrong, it seems like Seigo is just being himself, and he's great. HE wears his cowboy hat in the off-season too, when working with Japanese visiting athletes.

Visual Appeal: 6
Inter-personal Appeal: 4
Je Ne Sais Quoi: 9
Total Score: 19


#3 [Tied]: The Nerd

[The Nerd dancing on the dugout.]
And here’s something for my demo, a retro-call-back to the 80s Revenge of the Nerds films that I grew up with. The nerd nails the look, thick black glasses taped and pushed up on the nose, tight garish shirt tucked beneath suspenders, a pocket protector and a fanny pack, and Martin Short-esque hair. Watching the nerd interact with people on the dugout gives me flashbacks, even more so because he’s been a mainstay of the Saints games for years. And in a way, the nerd represents the promise of the Saints and their philosophy, saying that, yes, everyone is welcome at the ballgame, no matter your athletic prowess or social tastes. Even as baseball becomes a sport where nerds and stat heads with their calculators actually rule the roost (except at the last-place Twins' front office, of course, where the old-boys 90s-era jocks are still scoffing at number crunchers), there’s something almost triumphant about the nerd at the ballgame.

Visual Appeal: 9
Inter-personal Appeal: 6
Je Ne Sais Quoi: 6
Total Score: 21

#3 [Tied]: Nerdette

[Proper nerd smile.]
It might seem a bit cavalier to put these two together, because the Nerd has been around so much longer than the Nerdette (a new addition to the Saints team). And, yes, technically it is highly derivative. But it’s also accurate, not only in real life where girl nerds have carved out massive slices of nerd culture for themselves, but also in the 80s mythic landscape of nerd films, which almost always had a female nerd love-interest. And then there are the aforementioned gender inequalities vis a vis character types and access to agency. So, yes, the Nerdette (unfortunate name) is simply a female version of the male Nerd.

But I’ve been impressed watching Nerdette do her thing, and you walk away thinking about how well the concept works. One key to ushertainment is the ability to communicate visually using body language (yes, like a mime), and the Nerdette adopts a whole persona of moving, standing, walking, talking, and (yes) smiling that allows you to enjoy the ushertainment even from a great distance. (I once had a selfie with taken with the Nerdette where she taught me how to “nerd smile.” Basically, you grimace and squint and push your glasses up your nose.) The Nerdette is great!

As the nerdette would say, “Let’s go sports!”

Visual Appeal: 9
Inter-personal Appeal: 7
Je Ne Sais Quoi: 5
Total Score: 21

[Gert waiting out the rain delay and pulling stuff from her Chuck Taylor purse.]

#2: Gert the Flirt

It might seem like the whole concept here — enthusiastic flirtatious grandma / unrepresed aunt — would get lost on some people, and I don’t know, maybe it does. But watching Gert push her granny shopping cart up the steps of the section aisles feels a bit like the night before Christmas, and when she shakes her not insignificant booty to rev up a crow, the magic only intensifies. When you get a lipstick-laden smooch, it’s like a Christmas present and you proudly wear it like a tin sheriff’s badge for the rest of the night. Gert’s whole persona offers the charm of an old family restaurant, a plate of home-baked cookies, mixed with something slightly naughty like a martini.

And she really works it. Gert even has her own website, and makes sure that people know about it. She bonks kids on the head with an inflatable baseball bat, and is constantly moving around the crowd making friends. A criminally under-rated ushertainer and a solid #2, just behind our winner.

Visual Appeal: 6
Inter-personal Appeal: 10
Je Ne Sais Quoi: 6
Total Score: 22

#1: Coach

[Allright, fans. I want to see some cheering!]
You gotta hand it to Coach. Iconic character figure: check. Wonderful cheerleading schtick: check. And the look is perfect: the tube socks, gym shorts, boring grey short-sleeve sweatshirt, sunglasses and mustache. It’s an 80s cliché but as it turns out, the job of a coach is almost exactly like the job of a cheerleader. Getting people revved up, excited, and moving their body. Coach will make you cheer and stay in shape at the same time. When he points at your section, with whistle around his neck, and tells you to shout “Let’s go!” you do it.

Extra points for the calisthenics.

Visual Appeal: 10
Inter-personal Appeal: 8
Je Ne Sais Quoi: 6
Total Score: 24

[Three cheers for ushertainers!]


Unknown said...

My son's favorite was the chef, but I think it was due to the interpersonal. So many of these I haven't seen, though, especially your top two!
- Eric Saathoff

Suseela Susiee said...

What an awesome post, I just read it from start to end. Learned something new after a long time.

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Jeff Gintz said...

You nailed it, thanks for recognizing the ushertainment team. Sir Homer is a riot and glad to see Coach at #1. You underrated the Chef, maybe I am biased because my daughter loves the Chef. Good work, the ushertainment team really builds memories.