Northeast Times

Philly’s favorite

Philadelphia. It’s a place where cheesesteaks are unsurpassed, Rocky Balboa is king and diehard sports fans always believe. And at the center of it all is the beloved Phillie Phanatic.

  • Hometown hero: The Phillie Phanatic poses for a photo during the Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park on Sept. 17. TED BORDELON / TIMES PHOTO

  • The Phanatic’s best friend, Lansdale resident Tom Burgoyne, cheers on the Phillies. TIMES FILE PHOTO

You may think you have a great job, but Lans­dale res­id­ent Tom Bur­goyne prob­ably has it bet­ter.

The 47-year-old has been the Phil­lie Phanat­ic full-time for the last 20 years. He took up the icon­ic green cos­tume in 1994 after the ori­gin­al por­tray­er, Dav­id Ray­mond, re­tired. Speak­ing from his of­fice in Cit­izens Bank Park, Bur­goyne said that he ini­tially au­di­tioned for the job on a bit of a whim, an­swer­ing an ad in the Phil­adelphia In­quirer back in 1989.

“I just kind of as­sumed this job was a joke really,” Bur­goyne said. “I was blown away, of course.” 

Bur­goyne said that his au­di­tion con­sisted of “be­ing the Phanat­ic for five minutes” in front of a pan­el that in­cluded Ray­mond, the cre­at­or of the cos­tume, and mem­bers of the Phil­lies en­ter­tain­ment di­vi­sion.

This was no chal­lenge for Bur­goyne, who was a young fan when the Phanat­ic was first in­tro­duced in 1978.

“I grew up watch­ing the Phanat­ic so I had a really good sense of him when I star­ted work­ing here,” Bur­goyne said. 

He was hired as one of Ray­mond’s backups, and also worked in the mar­ket­ing de­part­ment. He also served as DJ in the Phana­V­i­sion con­trol room for sev­er­al years. Fol­low­ing the Phil­lies’ trip to the World Series in 1993, he was hired as the full-time Phanat­ic. 

Bur­goyne ad­mits that he was wit­ness to sev­er­al sea­sons of less-than-stel­lar base­ball, but he said the re­cent string of strong Phil­lies sea­sons (spe­cific­ally 2008) made up for it.

“The highs are that much high­er when you’ve been in the val­ley,” he said.

Bur­goyne lives with his wife and three sons in Lans­dale, and he said they have be­come ac­climated to his unique pro­fes­sion. When his boys were young­er, he said that he would tell them not to ru­in the mys­tery of the Phanat­ic for oth­er chil­dren. In­deed, his busi­ness card reads “The Phanat­ic’s Best Friend.”

He es­tim­ated that he has been the Phanat­ic about 6,000 times, log­ging roughly 10,000 hours in the suit. He said fans would prob­ably be most sur­prised at “how much hap­pens be­hind the scenes” be­fore games.

The Phanat­ic has a hand­ler, or as Bur­goyne puts it, a “body­guard,” and sticks to a fairly tight sched­ule dur­ing the av­er­age Phil­lies game. Be­fore each game, Bur­goyne is giv­en a prin­ted it­in­er­ary of areas of the sta­di­um where vari­ous groups have re­ques­ted a vis­it from the Phanat­ic, and he said he tries to make rounds. 

Bur­goyne said he be­gins to sweat with­in minutes of don­ning the 35-pound Phanat­ic suit, which he ad­ded is cleaned only about once a month and re-feathered when ne­ces­sary. He makes many of the al­ter­a­tions him­self.

The Phil­lies’ mar­ket­ing team gives Bur­goyne free­dom more or less to do as he pleases once he’s in the suit. He de­scribed the Phanat­ic’s per­son­al­ity as a mix­ture of “Daffy Duck, Charlie Chap­lin and the Three Stooges.”

“He’s kind of like an 8- or 9-year-old kid,” Bur­goyne said. “He can’t hide his emo­tions.”

He fondly re­called a few of his fa­vor­ite mo­ments as the Phanat­ic, which in­clude a per­form­ance for the Su­preme Court justices (Samuel Alito is a big Phil­lies fan) and when he used the cos­tume to crash a Bruce Spring­steen con­cert at the Spec­trum.

“He wasn’t too happy,” Bur­goyne said, not­ing that he was soon there­after ejec­ted from the pit area by boun­cers.

Bur­goyne has missed only about 14 games in his two dec­ades of ser­vice to the Phil­lies or­gan­iz­a­tion, and he has no plans of quit­ting any time soon. 

“There’s go­ing to come a day when I’m not go­ing to be able to do this any more,” Bur­goyne said. “If I’m still phys­ic­ally able to do it, though, why wouldn’t I?”

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