By Steve Dunkelberger
As the Rainiers’ baseball season gets into full swing, it seems proper to check in with the team’s mascot, Rhubarb the baseball reindeer, to get the story behind the ultimate Tacoma baseball fan straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
Do you go clubbing during off-season at Northwest Trek or around Mount Rainier or are you more of a home-bound reindeer these days?
I’m naturally a party animal. If there’s a social event happening, my first instinct is to hoof it over to start mingling. And, while I do get to mix it up a little when the Rainiers schedule wraps up, I try to devote the off-season to reflection and honing my craft. The fall and winter months are a time for me to nestle into my den at Cheney Stadium and take inventory on areas I’ve performed well and where I could improve. You don’t just wake up ready to entertain a stadium full of fans. It takes year-round commitment.
What do you do when the Rainiers are away? Certainly you have to have hobbies.
My personal interests are the same as my professional interests: making Rainiers fans happy. And when the team’s on the road, I get the chance to do that outside the confines of Cheney Stadium. Helping out with the Daffodil Parade, visiting with awesome folks at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, dropping by local schools — my passion for hearing cheers for the Rainiers extends way beyond those heard inside the ballpark. So, yeah, I’d say making Rainiers fans happy is my hobby. That and hot yoga.
Depressed that it was a no-snow ski season? Oh wait, you’re more of a snowboarding reindeer. Get to the slopes this season?
I always try to clear some time during the holidays to catch “fresh pow pow” with my friends and family at Mount Rainier. This season was a toughie for snowboarding, but you know, it was nice to get away for bit, soak in the mountain vibe, and commune with nature.
How do you handle the fame of being such an iconic mascot?
It’s important to stay grounded. I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that I was a young reindeer standing upright in a forest with an antlered head full of dreams. Sure, I have the power to make an entire ballpark cheer or erupt with laughter, but I try to keep everything in perspective. I’m extremely fortunate to be able to do what I love.
Tacoma’s Red Hot is serving up some tasty dogs at the park this year. You have gotta like not having to drive across town for your tubed meat fix. Which is your favorite?
Yes, I seem pretty domesticated at the ballpark, but when it comes to my palate I’m still fairly wild. So, when I heard the Red Hot was offering something as unique as a hot dog topped with peanut butter, bacon, and Cracker Jack, I knew I had to try it. And once I did, I immediately fell in love. It’s a culinary revelation.
Do you eat a hot dog before or after your “run with Rhubarb”? Such a protein-packed meal before a run has got to cause cramps. Or, are you really just in that good of shape?
If there’s one thing fans should know, it’s that Rhubarb the Reindeer runs on hot dogs. Franks are the fuel that keeps my fire going. I have a couple of hotdogs before the run and a couple afterwards, too. Heck, I’ve been known to have hot dogs on my person during the run. In this industry, you don’t reach the heights I have if you aren’t able to consume hot dogs in large quantities, and then perform physically taxing feats immediately afterward.
I have to be honest, my favorite specialty night is Boy and Cub Scout Night so we can camp on the field. My scouts go every year. Which specialty night is your favorite and why?
Both our Boy and Girl Scout Nights rank pretty high on the list of awesome specialty nights at Cheney. But my personal favorite might be Salute to Armed Forces Day. It’s hard to imagine a day at the ballpark more special than one devoted to honoring our brave men and women in the military. What those folks do allows me the freedom to dance on top of dugouts, and that’s something I value very highly.
I’m also partial to retro night since I love the old uniforms — loved my Tugs back in the day. What is your favorite former team name?
Honestly, I love them all. But if I had to choose one, I’d go with the Tacoma Giants. That team kicked off a legacy of Pacific Coast League baseball in the South Sound that’s lasted more than five decades, so it’s important to remember their significance. A lot of people don’t know this, but I actually named my right set of antlers “Juan Marichal” and the left set “Gaylord Perry” in honor of those great Giants squads.