A Kansas City Royals home game is a busy day for Isaac Soares ‘21. For the next 12 hours, Soares focuses on making sure Royals mascot Sluggerrr has everything he needs to hit a home run with the fans.
“We’re in early,” he said. “What skits are we going to do? What props are going to need? Am I going to need to be in an inflatable suit?”
Soares has spent this baseball season with the Royals as a mascot trainee. For this internship, he works with Sluggerrr and his assistant to develop and coordinate performances, manages his social media, and even puts on the costume at certain events.
Soares’ journey to the big leagues began at Illinois State. During his sophomore year, he applied to portray Illinois State’s mascot, Reggie Redbird. As part of his major, music business, Soares was required to play in music ensembles. While participating in the Big Red Marching Machine and basketball drumline, Soares would frequently encounter Reggie.
“We were doing performances with Reggie, so Reggie would come out and play basketball drumline with us. “It was like, ‘Reggie does this already. I have these skills. Why don’t I fill in?’ So, I tried out, got it, and from there just fell in love with it,” he said.
One of his favorite parts of being Reggie Redbird was the secrecy surrounding the role. Students who perform as Reggie are allowed to let their families know but otherwise are asked to keep quiet about their role.
“You’re coming up through college, and you are maturing, but you have this big secret,” he said. “Anyone else would probably tell everyone, right? But you know that it is almost cooler if you don’t say something about it and let people kind of project the image in their mind of what they think it is. It’s like being a double agent.”
Soares was passionate about expanding the possibilities of what Reggie could do. He went to cheerleading practices to create stunts that he could safely perform in costume. He used his music skills to play with the basketball drumline once again, this time as Reggie. Soares even created a drum solo for Reggie.
“I hit every note I needed to hit, and the crowd just went crazy,” he said. “When people react and give you applause for the stuff that you did, those are the moments that really stand out.”
How hard is it to play drums in costume?
“It’s damn near impossible, I’m not going to lie to you,” Soares said. “If you can just hold on to your sticks, you are fine, but you are white-knuckling those sticks for sure.”
Soares hadn’t thought about pursuing a career as a mascot until Illinois State welcomed a special guest to campus. Benny the Bull came from Chicago to perform at a home basketball game in February 2019. After the performance, the Reggie Redbird team got the opportunity to visit Benny at the United Center in Chicago.
“He sat down with us and told us what he did. Right then is when it clicked for me,” he said. “‘This guy does this full time. Why have I never considered this? I’m pouring hours into this; it is half of my life. Why not consider this?’”
After graduation, Soares applied with the Royals to pursue that dream. When his internship ends, he plans to look for mascot roles throughout the professional sports leagues.
Soares’ winding path to his dream career informs his advice to the Redbirds who joined campus this fall.
“I never thought I was going to be completely abandoning what I thought I was going to do and then working for someone like the Royals,” he said. “The pressure that you need to know what to do right away is real, but you can chill out a bit and spend some time figuring out what you want to do.”