“You can’t really see it anymore, but there’s an arrow that points up,” Budbill says as he traces a faint black line on the not-orange orange with his finger. Below it, someone has scribbled “yours,“ (as in: “up yours“). It’s signed JB, as in Jay “the Bone” Buhner, the Mariners’ beloved, bald and goateed right fielder of the early 1990s.
Those were the years that Tiger Budbill was the Mariner Moose — marking the ungulate’s debut in Major League Baseball. Between 1990 and 1993, Budbill embodied the team’s two-legged, wide-eyed mascot from hoof to antler at home games, hyping up the crowd with cutesy skits, funky dance moves, roller-blading and ATV stunts. His drooping brown snout, exaggeratedly round like a Muppet’s, would bounce a little as he did the Shuffle or the Worm to the tune of MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.”
These days, Budbill, now 53, is Moose no more, just a Mariners fan (and a singer, emcee, actor, event DJ and former The X Factor contestant). But he still tries to watch the games. To his delight, he was able to snag tickets for the team’s first home playoff game in two decades (Saturday, Oct. 15). And maybe this time he’ll tell the current Moose, as he did during a Moose encounter at the last double-header at T-Mobile Park, “Hey, I used to be you!”
In a glass cabinet in his Bothell home, amid autographed baseballs, gloves and other memorabilia, sit a Moose jersey and a telltale furry brown glove to prove it. “It was basically like wearing a carpet,” Budbill says of what it’s like inside the costume. He holds out the four-fingered, slightly matted glove (in anthropomorphic fashion, Moose has hands, not hooves).
A second iteration of the costume was more breathable, he notes. But you could only — barely — see through the bottom of the eyes and the beast’s mouth. “You had very little peripheral vision,” he says. “You have to put a lot of thought into even just making a right turn… I had to make sure that nobody was over there and I didn’t hit them in the face with one of the antlers.”
Also in the top 10 most-asked questions for a former Moose-man: Is it hot in there? (Yes.) Are you the one that broke your ankle? (No, but more on that later.)
Things are looking up for the Mariners, now that they’ve ended their 21-year drought by clinching a wild-card spot in this year’s playoffs (though the loss on Tuesday was brutal). But when Moose debuted in 1990, the team was struggling. Morale was low.
The team’s introduction of lasers, fireworks, spotlights — these were the ’90s — and Moose was supposed to make Mariner fandom fun again. The choice of mascot came courtesy of a Ferndale fifth-grader who liked moose because they were “funny, neat and friendly.” In the public contest for the best mascot idea, Seaward the Sea Monster and Mightyball the Seal did not make the playoffs.
But Moose was not a good-luck charm. “The Seattle Mariners went from a sellout to a wipeout last night faster than you could say Mariner Moose,” a Seattle Times article led on April 14, 1990, the day after the team introduced Moose and lost ugly to the Oakland Athletics — the same team, by the way, they beat to clinch a spot in this year’s postseason.
At first, Budbill wasn’t the only furry friend rollerblading on the Kingdome’s Astroturf: Originally there were two Moose portrayers, alternating at home games. Dean N. Greve was the very first Mariner Moose, who made his debut by crashing onto left field riding an ATV. After a few months, Budbill took over as the one and only. Budbill likes to say he’s the original Moose, not the first.
Even with his Moosehood secured, things weren’t looking up. “When I was the Moose, we had Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Randy Johnson, Harold Reynolds. I mean, that list goes on and on — all the superstars of Seattle baseball,” Budbill says. “But we sucked.”
He still remembers games where attendance was so low he could high-five everybody in the stands.
But he was 21, and mascot life was fun. He’d come up with game-day choreography with his buddies in local parking lots at 4 a.m. He’d meet celebrities and ask girls out, all from inside the suit. He also showed up to his grandma’s retirement home and friends’ birthday parties as the Moose without telling his bosses, and hung out with the players on the field, sans Moose uniform. The Mariners opted for a different Moose in 1994.
But like the Mariners, Budbill made a late-season comeback in 1995, when his successor broke his ankle in a spectacular rollerblading incident gone wrong (to this day a mainstay in “Top 10 Mascot Mishaps”).
Budbill pinch-hit at the exact right time: The Mariners had made it to the fifth and final game of that year’s American League Division Series, in which Edgar Martinez and Ken Griffey Jr. stunned the Yankees — and baseball fans across the country — in the last inning, nabbing a 3-2 series victory. “Legendary,” Budbill says. Gone were the days of high-fiving everyone in the stands. The stadium was packed. “It all came full circle.”
“But it also sucks, because that’s the only moment that we have to point to as Mariner fans,” Budbill adds, not counting the team’s two playoff appearances at the turn of the millennium.
As we talk on his porch, Budbill has game one of the divisional series against the Astros playing on a screen, on mute but always within view. Occasionally he stops himself midsentence to clap, yell “Go go go go go!” or wax poetic about a player. (On all-star outfielder Julio Rodríguez: “He understands the mystique of baseball,” he says.)
“I call it the 80% syndrome. We always get super-stoked, and then we get let down,” he adds. “That’s sort of the way it’s always been.”
He glances at the screen. “We’re up 6-2, but that could easily evaporate,” he says knowingly. (Unfortunately, he was right.) But the team’s historic win over the Toronto Blue Jays in last weekend’s wild-card series is already unforgettable – and winning this series is still possible.
Now that the team is in the playoffs again, would he consider going back for a Moose encore? “Hell, yeah,” Budbill says. “But, one, they’d have to get a brand new suit because it wouldn’t fit me.” And two: “I'd have to get in way better shape just to even be able to walk around in probably 35 pounds of extra costume,” he says. “So I’m a much better spectator at this point.”
This story was updated on October 14, 2022, to add more context regarding the Moose’s debut appearance.
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