07/23/06 — K-Tribe mascot is a hit

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K-Tribe mascot is a hit

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on July 23, 2006 2:10 AM

KINSTON -- Young Nathan Taylor of Goldsboro took in a Kinston Indians baseball game on Thursday night.

But in the early innings, the 2-year-old wasn't concentrating too much on the action on the field from his seat just to the left of home plate.

Scout, the K-Tribe's canine mascot, was making his way across the stands -- down the third-base line and toward Nathan, who would point, then look at his mother, Allison.

But most of all he would just stare in amazement.

Eventually, Scout reached Nathan. They high-fived, hugged and took a few pictures.

The K-Tribe eventually lost on Thursday, but it's safe to say Nathan -- and every youngster in attendance -- left the game happy.

To Scout, or Eric Benson, that's what it's all about.

"I just like to have a lot of fun with the fans ... getting people to enjoy the game a little more," said Benson, who has been the Indians' mascot for the last four summers. "When you get a bigger crowd, they are all cheering for you. That's some motivation, too."

Benson caught a bit of a break on Thursday. A late-afternoon shower delayed the game 20 minutes, but cooled the temperature into the low 80s by game time.

The rain meant Scout had to be on extra alert to seek shelter.

"The weather kind of cools down, but you have to be careful about getting the head wet during the game because of all the foam inside," he said. "When it rains during the game, you'll see Scout disappear."

Still, the humidity -- as usual -- was high, so he took his usual precautions.

Now 26, Benson first worked as a mascot for the Winston-Salem Warthogs when he was in high school from 1995-1999. Early in his experience with the Warthogs, he admits he had a close call and nearly passed out on a hot night.

But now he knows when to take a breather.

"I know my limits and know when I need to take a break," Benson said. "I always make sure to drink a lot of water and drink a lot of sports drinks. When I break, I usually go under the stadium and hang out and take the head off."

Many may think all mascots, or their antics, are the same. Not so, says Benson.

"The Warthog and Scout are both completely different. The Warthog had a big belly, so it made it easier to tumble around," he said. "The fan interaction with Scout is better, and the kids aren't as scared to come up to you. I like Scout more these days, since I don't have as much energy as I used to.

"I try to make Scout a friendly character. In Winston-Salem, I was wilder. The kids like the softer, friendlier mascot here."

He may enjoy the more laid-back aspects of Scout nowadays, but being a Warthog was important -- not just for his career but for his personality.

"I kind of turn into something else in the suit. I was especially shy in high school, and that's when I started doing things with the 'Hogs," said Benson, who is also a singer and a song-writer. "The first season they had to break me out of me shell, and now I'm completely comfortable.

"That in turn has made me be more out-going outside of the uniform after doing this for so long."

Despite the heat during the long summer campaign, Benson believes his job is rewarding in a number of ways. First of all, it's fun and he's around the game he loves. On top of that, as a senior recreation and leisure studies major at East Carolina, he now has his foot well in the door in landing an internship or job after graduation next May.

"I would like to work in Minor League Baseball," he said. "I already have gameday experience, so having that and a degree should help me get an internship. I've been in Minor League Baseball since I was 15, and it's been the world to me.

"I'm a huge baseball fan, and it's like everybody here is a family."