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Lake Elsinore Storm mascot reveals life in, out of suit

He’s a man as well as man’s best friend.

As the Lake Elsinore Storm’s furry, green mascot Thunder, Patrick Gardenier, 28, barks, sniffs, and lifts his shaggy dog ears as he mingles with baseball fans on and off the field.

“People get surprised when they hear Thunder make noises,” the Menifee resident said in a recent phone interview, basing his comment on how most mascots are usually silent when they work.

Gardenier’s bread and butter is his slapstick humor which is executed through over-the-top physical maneuvers.

Who is the man inside the suit?

Well, Gardenier grew up in Hunstville, TX. He attended Sam Houston State University in Chicago where he received a degree in criminal justice. Instead of pursuing a life in law enforcement, Gardenier opted for a career in sports.

“I have to give some love out to Sammy the Bearkat,” he said in regards to his first role as a make-believe character. “I thought I’d graduate and become an FBI agent, but that didn’t happen. My grades got really good when I became a mascot. I learned many things like time management. I don’t know if I’ll ever use my degree for its purpose. I enjoy working in sports. It’s what I’ll be doing for a long time.”

Why does he do it?

“It’s my passion,” he said. “It’s a chance to be a different person, entertain kids and adults. I don’t do this just for a paycheck.”

Gardenier admits his real-life personality is not the most exciting.

“I’m an introvert,” he said. “A lot of introverts do well as performers. I don’t get a lot of off time, but when I do, I like to watch television. It’s my hobby. I’m a big fan of the shows “Lost” and “Heroes.””

One of Gardenier’s duties as Thunder is to garner a loyal following for the southwest Riverside County minor league baseball team. Thunder attempts to give fans magical baseball memories that will last forever.

“Kids who grow up and stay in the area become lifelong fans,” Gardenier said. “Some who saw him from his 2001 beginning are in their early ‘20s now, and say, ‘I remember when [Thunder] came to my school.’”

Created nine years ago, Thunder has become a year-round promotional tool, which Gardenier devotes much of his off-season time to giving public appearances outside the Diamond Stadium. Thunder attends school events, birthday parties, business openings and more. The Storm organization developed a literacy program that has been proven to be beneficial for thousands of regional children by having Thunder present as an extra influential boost. He’s been known to perform 100 of these community-based line ups for area youth in as little as six weeks, said Gardenier.

“We get the community involved in a reading program where 60,000 kids have participated so far,” he said. “If they read 10 books, they get free game tickets.”

Gardenier is grateful that Storm officials have made their mascot a priority when considering the organization’s budget. His full-time job title is director of mascot relations – which pays well, Gardenier said, as he is currently looking to purchase a home in Lake Elsinore. He is also in charge of the handful of other team morality boosters including a guerilla, rabbit, and cop.

In the recent conversation with Gardenier, he expressed excitement for the opening of the Storm 2010 season, which occurred April 6. He has planned to perform a variety of new skits that he hopes will impress regular spectators who have already seen it all.

“His nemesis, the guerilla, won’t be so nice to Thunder,” Gardenier laughed, seemingly without worry. “He’ll be kicking and tackling him. There’s one where Thunder will be riding a bike, minding his own business and the guerilla is going to drop-kick him.”

Like many athletes, mascots do get hurt. Last year, Gardenier broke his collar bone and separated his shoulder when the guerilla played too rough one night. Gardenier was out for 20 games while someone else filled Thunder’s paws.

“Fans who know who I am outside the suit saw me hanging around wearing a sling around my arm,” he said. “They wondered if I was standing here, then who was out there. It’s still Thunder.”

Thunder’s industry clout as a highly productive asset to a popular sports team has earned him “Mascot of the Year” for 2009 by Gameops.com – a resource Internet site for teams to generate ideas that will enhance the entertainment value of their events. This was a huge honor, according to Gardenier.

“We’re going to continue trying new things,” he said. “Thunder is on the social networking sites Twitter and Facebook. We feel this is an important tool for us in keeping up with the times. We want to always stay ahead of the curve.”

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