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Spokane Indians

Recycleman retires from Spokane Indians games but his sustainability stamp remains

For 12 seasons, Brad Bishop sprinted full speed across the Spokane Indians baseball field, did hand stands and joked with fans in farcical superhero persona – all to make ballpark recycling fun.

This year, Recycleman’s booming voice and top-of-the-dugout gymnastics are missing. Bishop has decided to end his stint as a mascot performer, mostly because of the demands of his job as an applied behavior analyst.

Recycleman’s digital image will still be used in the baseball team’s sustainability campaign, but fans have asked where he was. He normally joins a mascot lineup of Otto, Doris and Ribby.

In deciding to end his run this season, Bishop said the timing just seemed right, but he’ll miss the kids and adults he could make laugh with a pun or by poking fun at himself.

“Part of it is, it’s just time and I’m not 23 anymore, so I don’t bounce like the same cartoon used to, or recover quite as quick,” said Bishop, 36, a Spokane Valley native.

He now works as chief of staff at Lilac City Behavioral Services for children and young adults 2 -21, most with autism or developmental delays. The staff helps clients gain skills and offset issues, such as if they don’t communicate.

The program has about 60 clients, he said. “I’m in charge of training, facilitating, correcting, managing, hiring. It’s 45-plus hours a week.”

Bishop once tried to become a professional mascot, appearing as nearly every one in Spokane, sometimes in the same week. He started with Red, the bird from Red Robin, and used customer comment cards to gain a Spokane Indians interview.

By 2008, he worked in the Indians’ concessions and as Super Otto in a tall, inflatable suit. Juggling the multimascot gigs, he did Avista’s energy watchdog Wattson, Eastern Washington University’s Swoop and Spokane Community Colleges’ Skitch.

That latter is the city’s hottest mascot costume by far, Bishop said, while teasing that the Bloomsday vulture “cheats” by using fans underneath. As a sasquatch, Skitch has 5 inches of head-to-toe acrylic fur. “He’s supposed to be 8 feet tall. I’m like 5-foot, 11 1/2, so I’m a dwarf sasquatch, more like an Ewok.”

The mascot work paid enough for a while. “But I had a couch that would probably make a psychologist scream because you had all the (mascot) heads across my couch, trying to mend them and wash them. You learn a lot about Woolite, hand-washing outfits, shoe polishes, what threads to mix.”

A goal to get to a higher mascot level got as far as a letter from the Chicago Bulls: “ ‘We love your work but we’re not looking right now,’ ” he said. “But that’s fine.”

Recycleman had staying power. Bishop helped create the character beginning in 2009, to bring awareness about recycling at Avista Stadium. He and Spokane Indians senior vice president Otto Klein brainstormed a superhero concept, with a bit of Buzz Lightyear’s overzealousness.

“Brad hit it off on day one,” Klein said. “We talked to Brad about how our sustainability and recycling program needed a face to it.

“We went to Brad and asked, ‘What do you think?’ He loved it. He embraced it.”

It took humor, physical stunts and the ridiculous, Bishop said. He went to gymnastics gyms to learn hand springs, splits, hand stands and other moves to be “superhero-y,” he said.

“It’s a very interesting line, especially with this character, where you’re either all in and at the same time making fun of yourself, or people think you’re just a weird guy in Spandex at a baseball game,” Bishop said.

“And sometimes it goes back and forth, but if you’re confident enough, it’s less socially awkward, or you can at least play on the awkwardness and make it fun, being aware that you know it’s ridiculous. It helps quite a bit.”

A helmet-like cap showed part of his face, long hair and beard, so people sometimes recognized him out of character. And Recycleman talked, unlike Otto and Doris, who only mime. Bishop would ad-lib as their interpreter. He also drew inspiration from comedians such as Groucho Marx and Robin Williams.

If kids or adults held up an empty plastic bottle, he’d run to grab it and say, “Oh no, someone’s in trouble, an ecological crisis,” or “Saving the planet one bottle at a time.”

His loud character voice frequently started the chant, “Let’s go, Indians,” heard across the ballpark. Sometimes, the voice sneaked up on someone weighing choices between three recycling bins, and he’d say, “Pop quiz,” or “No worries, the fate of the planet is in your hands.”

Finding multilevel jokes was a goal. “People would try to razz me, like leaving peanuts on the floor, and say ‘Recycleman, you’ve got to come clean this up.’ I’d say, ‘Gentleman, we have a bigger problem, this is an infestation. I’m in luck, it’s biodegradable; I’ll leave you to it, mind your shoes.’

“I like the combination, polite sassiness. It’s being denied, but feeling good about it.”

Bishop’s dance moves helped motivate the crowd to move to favorite tunes. “It’s all of your ’90s wedding standards, for the most part,” Bishop said, including “YMCA,” “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and “Cha Cha Slide.”

He once tapped help from climbing experts to rappel down a rope from the pressbox into the stadium. Typically, when announced, he’d run out the tunnel near third base to Richard Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries,” then hurdle the wall to run on field, while waving and smiling, to reach the other side and hurdle the wall again.

Bishop credits his mom for sewing extensive costume modifications over time, such as adapting the gloves with baseball-glove cushioning at the palms for doing stunts. The costume boots had to go over athletic shoes, “a lot nicer to run in, and it dropped shin splints by 60%.”

He had many themed capes over the years.

Klein said Bishop brought an elite performance. “We didn’t know about his athleticism; that just made it better. There was a season where Brad was in more Christmas card photos. He’d be asked to join in on people’s family photos. There are hundreds.”

Bishop is missed, Klein said. “I’m sad to see him go.”

Parts of Recycleman that are him are the dad jokes, the sassiness, the puns, Bishop said. Last season, he struggled to make appearances. The longer season with 66 home dates was a factor. Bishop helps his wife Janna with her business, Inspirit Studioz Photography.

Bishop said the interpersonal skills learned as a mascot serve him well at work, such as being able to read a room and know who is having fun and who isn’t.

In training, he supports educated and bright peers, “but a kid doesn’t care if you have a master’s degree,” he said. “They want to know if you can blow bubbles and make Captain America fly. With this background and playing, essentially, I can coach people how to relate, play and make a place safe enough but still do all the therapies.”

Bishop said he loved playing baseball with kids behind the stadium and getting adults to giggle. He’ll miss people like “Macarena Bob,” a season ticket holder who told him a joke each game.

When asked what he’d say today to fans, Bishop’s voice got quiet.

“Thanks,” he said. “I had a good time.”