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December 22, 2014

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Ice Ice Billy

A shake up in the race, presidential and otherwise

There was a seismic jolt of tsunami-causing proportion to the presidential landscape Wednesday night, the consequences of which will shove public perceptions into previously unforeseen lights and turn all that was once understood to vague, all that was once up now down, and was once left now right.

Teddy Roosevelt notched his first win in the Washington Nationals mascot race.

As far as running jokes go, this is a favorite. It's up there with Peter Griffin's protracted brawls with the reoccurring chicken character and Les Nessman's weekly, unexplained injuries in the radio studios of WKRP.

Until Wednesday night, Teddy was winless in 533 attempts, according to ESPN. He now sits 213 games back of career leader Abraham Lincoln, and 154 adrift of his nearest rival Thomas Jefferson.

The mascot race is the Nats' take on the minor league, kid-friendly promotion where a kid races the team's mascot around the bases between innings. To add drama to the minor league original, the mascot usually gets a two-base head start while the kid trucks it from home plate and touches them all.

Fate, scripting or something more nefarious helps ensure the kid will pass the mascot in the final 90 feet. The giant bear may pull a hammy, a former big league player coaching third base might trip the awkwardly appearing fish, or the oversized bird may become distracted by a pretty girl in the front row and stray off course.

In the end, the kid always wins.

Unless.

Unless the mascot is a giant lion named Shag and the team is the Atlantic League's Nashua Pride. And, unless the budding actor in the costume is rather new in the position. And unless the young thespian has a competitive streak fueled by low self-esteem.

"You have to talk to Shag," a concerned staffer told me.

"What?" I asked. "We need a second baseman right now."

"He's upset because we won't let him win the base race," said the staffer.

So an emergency meeting was held. Every means to make Shag understand the greater good was made. Coddling was employed as a mechanism. The buy in was solicited, as were pats on the back and the sharing of authorship.

There was the visualization of that 5-year-old child, with eyes brightly alit, rounding third and heading for home and a smile growing broader with each stride in anticipation of his parents greeting him at home plate with hugs of love.

There will be the proud popping of flashbulbs, and cameras being filled with of images of a child in his unbridled innocence. Think of the raising of the fists of victory as a giant headed furry animal lumbers behind and out of focus. And in the end, Shag, the child hugs you because you made him the talk of the first grade.

So the meeting ended, and a crisis was averted.

That night, a small boy crossed home plate and dropped into a devastating ball of tears. His parents' jaws hit the dirt. Players froze in place. Thousands of fans grew funeral parlor silent.

Shag had beaten him by 120 feet or more by jumping the starter's pistol sprinting full out around third base. And for good measure, there was a celebration and dance that bordered on a taunt. Had there been a football goal post, Shag may have grabbed the kid and dunked him over the cross bar.

The quick-witted PA man declared a disqualification, but to no avail. The humiliation was too great. The family left the stadium before anyone could reach them, and the performer was fired immediately.

But there is a happy ending to this cautionary tale. The team was able to track down the family through information on the liability release forms, and the kid was redeemed with a day with the team, getting autographs and pictures, and essentially lifetime season tickets.

Today, I assume the kid is putting the final edits to his book, "A Lion in Winner: Sprinting to Character."

And as for the guy who played Shag on that infamous warm summer night, something tells me he is enjoying his gig as Abraham Lincoln for the Washington Nationals, and is keenly aware that his gap to last place has been slashed to just 213 games.

Billy Johnson is the president and chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Wranglers.

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