Fabled film boxer Rocky Balboa developed a reputation for hanging around bouts he wasn’t supposed to.
The stuffed tiger doll Burlington Central softball coach Wade Maisto recently named for the character dangles from dugout fences by design.
Maintaining a trend that started spontaneously during his first stint at Central – when Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” sequels still were being reviewed – Maisto unveiled what has been an effective surprise in his return to Rocket Hill.
It’s the “Eye of the Tiger,” indeed.
“I played that little music, kind of got them pumped up, and said, ‘Here you go, girls. Here’s our mascot,’ ” Maisto said.
In “Rocky II,” a marketing guru kicks around the idea of a Rocky doll, something kids can pummel that “takes a terrific beating.”
BC players are much more civil with their Rocky.
After each game, Maisto determines the de facto MVP, who then is given temporary custody of the doll.
She takes Rocky home, to practices and then to the next game, where players await the doll’s latest fashion.
“Rocky just started as a tiger,” Maisto said. “Now he’s got hair and a tiara and piercings and bandanas and tattoos.”
Junior pitcher Brooke Gaylord gets credit for Rocky’s mane, a pink wig she had lying around “from a Halloween costume forever ago.”
She and her teammates have welcomed the ritual, which naturally lends itself to a chattery, peppy softball culture.
Maisto, who guided Central from 1984 to ’98 and returned this season after Cray Allen took the coaching job at Harper College, simply wanted something to lighten the mood. Although it’s been nearly 31 years since the “Eye of the Tiger” song and concept was unveiled in “Rocky III,” Maisto finds its message of focus and perseverance universal.
Truth be told, this mascot carries a much more profound meaning than past ones on Maisto’s high school or travel teams.
Really, what kind of motivation can someone derive from a stuffed alligator named Elvis?
That creation was introduced by one of Maisto’s players. Ditto for the “Super Banana” stuffed fruit that tagged along with Central’s Class A state tournament team in 1985, the same year “Rocky IV” was released.
The mother of one Central student made him a banana costume to wear at state back then. These Rockets aren’t sure if Rocky will reach such a craze, so they’re just enjoying him at cuddly face value.
“We know that at game time we need to be concentrating and taking it serious, and we know softball is a serious thing,” Gaylord said. “But we also want to have fun while we’re playing, and afterwards we can have fun with Rocky or our teammates or whatever.”
• Kevin Druley is a sports writer for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.