In the realm of professional sport, is there anything more high pressure than following a superstar?
Just ask the guy who replaced Magic Johnson. Or ask the guy who tried to step into the cleats of Dan Fouts.
Or ask Tom Walsh, 21, of El Cajon.
He's the guy who's trying to supplant the San Diego Chicken in the hearts of Padres' fans. It's not been easy.
Walsh is Bluepper, the Padres' rookie mascot. He was picked before the season from 60 applicants.
He was the Scottie Dog at Helix High in La Mesa. Now he's a graphic artist and a student at Palomar College.
The mascot was unveiled on Opening Day (although not named until recently). Invidious comparisons with the Chicken began immediately.
"People would yell, 'We want the Chicken,' " Walsh says. "It was tough. So I got a rubber chicken and put it in my pocket. When people would yell, I'd pull out the rubber chicken and wave it. That made them laugh."
Children had trouble restraining their affection/curiosity toward Bluepper. They punched his fat stomach, pulled his turned-around cap and stepped on his floppy shoes.
A teen-age girl working as an usher was assigned to follow Bluepper and keep the kids under semi-control. That solved one problem but caused another.
Teen-age boys began following Bluepper to get the teen-age girl's attention.
Now Bluepper has a 24-year-old San Diego State student, Dave Joseph, acting as his friendly-persuasion bodyguard. "I'm a deterrent," Joseph explains.
There were other problems, too. Walsh missed 14 games after he got burned when his clothes dryer blew up while he was drying his costume.
Bluepper (That's Padres' blue , plus blooper . Har-de-har-har) walks the stands. He talks to kids, signs autographs, leads cheers, polishes any bald heads he can find, etc.
"We wanted to take it slow and easy, to make sure people accept me," Walsh said. "We've not done a lot of stuff on the field or with players, or skits and routines."
If the crowd is quiet, Walsh downplays his shtick even further.
Monday's night crowd (the smallest of the season) was somnambulant. Bluepper was discreet and minimalist, although he did wipe his rear end with a Dodger pennant in the 10th inning.
It's been a long season: "It's taken almost a whole year where the crowd finally warmed up to me, and they know who I am."
The last thing Walsh wanted was what happened to the Moose, the mascot of the Seattle Mariners. Moose came on too strong too quickly; soon the newspapers were staging a plebiscite on Moose's future.
"Moose survived by the narrowest of margins," Walsh says. "It hurt his credibility."
Walsh has a hero: the Phillie Phanatic. "The Phanatic is on top of the game," Walsh says.
Walsh is jazzed. On Oct. 3, the Cardinals are flying him to St. Louis as part of a roundup of all 11 major league mascots. He's eager to talk shop.
"Sometimes I feel I'm the only one doing this," he says.
The Committee of 100 that owns the Padres is pleased with Walsh's Bluepper. A spokesman says there is a "99% chance" that he will return next season.
Figure it: That's a lot better vote of confidence than the ownership has given to manager Greg Riddoch. But that's another story.
No Commander in Chief
* Your tax dollars at work.
Yes, Air Force One did make a short hop, sans President Bush, from North Island Naval Air Station to Miramar Naval Air Station on Monday.
Bush arrived at North Island on Sunday, but his handlers wanted the big plane repositioned to Miramar so he could make a quicker getaway after his speech at Los Penasquitos Canyon Reserve.
"It was either that or have the motorcade take another 20 minutes to North Island," explained a White House spokeswoman.
* Whitney Southwick, reporter at KNSD (Channel 39) from 1979 to 1990, is maitre d' at Trophy's sports bar-restaurant in Mission Valley.
* It wasn't scheduled, but one of the more popular exhibitions at the Action Sports Beach Expo at the Convention Center last weekend was a young woman getting her nipples pierced for designer jewelry.
A (large) crowd formed (very) quickly.
* San Diego bumper sticker: "I Smoked Pot With Bill Clinton and We Didn't Inhale . . . Much."