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PHILADELPHIA - Throughout the 16 years when they were inseparable, alter-egos bound beneath 25 pounds of green fur, the Phillie Phanatic frequently saved Dave Raymond. It happened whenever the man inside the mascot's costume felt like hiding from pawing kids or incessant demands, whenever he needed pause to lament a failing marriage or mourn his mother's passing.

"I lost my mother, my marriage fell apart three months later and I'm thinking, 'My God, I've still got to run around in this costume and make all these appearances,' " Raymond recalled during a recent interview at his home. "But pretty soon I'd forget it. I had this beautiful distraction. I was the Phanatic."

All these years later, though Raymond is 62 now and on the brink of Social Security eligibility, providing those "beautiful distractions" remains his business. In fact, 25 years after he stepped aside as the groundbreaking Phanatic, his career as a mascot guru is speeding along like the three-wheeler he once raced recklessly across Veterans Stadium's notorious turf.

Raymond Entertainment, the character-branding company he founded two decades ago and now runs out of his meticulously neat Chester County colonial, is busy developing and training mascots for sports teams and businesses. One of them, Gritty, the Flyers' wild-eyed monster, has become a national phenomenon. Next month, Raymond will travel to Whiting, Ind., a tiny lakeside town where the Mascot Hall of Fame, a concept he developed in 2005, will open in a new $19 million facility. And in the crowded field of motivational speaking, he's created a lucrative niche as the apostle of fun.

Occasionally, the youthful-looking, physically fit Raymond even climbs into a costume. At a recent pharmaceutical-industry trade show, he became "Gut Guy," an irritable bowel who promotes a lower-intestine drug.

"Mascots aren't just for sports anymore. This drug company I work with set up a photo booth where you could come pose for a picture with Gut Guy," said Raymond. "When Gut Guy took his break, they asked me to put on the costume. Doctors and clinicians were coming in and as they're posing for photos, they're giving out their email addresses, being handed pamphlets. They were being teed up to be sold, but they didn't mind it. They were having fun.

"The company said they'd never had that kind of engagement. They said they were going to get a second costume made and asked me to be one of the performers. Now I'm the on-site producer and I do a little performing."

While he's worn his share of costumes since abandoning his role as sport's best-known mascot, Raymond has focused more intently on creating and training characters. His Phillies days, when his salary rose from $25 a game to the low six figures, awakened the entrepreneur in him.

Recognizing the earnings potential in being an independent contractor, he retired after the Phillies' 1993 World Series appearance and asked the company that had created the Phanatic to build him a character called Sport.

"They said they'd do it for free if I'd partner with them," he said. "Sport was successful going places to entertain. But my partners were supposed to get him access to children's TV. When that didn't happen, we parted ways. I bought some of their business and started Raymond Entertainment. Eventually we pivoted away from designing, building and delivering these characters to consulting."

The Phanatic's origins are familiar here. Hoping to attract more families to Phillies games, Bill Giles came up with the mascot idea in 1977. He asked Raymond, a onetime University of Delaware kicker and the son of that football program's coach, Tubby Raymond, to give up his role as a front-office go-fer to become the trumpet-nosed character.

"I'd been an intern since 1976 and Bill said he knew I'd be perfect because I was a wise-ass at parties," said Raymond. "I remember the first night I went out there (April 25, 1978). I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I thought people were going to kill me or set me on fire. Bill just said, 'Go out and have fun. It won't work unless you're enjoying yourself.' Bill was brilliant. People were telling him he was crazy but he kept saying, 'Ah, it's going to be fun.' "

Thanks to Raymond's improvisational skills and sense of humor, the Phanatic became the prototype for all the mascots that followed. He irreverently mocked and mimicked umpires, opposing players and even Los Angeles manager Tommy Lasorda, who famously went ballistic when the mascot pummeled an effigy of him. He could schmooze with toddlers, slyly put down drunks, perform acrobatic feats.

Soon the spirited ex-intern who always assumed he'd follow his father into football coaching was so popular and so busy that the job became all-consuming, ultimately contributing to the end of his first marriage. Then, in a scene worthy of a Hallmark holiday movie, an inspirational moment opened Raymond's eyes to the Phanatic's value.

"One day I was doing one of these Salvation Army bell-ringers downtown," said Raymond, a father of four who lives with his second wife in a development near Avon Grove High School in rural Chester County. "They loved me because donations increased. This day I was ticked off. It was Christmas and I had all these appearances lined up. Then there's a knock at my van's door."

It was a man whose son had that morning undergone surgery to remove a brain tumor. He told Raymond the tension had been so unbearable that he left the hospital and began walking aimlessly through Center City. That's when he saw the Phanatic.

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"His son loved the Phanatic and he asked if I could visit him," said Raymond. "So I put on my costume and walked to the hospital. I went in the room and his mother started to cry. And the kid looked up and said his first words since the operation. There was something special about the Phanatic being able to do that. That's when I started to pay attention.

"Mascots deliver random acts of kindness wherever they go. I don't care if it's adults or children with maladies, they're all smiling. For those few minutes of interaction, people forget about everything. What I do is silliness. But there's a real magic going on that people don't see."

On this day, Raymond's interest was focused on the Mascots Hall of Fame, set to open in December. He popped open his office laptop and proudly showed visitors some of the interactive displays in the new facility.

The idea for a mascots hall, he said, grew out of a tongue-in-cheek 2003 March for Mascots Rights that Raymond staged in Philadelphia after the Pirates' Randall Simon struck one of Miller Park's racing sausages with his bat. The event generated so much publicity that Raymond sought a way to capitalize on it.

"So in 2005 we announced that we were going to induct the Phanatic, the San Diego Chicken and the Phoenix Suns' Gorilla," said Raymond. "Each year we'd induct a few more mascots and go to their field or court (to honor them). Then four years ago we got a call from Whiting about building something there."

Why Whiting? Well, primarily because the small town where Standard Oil began was looking for something to attract visitors from Chicago (16 miles away) and fit into its waterfront-development plans.

Raymond didn't say if he'd put on a costume for the opening ceremonies, but no one, least of all him, would be surprised if he did ...

"The older you get, the more you realize you should have fooled around a bit more during your life," he said. "I will never have that regret."

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