Mini glee

0
200

Riley Marciante initially found the Phillie Phanatic terrifying but has since become great friends with the mascot.

Photo provided by Bill Marciante

When Riley Marciante met the Phillie Phanatic during the 2014 Christmas season, the then-3-year-old found himself “beyond terrified,” according to his mother, Shannon. Having grown far more versed in the mirth with which the mascot makes memories for fans, the now-5-year-old has become chummy with the Galapagos Islands product and last week captured the Phillies’ Fan of the Year commendation.

“He used to be very, very shy,” his matriarch said from their Marconi home. “Now, whenever he wears the costume, no matter the occasion, he’s just so at ease.”

The youngster has completed three turns as the Mini Phanatic, with Sept. 18, the day that his family held his birthday celebration at Citizens Bank Park being the most recent. The next day, the Marciantes, including father Bill and daughter/sister Alice, 2, learned Riley had emerged as the franchise’s victor in the inaugural Major League Baseball-sanctioned contest, beating out entrants from Boothwyn, Newtown and Pitman, N.J.

“It was fun to get the word out,” Bill said of social media outreach that helped his boy to pull away at the end. “We’re very excited, too, for Saturday, when the team is going to recognize him for his accomplishment.”

As his parents spoke of the honor, Riley proudly showed off a Phanatic doll and drawing, the latter being his own creation. Giving the toy a voice, he shifted back and forth between speaking his thoughts and allowing the Phanatic a say.

“I really like being around him because he’s so much fun,” the pre-kindergarten student at St. Monica Junior School said of the beloved figure, who debuted in 1978 and entered the Mascot Hall of Fame in 2005. “I like Riley, too, because he’s fun and likes to do stuff with me.”

The triumphant Riley initially wore his costume, which Shannon made, aside from the hat and the jersey, to one of last season’s games between the local nine and the Chicago Cubs. Because of his outfit, team personnel wondered if Riley would want to dance with the Phanatic, and thanks to some stupendous steps, the two began a friendship that the Marciantes treasure, noting that their son delightfully deems the Phanatic “my buddy.” His interest in donning the outfit reached a high when he won last year’s East Passyunk Avenue Halloween costume competition and when he and the gregarious green hero fraternized in December for Citizens Bank Park’s Christmas tree lighting.

“It’s definitely helped him to come out of his shell and to have something that really makes him enthused,” Shannon said, with Riley quickly adding that he owns books and DVDs featuring the Phanatic.

“I grew up going to The Vet to watch games, so I’ve been familiar with the franchise for most of my life,” Bill added. “To have this become a part of our lives is truly amazing, so I’m very thankful for the hospitality the organization has shown to us.”

The club’s interest in including Riley in routines with the Phanatic came through a March e-mail. The Marciantes’ receptivity to the idea led to Riley’s involvement in this season’s Turkey Hill Kid’s Opening Night.

“I was a little scared in the beginning,” he said of the April game in which the Phils squared off against the Washington Nationals. “I wasn’t scared at all, though, the other times.”

The Phanatic and fan reunited again in early July when the Phillies hosted the Kansas City Royals — the defending World Series champions. It happened to be the same night as the XFINITY Fireworks Show. On this occasion, Riley, riding the red four-wheeler he acquired for Christmas, had to adjust to a gear malfunction. Undaunted, the youth continued with his endeavor and helped the fans to enjoy a wonderful evening.

“It changes the routine a bit, and everyone likes it,” Shannon said. “People have said that he looks really cute. He’s almost like a celebrity when he’s walking around the park.”

His third chance to be on-field chums with the Phanatic transpired just ahead of his birthday, making the countdown to his big day that much more exciting for Riley and his loved ones.

“Everyone made me feel very special,” the precocious boy said as he proudly held his doll aloft. “I like going to the games and being around so many people.”

If all works out well, he will continue to charm fellow fanatics next season, with Riley, who has also shown off his agility through participation in the Healthy Kids Running Series at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park, likely to be even more limber and lively come next spring.

“All of this has been so wonderful for us as a family,” Bill said, laughing at the idea that perhaps Alice could one day follow in the footsteps of her big brother, who will receive a personalized jersey on Saturday. “It’s great to see so many memories unfold before our eyes, and I’m happy that he’s having such fun experiences at this age.”

“The Phillie Phanatic is the best,” Riley bellowed to laughs from his parents. “I can’t wait until I see him again.” SPR

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com or ext. 124.