Chopper, a groundhog by creation, but a rock star in fame, is the two year old mascot for the minor league baseball team. He is a symbol for the team that embodies the love of fans throughout the entire G-Braves organization. A love that is reciprocal and freely expressed wherever and whenever Chopper appears.
We spent the day with Chopper on August 2, 2011.
3:30 – 4:30 p.m. A sit down interview with Chopper revealed a more introspective side of this fun-loving mascot. He is the only offspring of an attentive mother and a hard working father. “My mom has attended some of the games, but because my dad is often off tunneling somewhere, he hasn’t been able to come, yet,” said Chopper.
He admitted that it was hard trying out to become the mascot for the team, with parents wanting him to become a doctor or lawyer. But Chopper loves entertaining people and knows that this is his life’s calling, to make people happy.
A typical day for Chopper is waking up around 11:00 a.m. He’ll make his way out of his hole to check the weather, of course, if it is too hot, he will return to his bed. If he has morning activities he will venture out, before temperatures make it unbearable. Chopper is not a fan of the heat.
5:15 p.m. Chopper goes shopping for his “Smurfs Night” game costume. Fans, staff and Chopper dressed as traditional and imaginative Smurfs to participate in this game’s theme.
6:00 p.m. Gates to open. Chopper attends pre-game production meeting to get his schedule of appearances before, during and after the game.
6:30 p.m. “As the crowd is coming in,” said Chopper,”via my close circuit television in my hole I kind of plan what I will do. And I use this time to get pumped up for the game.”
6:45 p.m. During a birthday celebration for nine year old Samuel Echols, Chopper stops by to get in on the fun. Chopper takes off his baseball cap and places it on the head of the birthday boy. Birthday parties are held on the outdoor pavilion area with an up close view of the field. This area is equipped with tables, seats, food carts and balloons. Samuel and friends were among the first to get photos with Chopper and his autograph.
7:00 p.m. With assistance from his handler, Courtney Brown (dressed as Pirate Smurf), Chopper adorns his white shorts, blue shirt and horn-aplenty shaped cap to transform into “Chopper Smurf." Proper attire is one of the reasons Chopper is so sociably accepted and included on the “A-list”.
Why just this year after purchasing his first tuxedo, Chopper said he was invited and attended the royal wedding.
7:05 p.m. The game: begins. Chopper remains in his hole awaiting his grand entrance the beginning of the game.
Chopper said he is proud of the team. Currently the Gwinnett Braves are making a playoff run; they are tied for first place in their division and are a half game up in the wildcard contest. If the team makes it into the playoffs Chopper will invite his mom and dad to a game to proudly show them his work place and the heartfelt appreciation that he receives.
7:25 p.m. Chopper is driven onto the field by his driver of three years, Joseph Barber. Chopper is officially introduced and receives thunderous applause from the crowd. Jumping off of the John Deere Gator, Chopper quickly goes into the stands to begin this evening’s entertainment.
Using his drum and dancing to baseball games iconic musical numbers, Chopper fires up the fans. He moves from one section of the stadium to another. All the while being followed by laughing children and adults caught up in Chopper’s merry making.
He confessed to having an arsenal of tricks to taunt fans and players of the opposing teams. From using a water gun to spraying silly string, Chopper is self described as “mischievous”.
7:38 p.m. Chopper stops in at the G-Team Store where his merchandise has been known to outsell that of some players. He drops in on fans dining in Neiko’s. As soon as he enters the eatery, young and not so young fans alike call out his name and request photo ops.
7:50 p.m. Middle of the Third Inning, Chopper and Samuel Echols pair back up to do the Birthday Sing-Along with the entire stadium joining in.
8:05 p.m. Chopper makes his way through the crowd in the stadium with frequent stops to have photos taken with fans. Moving through the team’s dugout, Chopper takes a break in the team room. From staff Chopper receives some much needed fluids to avoid dehydration; along with some good natured teasing about the size of his Smurf shorts and shirt.
8:10 p.m. Chopper signs autographs for young fans on the Suite Level of Coolray Stadium. Children line up for this opportunity to have some one-on-one time with Chopper. Each of them tells him how great it is to see him and they thank him for his autograph.
Averis King, 6 and his brother Taavres 9, are both first time baseball game attendees. After getting Chopper’s signature and his trademark high-five, both have their picture taken with the mascot.
When asked how it felt to be that close to Chopper and to get his autograph, Averis said, “It feels good.”
Chopper travels all across Gwinnett County visiting elementary schools. He will greet students as they are getting off the bus and will appear on their morning television programs.
8:30 p.m. Chopper drops in on the G-Braves radio and television production rooms. Staying true to his policy of not issuing public comments, he gestures responses in impromptu interviews.
8:40 p.m. Middle of the Sixth Inning, Chopper from the back of a John Deere Gator, shoots G-Braves t-shirts into the excited crowd.
8:55 p.m. As Chopper is making his way back to the field level, as if on cue, a guest in one of the suites invites Chopper in to cheer up Julia Karrenbauer who has had a really bad day. Chopper not only obliges but before he leaves he has turned her frown into a smile and a bad day into a better evening.
As he emerges from the suite a group of ladies, on a girls’ night out, grab Chopper for a photo op. Showing his love for the ladies, Chopper happily consents.
When asked if he has romantic interests Chopper said, "Any single lady.” He said while he is good at checking to see if there is a wedding ring or not, he likes to flirt with all of the ladies. Cross dating-- groundhog and human-- he admits is quite difficult, but it increases his chances of finding Ms. Right. He said while he might be with Ms. Right Now, he is constantly looking for Ms. Right Forever.
9:05 p.m. Chopper and the entire stadium participate in the 7th Inning Stretch by initiating the lotto beach balls bounce.
9:15 p.m. Top of the Eighth Inning, Chopper sets up a table and chair to sign autographs and to take photos with fans outside of the G- Team Store. Chopper signs his autograph on any item that fans request. One young fan even asked Chopper to sign the back of his shirt while he was wearing it!
10:20 p.m. Bottom of the Tenth Inning, the game is in extra innings with the G-Braves down 4-3, Chopper rallies the crowd in efforts to spur the team onto a last minute victory.
10:35 p.m. Game over, G-Braves lost, but Chopper is on the field giving high-fives to all of the youngsters participating in the post game Run for a Single.
“It is exciting to work with Chopper. Every night is different,” said Courtney, who has worked with Chopper for four months, “You never know what you are going to get into, but it is always fun.”
10:48 p.m. Chopper goes into his hole for the evening, after taking one last photo with Courtney and bidding everyone a goodnight.