Chris Robinson crouched by home plate in between innings on Saturday night, fully clad in his catcher’s gear, and he knew what was coming.
It wasn’t a fastball, or a change-up.
It was a man dressed as a chicken, with three little kids dressed as chicks trailing him.
The chicken tapped Robinson on the butt with his foot.
Two of the chicks followed suit.
Robinson turned around when he didn’t feel a third tap, because there’s always a third tap. As Robinson looked back to see the third chick, the youngest one, wandering past him, he couldn’t help but smile.
When Robinson was a 5-year old growing up in Canada, he went to a minor-league baseball game with his family and was picked to be a part of the act, as one of the chicks. As a nine-year veteran of minor-league baseball, he’s been in on it a few times, too.
“I’ve been that guy a lot, so I knew exactly what was coming, it’s adorable” he said, smiling.
The San Diego Chicken, aka The Famous Chicken, has that affect on people.
“Laughter is the currency for any comic,” said the man in the suit, Ted Giannoulas. “When I’m lucky to get it, it feels like the greatest thing in the world.”
Giannoulas and his poultry alter ego have charmed and cracked up baseball crowds for 40 years, most of them in San Diego with the Padres.
But he has a history in Tucson, too. And Saturday night was his last-ever performance in the Old Pueblo.
On Thursday, Kino Stadium will close its gates to Tucson Padres baseball for the last time. So, this week is the club’s swan song, and Mike Feder, the Padres general manager, had to bring back the Chicken to be a part of it.
In the 15 combined years Feder was the GM of the Padres, Toros and Sidewinders, the Chicken has performed at least once in every one.
For a team struggling with attendance in its final days, he was a welcome attraction — the game pulled in 6,831 fans, the second-highest total this season.
From the third inning until the end of the game, the 60-year-old Giannoulas put on his show.
He did many of his signature acts — holding up an eye-chart for the home-plate umpire to read; standing in as the first base coach, and holding up pictures of a good looking lady in a bikini to distract the pitcher, and then a picture of a not-so-good-looking lady.
There were water balloons thrown, and his Chicken’s clothes “ripped off.”
“It’s basically a cartoon chicken come to life,” he said, “and I’ve tried to put in some funny gags to make it like a funny Harpo Marx.”
After the game, Giannoulas hung around for two extra hours to sign autographs and take pictures with hundreds of fans.
He’s based in San Diego, but the Famous Chicken matters to Tucson.
“I’ve seen it a couple times when I’ve been in Tucson,” said Padres infielder Jesus Merchan, who also played for the Sidewinders in 2008. “Every time I’ve seen it, it makes me laugh. Even if you know what he’s gonna do, he makes you laugh, year after year.”
Added Robinson: “He set the standard, he is the standard. There’s some great acts when it comes to (Myron) Noodleman and the Zooperstars, and they’re great, but Ted’s a god. The Chicken’s the Chicken, and he’s the original.”
All that matters to Giannoulas, though, is that “currency”.
“It’s really the old adage,” he said, smiling, “don’t laugh, it only encourages him.”