Richard Tapia wants the sweatiest job in the world. Tapia, BS ’03, is one of 10 candidates vying to be the next Houston Astros mascot.
He has solid experience: Tapia has been entertaining fans since he first tried on a mascot suit in high school. After serving as UT’s beloved Hook ’Em, he worked until 2009 as the Round Rock Express’ lovable canine train conductor Spike. Now he sells group tickets for the Astros—but where he really wants to be is on the field, inside the mascot suit.
Starting today, fans can vote for their favorite mascot on the Astros’ website. Tapia is also posting updates on the competition at his fan page, Richard for Mascot. He told us why he loves being a mascot—and how he deals with the heat inside that giant costume.
In high school, I was hurt in a car accident, which ended my athletic career. But I still wanted to be involved with sports, so I became the high school mascot. I liked it so much that I continued at UT, where I was Hook ’Em from 1999-2003.
What was being Hook ’Em like?
It was so much fun. I went to the bowl games and the Final Four. I did a lot of work outside the costume—booking appearances, helping to manage the team. That’s true of most mascot jobs. It’s not just performance, it’s also marketing, sales, and brand management.
After graduation, you worked as the Round Rock Express mascot. How’d you get that gig?
My sophomore year, I saw that the CEO of the Express was speaking at a marketing association meeting at the McCombs School. I wasn’t in the club, but I really wanted to work in baseball, so I snuck in. Afterward I chatted with him, and he mentioned the team was looking for a mascot. I did it part-time until I graduated, and then went full-time.
What was your proudest moment as Spike, the Round Rock Express dog?
In 2009, I biked the MS150—all the way from Houston to Austin—in the Spike costume. When I had the idea, people told me I was crazy, which just made me want to do it more. My cousin had just been diagnosed with MS, and I really wanted to do this, even though it was two weeks before my wedding. It was tough, but it raised a lot of awareness.
Tell us about the physical challenges of mascot work.
Temperatures inside the costume can get up to 130 or 140 degrees. I know a lot of mascots who’ve passed out, but luckily I never have. Once I threw out my back riding a kid’s bike—that wasn’t good. I stay hydrated and train a lot.
How do you train?
I do cardio, and I run up stairs in the stadium. When I was training for the MS150, I would bike around town and go to the gym in my costume. You get a lot of laughs when you’re a giant dog lifting weights in the gym.
Not many people would consider a career as a professional mascot.
A long time ago, my dad told me “If you find a job nobody wants to do, and you do it better than anybody else, you’ll be fine,” and that’s kind of what happened. I stumbled on something that I really, really love. I love the instant gratification when I make people laugh. Some of my best memories are from volunteering with the Special Olympics, bringing joy to disabled kids. When you get in the costume, there’s no fear of judgment or rejection. You can be anybody.
Top, Tapia, as Hook ‘Em, with actor Matthew McConaughey, BS ’93, Life Member. Middle, Tapia out of costume. Bottom, finishing the 2009 MS150 as Spike. All photos courtesy Richard Tapia.
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