"The Rockies mascot is named Dinger," comedian Jay Mohr wrote in "It Sucks to Be Them," a piece on SI.com. "He is a big, fat, purple dinosaur who sports a baby T-shirt that barely covers his nipples. According to the web site, Dinger travels the land promoting physical fitness and literacy. Ahhh. There is nothing a dinosaur likes more than a good book. Maybe that's why they are extinct. They were too busy reading the classics to notice the meteors falling on their heads. And — excuse me — physical fitness? Dinger looks like Barney after a bender. What is he going to teach me about fitness? How to stretch my neck before watching balls fly out of Coors Field?"
Mohr wrote that piece more than two years ago, when it did sort of suck to be a Rockie. But now it's a whole new ball game. Except for Dinger.
Rob Larson is one of the Rockies' best fans — and Dinger's worst enemy. Originally from West Virginia, Larson moved to Denver nine years ago and fell fast for the city and its professional sports teams. "This is the first place I've lived where I could see them," he says. "And I've always been the biggest fan of the Rockies." Larson soon moved into a loft by Coors Field and would go to forty or fifty Rockies games each season. "And when they win four or five games a year," he recalls, "you have to find something to do."
That something was hating Dinger, the Rockies' mascot. Larson despised the purple dinosaur from the start. He never bought the lame — and false — explanation that Dinger was inspired by the discovery of dinosaur bones during the excavation of Coors Field. "I'm quite sure they had some low-level marketing executive create him back in 1993, when Barney was at the peak of his popularity," he theorizes. "Dinger's demographic is kids ages two to ten. But the most adamant Dinger-haters are twelve years old. He alienates kids over the age of ten, because they associate Dinger with Barney. So they hate him, too."
Over the years, Larson's met people of all ages who hate Dinger. Some have spilled their guilty secret in bars. Others have come right up and confessed after seeing Larson's Rockies jersey, which is emblazoned with the letters NODINGER.ORG. "I kept trying to get DingerSucks, but the Rockies kept sending back my money," Larson says. "I'd misspell it, and two weeks later, the Rockies would send my money back again. It drove me to a whole new level of hate that they wouldn't let me put that on a jersey." Finally, he convinced them that his last name was Nodinger. He got the jersey, but the hate remained.
After five years, Larson moved out of the Ballpark neighborhood. But he continued to support the Rockies, and continued to think that the team would be better off with a new mascot. So last year, even as he was establishing a new wealth-management company, he decided to invest his time in making the baseball experience richer and Dinger-free. He and a friend set up a website filled with mascot mockery — speculations on what Dinger was doing (and throwing the dino's face on the bodies of badly behaving starlets), video testimonials from fans on why they hated Dinger, a timeline that predicted "once we deposed Dinger, how long before we would make it to the World Series." On opening day 2006, he held a kick-out-Dinger kick-off party that attracted 150 people; through the season, he handed out 300 fliers and collected 6,000 hits on the website. The crusade was not without its hazards: "People love Dinger so much they would threaten me with bodily harm," Larson recalls. "People think I somehow hate the Rockies. I really love the Rockies — so much so that I think we really need a mascot that befits them."
But then the friend who'd handled the site moved, and the effort kind of petered out — not unlike the Rockies last year.
Larson didn't give up, though. At the start of this season, he set up a new, bare-bones website at www.nodinger.org, with just the Mohr quote, a picture of his NoDinger jersey, and the stated goal of Denver Citizens for the Replacement of Dinger, "a not-for-profit action group dedicated to replacing the Colorado Rockies' current mascot with one more befitting our terrific city."
He handed out more fliers and pondered his next step. And then he read my column last week, in which I pronounced Dinger deader than a dodo and declared that Denver needed a World Series-class mascot.
And all at once, Larson has renewed energy. Although he has ideas for Dinger's replacement, more important, he has a concept of how to go about it. "What I've always envisioned — and it would be phenomenal — is we could actually have it on a ballot," he suggests. "Everyone could submit ideas, vote for the top three, then vote again. The Monforts might not go for it, but it would be the first citizenry-elected mascot in the experience of sports."
And, hey, this city has seen more unlikely campaigns. When brewpub owner John Hickenlooper was fighting to keep the name Mile High Stadium, people first started talking to him about running for mayor of Denver.
In the same spirit, Larson would let the people decide what mascot candidates go on the ballot. "The favorite idea I've heard so far," he says, "is a Tommy-knocker, one of the little guys who used to go into mines. Everyone could have little plastic pickaxes like those tomahawks." And then there's the notion of a rock — a pet rock, if you will — "that just sits in the field." Which would be a big improvement over Dinger's antics.
Larson was at the game Monday night, and while he didn't miss a minute of the action, he still kept an eye on Dinger: "Always, he's out there strutting around on top of the dugout — you really just want to push him off — but at the end, when the Rockies were getting their award, he was over in a corner, doing a little dance all by himself."
And now it's time for the mascot to face the music. Larson is hoping that some baseball fan with web skills will volunteer to fire up the nodinger site and help push for giving the people, the fans who've stuck by the Rockies through all the rough years, a chance to vote for a symbol that really means something. "If we'd get it on the ballot, I'll realize my dream," Larson says.
And as this season shows, dreams really do come true.
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