The Wilmington Blue Rocks unveiled uniforms featuring a longstanding alternate brand, a character named Mr. Celery. The uniforms feature a close crop of the Mr. Celery logo on the front, and the character’s signature catch phrase “Woo hoo!” on the back.
The origins of the character, who has nothing to do with the Blue Rocks’ primary identity, can be attributed to Chris Kemple, who served as the team’s general manager for more than a quarter century into the 2017 season. When I spoke with him about Mr. Celery for the Blue Rocks’ entry in the Story Behind the Nickname series, Kemple started with, “In minor league baseball, there are no original ideas. I stole the concept from another team.”
In 1999, Kemple was in Lake Elsinore, California, attending the all star game between the Carolina League and the California League. During the game, every time the California League scored, a pink bunny mascot came out to dance behind the wall in right field. “It was one of the funniest, one of the craziest things I had ever seen,” Kemple said. “I thought, I gotta do something like that in Wilmington.”
During the offseason, Kemple brought the idea to the team, and it was well received. But who would this character be who came out to dance—to CEL-ebrate—when the Blue Rocks scored? Kemple wasn’t sure the idea would stick, and the team didn’t want to invest a lot of money in a new mascot costume for an idea that might be scrapped after a few weeks if it didn’t work out. So they considered their options.
“We had this old beat-up celery costume that had been sitting in a warehouse for years,” Kemple said. “Actually, it was the property of our food and beverage company, Centerplate…. We dusted it off, put a guy in it, called it Mr. Celery.”
Initially, the idea was met with skepticism, but Mr. Celery was quickly embraced, and today, his image can be seen everywhere at the stadium, and the team store features an entire wall of Mr. Celery logo items—and soon will be featured on the field on the players’ uniforms.
With his unlikely origins, fans still look for a hidden meaning, some sort of connection. “To this day, people still ask us where it came from,” Kemple said, “whether there’s some sort of Da Vinci Code, matching numbers and letters and codes, why it’s celery. Literally it’s because we had the costume.”
Kemple is grateful for Mr. Celery’s success, even if it is something of a fluke. “It makes us in a way look like we’re geniuses,” he said, “but we didn’t know what we were doing.”
The team even tried to sell celery at concession stands, but that was pushing the envelope just a little too far. “People seemed to buy it more to throw it on the field or to use it as a prop with Mr. Celery than to actually eat it,” Kemple said.
The Blue Rocks will wear the Mr. Celery uniforms for their “Celery-bration” July 14 against the Salem Red Sox.