At first glance, you might think all the fuss around the Bisons' WCC Race (that's Wing, Cheese and Celery) speaks to one of those classic goofy minor-league promotions. With the buildup to Celery's final race Wednesday night growing all season, the characters in Buffalo's nightly mascot race have taken over from Buster Bison – or any of the players – as the most popular figures at Coca-Cola Field.
But don't just think it's a minor-league phenomenon.
The Bisons got the idea from seeing it done, believe it or not, in the major leagues. The team was brainstorming following the 2010 season, looking for a nightly Buffalo-centric addition to its entertainment card. There had really not been one since the Earl of Bud's dances atop the dugout ended in 1997. The Bisons always take notes on trends in the industry, both in the big leagues and the minors, and correctly figured a big event in other cities would translate well here.
People know when the pierogis are coming out to race in Pittsburgh, when the hot dogs are coming in Cleveland or Kansas City and when the sausages are coming in Milwaukee. Not to mention the Racing Presidents in Washington.
The Bisons run the WCC race around the fifth inning but they cause plenty of consternation among fans when they run it postgame. It's usually done that way on fireworks or special events nights, often to give the team a little more buffer to get to darkness (Someday, however, the team will get burned by some 15-inning affair that puts the mascots too close to bewitching hours).
Like every city, the race has spurred merchandise sales; check out how much Celery gear is available in the ballpark during the final stand. There are also bobblehead nights, websites, community appearances and a bevy of YouTube moments. Here's a rundown of some popular races around the game:
Milwaukee's Racing Sausages -- Brat, Polish Sausage, Italian Sausage, Hot Dog and Chorizo were born in 1993 at County Stadium and moved with the team across the parking lot to Miller Park. They took on a new level of celebrity in 2003, when Pittsburgh's Randall Simon playfully hit Italian Sausage in the head with a bat, causing the woman in the costume to need medical care.
Simon was arrested for disorderly conduct, fined $432 and suspended by MLB for three games. Seriously.
Pittsburgh's Great Pierogi Race -- Potato Pete, Jalapeño Hannah, Cheese Chester, Sauerkraut Saul, Oliver Onion, Bacon Burt and Pizza Penny race around the outfield each night in PNC Park. Born by the motivation of the Brewers' sausages, the pierogis travel to Milwaukee and to Washington to race against the Sausages and the Nationals' Presidents. They faced controversy in 2010, when one of the pierogis blasted the team's front office moves on his Facebook page and was promptly fired.
Hot dogs (Cleveland and Kansas City): The Indians feature Mustard, Ketchup and Onion while the Royals have Ketchup, Relish and Mustard. Both races started in 2007, with the Indians, like many teams, opening with an animated race on the Jumbotron and moving to live characters on the field.
The Royals created a photo station with their mascots on the outfield warning track that was one of the highlights of their 2014 World Series Gala in Kauffman Stadium prior to their first appearance in the Fall Classic in 29 years.
Legends races -- The Diamondbacks have had a Legends Race featuring oversized Mark Grace, Matt Williams, Randy Johnson and Luis Gonzalez. Same in Oakland with a Hall of Fame Race starring Rickey Henderson, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley.
Nats let Teddy win
If you want the closest connection to Celery, look to the Nationals' Racing Presidents. Poor Teddy Roosevelt had lost 525 straight races until he finally overcame George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln to earn his first win on Oct. 3, 2012 in the season finale against the Phillies.
The fans in the ballpark were all on their feet roaring as Teddy crossed the line. (You would imagine Celery would get the same kind of reaction Wednesday night).
The big problem? Nationals fans insist that the team finally allowing Teddy to win a race has jinxed them on the field in the postseason. The Nationals blew a ninth-inning lead in Game Five of the division series in 2012 to St. Louis and have yet to escape the division series since, also losing in 2014 to San Francisco and last year to Los Angeles.
Teddy became a cause célèbre in D.C. during his winless streak, prompting merchandise and a website proclaiming "Let Teddy Win"
Similarly, the Bisons have a #JustOneWin hashtag for Celery on social media and merchandise with the slogan for sale, including foam fingers.
Celery topping big final series
Celery's final race is among the highlights for what figures to be a big sendoff to the home schedule. The Bisons could approach 50,000 tickets sold for the four-game series against Pawtucket, which will be capped by Fan Appreciation Night on Thursday.
A reminder to fans attending the series that they should check out the Coca-Cola Field 30th anniversary tribute in the Hall of Fame Room by Section 107 on the third-base side of the ballpark. Great memorabilia on display from team archivist John Boutet, including plenty of old photos from the first opening day on April 14, 1988.
Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Jeff Manto, the only player in the ballpark's history to have his number retired, will hold a special autograph session Wednesday from 7-8 p.m. (one item per person). Manto hit 79 home runs for the Herd from 1997-2000 and also became the only modern-era Bison inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.