'When I'm Izzy, I'm in Izzyland'

News-DemocratJuly 13, 2014 

Kody Turner helped set up line lanes outside Sauget's GCS Ballpark in Sauget long before the Gateway Grizzlies' 7:05 Saturday start.

No one gave the lean, lanky 18-year-old a second look.

An hour later, fans wouldn't leave him alone.

Kody is Izzy, the Gateway Grizzlies' mascot. The 7-foot friendly bear, wearing a Grizzlies jersey and cap, greets guests coming through turnstiles, and interacts with them throughout the baseball game.

"High five, Izzy," says a stocky 10-year-old, offering him several.

"Go, stand next to him," a mom tells a not-so-sure preschooler.

Izzy gets down on one knee, so as not to seem so big. The little one gets brave. Mom aims her iPhone. Success.

This isn't Kody's first mascot gig.

He was the black-and-white cow mascot at Chick-fil-A.

When stadium personnel asked last year if anyone was interested in mascot training, Kody was their man -- or bear.

"I had just gotten hired on," said Kody, of Belleville, a recent Althoff Catholic High grad. "I already had training. ... There are a lot of rules, but it's mostly just let loose and be yourself. I am just a goofy personality."

Izzy's paws bob. His arms are kind of bouncy like his step. And he doesn't say a word.

"The only people I can talk to is staff.

"I am always looking for fun things to do. I'm looking for kids That's what I am here for. I sing along in my head to music, When I'm Izzy, I am in Izzyland."

He has a list of things to do at each game. First pitch photos on the field. The kids' parade. The T-shirt toss. And so on.

"Besides that, I am free to go where I want," he said. "I get paid to be a piece of moving advertisement. I run around and give kids high fives and hugs. I do like kids. It's so crazy. One picture here, then it's a line of pictures."

The costume presents challenges.

Izzy has mastered the four-finger paw signature.

"I sign one kid's ball, and everyone's coming up."

But he has to be careful.

"Kids are underfoot. You have to watch so you don't step on them. You don't have peripheral vision. You have to use all of your senses."

The hotter the weather, the more breaks Kody takes.

"I come in this back room where I have my water jug," he said. "I drink four or five cups each time... Most nights I go home, take a shower and go straight to bed."

But he looks forward to the action.

"Every night, I meet someone who stands out."

Mostly in a good way, but sometimes not.

"There are kids who kick you. I go into a room till the kids leave. Some kids are pests. You know what? It's still fun. I get over it."

This fall, Kody will attend Southwestern Illinois College. He wants to become a paramedic.

"Maybe I will be taking care of a mascot one day."

Family: Kristy and Dwayne Turner, and two brothers, 21 and 10

Favorite ballpark food: "The fries here. I dip them in a mix of ranch and buffalo sauce."

Favorite food: "Skyline chili out of Cincinnati, It's spaghetti with chili sauce. It's so good it's amazing."

Favorite restaurant: O'Charley's in O'Fallon

Favorite subject: "Art. I had a really good teacher, David Woesthaus."

Car: 2004 blue Kia Spectra

Favorite sport: "Soccer is my number-one sport. I was a goalie. It's an adrenalin rush being a goalie. You have so much pressure on you, but when you make an amazing save, it's an amazing feeling."

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