There are those who spend the summer stalking the stands of Citizens Bank Park, clutching fistfuls of confetti and boisterously revealing birthday celebrants all summer long. They're called the fanstormers, and in 1997, Kim Hanley, amateur costume designer, was going to be one.
Hanley had been on her way to a B.A. in decorative arts restoration and history, out of a desire to go into costume and textile museum work. This summer job would be a brief stop on her career path, if she got it. Despite her enthusiasm and charisma, Hanley still had to push through the preliminary process, however, and this particular interview involved only one, deeply penetrating question.
"They asked, 'Who's your favorite team?'" Hanley, a Long Island native, recalls. "I was like '… the Yankees?'"
When trying to be a Phillies fanstormer, no amount of rehearsed confetti tosses can you dig you out of that hole.
"I'm a Phillies fan now!" she claims, 16 years later.
Despite her initial interview, Hanley is now very much a part of Phillies baseball. Any fandom to the contrary would be severely upsetting to her supervisor and chief client. His odd shape, large size, and infamous tongue make him an intimidating force in the industry; his immense popularity and exposure makes Hanley's personal position with him all the more coveted.
"A lot of seamstresses don't make their own patterns," she says. "I have to do all of my own. Because, I'm sorry, but there's no 'Phanatic' pattern out there."
Every time you see the Phillie Phanatic dancing around or thrusting suggestively or taunting Jack Nicholson in an Elvis suit or a Tina Turner outfit or a Batman costume, that get-up has to be made from scratch by somebody familiar with the measurements of an enormous, pear-shaped muppet. And that somebody is Kim Hanley, seamstress to the Phanatic.
The origin story of her unique position is a classic American tale of baseball, lightsaber duels, and financial constraints. The summer after her first interview, Hanley returned to try to be a fanstormer again, and this time, had the experience to nail that first question. As the summer went on, she often had a place by the Phanatic's side.
"My friend Bill was doing this Star Wars bit with the Phanatic; he was Darth Vader and he and Phanatic fought," she remembers. "I remember the Phanatic would kill him and Bill would go down, and then get back up and they'd start to fight again."
With 90 seconds to get on the field, do the bit, and get off again, they did not have the time for ad-libbing.
"I'm pretty sure the people in the first rows could here, 'stay down, you idiot!' because the bit had to be over," Hanley says.
It was a popular skit, so the Phanatic found himself set upon by a Sith lord more than once. "They kept renting this cape for Darth Vader, and every time they did it, it was like $75. And I said, 'You know, if I made you that cape, you'd just have it.'"
"I probably would never have been completely happy in a museum."
As one of the Phanatic's closest confidants, Hanley is often at point blank range for his outbursts of inspiration.
"For Tina Turner, it was, 'I'm in a bar, listening to Tina Turner! What do you think?!'" Hanley says. "Lady Gaga, he was watching the VMAs. 'I wanna do Lady Gaga outfit!' The second Gaga outfit, he saw the egg, and it was, 'I have to do that egg! I need to do that egg!'"
"Tina Turner, she had to have the dress; she had to have the undergarment, which is actually where we attach the 'upper frontals.'"
Hanley meets my inquisitive gaze. "He's a 72 triple D."
This year, instead of getting his wardrobe resupplied, the Phanatic took the quieter, more intimate route and debuted a movie in which he travels through time. Because of all the costumes that went into the film, Hanley didn't have anything to make specifically for his birthday, and could instead sit back and watch as the past few years of her work hit the silver screen.
Naturally, the Phanatic goes from time period to time period, needing a different outfit for each. "He said 'Oh, I wanna do a cave man!' He already had the colonial outfit; that was done years ago. I said, 'You need to do medieval, too.'"
Now they were entering Hanley's wheelhouse. After a childhood of sewing alternate outfits for her teddy bears and Barbies, she joined up with Medieval Scenarios and Recreations as a teenager, where she learned the skills to get a baseball mascot into a medieval tabard.
"They've got stone carvings and the odd tapestries. But to do it as best as possible, I was trying to make something as close to the historic document that I could get," she says with a smile. "But the cave man outfit is one of my favorites. It's a cross between Fred Flintstone and Captain Caveman."
Unlike the Phanatic's video, Hanley also has a focus on history that actually happened. Outside of the ballpark, she specializes in historical interpretation, educating crowds or appearing in cook books as Betsy Ross, Abigail Adams, Annie Oakley, Molly Pitcher, and Alice Roosevelt, alongside her boyfriend, Steve, or his more recognizable alter ego, Thomas Jefferson.
The acting business has her in constant evolution, as history has no shortage of bold, fascinating women. "The woman I most recently developed who I absolutely love and out of all these women I would pick as a friend is Harriet Beacher Stowe. What a nice lady. She wrote 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' mostly because she was a nice lady and a sympathizing mother. And it was so powerful and it did so much."
The particular set of skills even got her her Phillies film debut in Time Traveling Phanatic as "Betsy Ross' mute assistant," a figure often overlooked by the history texts. The twin positions tend to unavoidably overlap, given her tight schedule.
"I think we went Tut, Phanatic cheer, Gaga, Gaga, Tina Turner, Elvis, for Opening Day outfits," she rattles off. "The day after I finished Elvis, I had to get together my costume for Harriet Beacher Stowe. My life goes from the ridiculous to the sublime in a day. I'll look at the stuff in my sewing room sometimes…"
The phone will ring at times in Hanley's house and the person on the other end will shout something like, "I don't know if you can do this, but I need a mustache!" And she'll set about putting together some comically oversized facial hair before her latest acting gig or shift at Starbucks.
"They were doing some promotion in Philadelphia about wearing a mustache at the end of one season when the Phanatic called, so I had to be on that." she laughs. "It was plastic. It was huge."
"Flexibility and a sense of humor," Hanley says of the skills that have gotten her to where she is. "The basic seamstressing skills are what they are."
Those skills inadvertently gained her access to the seedy underworld below deck at Citizens Bank Park. Somewhere in the stadium's bowels, horrific abominations wander freely. Rumor has it Michael Martinez's OBP is down there, but the most notable unspeakable horror is the headless Phanatic.
"You will never see the Phanatic without his head," Hanley says, eyes glazed in subdued reflection. "You will never see a guy in the body without the head."
You might not. But these are things the Phanatic's seamstress could see multiple times.
"I see it," Hanley admits quietly. "It's a little disturbing.
She describes a scene in which the Phanatic will model an outfit, and as she goes to snap a picture for her records, he hurriedly puts his head back on to prevent the existence of an image of the Phanatic's true form.
"I made Phyllis a new hat last year, and had to take a picture of the head," Hanley remembers. "Nobody else was around, and I had to take it as if it wasn't a picture of a disembodied head."
It takes a lot to keep a 300-lbs beast clothed. Sometimes it takes quick fingers and endless patience. Other times, it takes photographing disembodied heads and 16 hours of bedazzling. But unlike some Phillies fans, the Phanatic will always be there, regardless of the team's record or which infielder has secret knee problems. It may not be a sellout crowd, but that Phanatic's still got to look good for half-capacity.
"This is my big month," Hanley says, addressing a pug-themed calendar from her purse, clogged with appointments. "March and April are my very busy months. Sometimes… October."
October, if we're lucky.