Confessions of a Clippers hot dog

Dave Ghose

Corin Gillens is one of Huntington Park's biggest stars-even though he doesn't play baseball and his fans don't recognize him or even know his name. The 26-year-old Columbus Clippers promo team member is better known by his three aliases: Mickey Mustard, Kelly Ketchup and Ricky Relish. For the past four years, Gillens has been one of the Clippers employees who race around Huntington Park in oversized hot-dog costumes-the highlight of Clippers games for plenty of youngsters (and quite a few adults, as well). Gillens shared with us some of the tricks of the trade he's learned over the course of some 200 races.

The Right Mix: Wacky shenanigans are the life blood of a good hot-dog race. "You're not a person when you're out there," Gillens says. "Fans see a hot dog, so you want to play things up." But too much horseplay can ruin a race-even if you're dressed as a giant tube steak. "It's kind of a weird dynamic, because the fans love the violence, but you don't want to have too much violence. You want to have just the right amount where it's not over the top, but it's still enough where they're like, 'Oh, that was funny.'" Gillens aims for no more than two stunts per race.

Keep it Real: Racers script their goofy antics ahead of time, but only on rare instances do they preordain a winner-making sure the Jedi hot dog reigns supreme on Star Wars Night, for instance. Once the stunts are over, the race is on, and it's anyone's guess who will win. "We're trying to win," Gillens says. "There's a competition within the promo team to see how many hot dog races you win throughout the year." The goal is to have a close finish. "Close races are always awesome," Gillens says. "When they're calling the race upstairs, we try to make it so close that they don't know who actually won."

Comedy Gold: After 200 races, Gillens has developed a reliable comedic repertoire. A go-to gag is the "naked hot dog," in which two of the racers strip the third hot dog of its bun, leaving it exposed and embarrassed. Other winners include the "tarp jump" (a drop kick off the rolled-up infield tarp) or the "double clothesline" (a late-surging hot dog knocking down two rivals with its outstretched arms). A victory for relish is also a good thing. "Everybody hates relish," Gillens says. "We like it when relish wins because we like the boos."

Guests of Honor: What's better than three hot dogs in a race? Three hot dogs-plus a celebrity guest. When professional wrestlers Sgt. Slaughter and Jerry "The King" Lawler were visiting Huntington Park, they both made hot-dog race cameos. Gillens' favorite guest appearance, however, occurred during a Star Wars Night two years ago, when the hot dogs beat up Jar Jar Binks during a race.

Dog Days

Dime-a-Dog Night is the Clippers' signature event. On eight Mondays this year, a ravenous horde will descend on Huntington Park, eating boatloads of ultra-cheap frankfurters, as they have for nearly four decades in Columbus. "I keep wondering when it's going to run out of gas," says Ken Schnacke, the Clippers' general manager and president. "I guess gas is the proper word there." A look at the gluttonous Columbus tradition, by the numbers.

5:The limit per customer. The Clippers created the maximum-first 10, then reduced to five-to stop voracious eaters from ordering 20 to 30 hot dogs at a time.

2.6 million: Hot dogs eaten during Clippers' Dime-a-Dog Nights since 1977

4: How many times those hot dogs, if laid end to end, would wrap around the 55-mile I-270 outerbelt

40,118: The most eaten in one game, a record set on Sept. 1, 2008, the last game at Cooper Stadium

30,000: The average number of hot dogs consumed during a typical Dime-A-Dog Night

1987: The year the Clippers attempted to raise prices with "Two-Bit Dog Night." The change to 25 cents a dog angered fans, and the team brought back Dime-a-Dog the following year