The best job in sports

You wouldn't likely recognize Michael Springstead if you saw him on the street, but you've met him if you've been to an Albany Conquest game.

Or a Tri-City ValleyCats game.

Or an Albany River Rats game.

Springstead is the man behind the mask or masks, in this case. He's the giant-headed Roman in a football uniform known as Kid Quest, the pumped-up ValleyCat known as SouthPaw and the half-human, half-rodent known as Rowdy the River Rat.

That's right. Springstead is a professional mascot.

I guess I have Peter Pan syndrome," Springstead said. "People ask my age, and I'll ask, 'Chronologically or maturity?'"

For the record, Springstead is in his mid 40s, and when he's not entertaining sports fans at Pepsi Arena and Joe Bruno Stadium, he's teaching sixth graders at Loudonville Elementary School.

None of which was planned, by the way.

"A lot of my family members were in education, and I swore I didn't want to follow them. I wanted to be the next Donald Trump," said Springstead. "But I've always had something about working with kids. My wife and I were at the beach one day, and she saw how I was playing with some of the kids " organizing games and such. My wife turned to me and said, 'Why not go into teaching?'"

Going into teaching might have been his wife's idea, but becoming a mascot? Where did that come from?

"When I first started teaching, we'd go sing the National Anthem (at sporting events)," Springstead said. "I thought it would be cool if when we first did it at a Rats game, I'd be Rowdy. So I called and asked, and they said they already had somebody playing Rowdy, but would I be willing to be Santa Claus because they needed a Santa. So I wound up playing Santa for them, and I guess I did a good job because they wound up asking me to be Rowdy."

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