“You move in a different way, you walk a different way. The Bird has to have a little swag.”
It can be said that Matt Johnson has multiple personalities. Every month, there are five or six nights that he transforms into one of the most popular figures in the Baltimore community. When he suits up to entertain Camden Yards, Johnson says he leaves his real identity behind and becomes the Oriole Bird.
“It’s a weird transition to describe. You have to be a little different than your everyday self. But it just came to me naturally,” he says.
The first mascot in his family and without any professional training, Johnson has been working with the Orioles for the past seven seasons. And before that, he was the Maryland Terrapin while attending University of Maryland.
“I was always a big sports fan. I was always upfront in the games, loved being there and loved doing full body paint”, he explains. “I had a theater background also. So I had the performance and the spirit, kind of combined them and got involved in it. Then went from there.”
Johnson heard the Baltimore Orioles were looking for a new mascot through a friend. Excited at the chance, Johnson called and went through the formal interview process before showing off his mascot skills. Out of five or six people, Johnson succeeded and the newest Bird was born.
His duties as the Bird go beyond leading the Orioles chant, shaking his tail on the dugout in the seventh inning stretch and simply entertaining fans with the latest dance trends. There are four Birds in total and while the fans only see one during the game, two are working in order to preserve the other’s energy. As if 81 home games weren’t enough work, the Birds can be found working all around Baltimore.
“We do a lot of community appearances,” he says. “Anything from birthday parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, little league events. We go to hospitals to visit with children with disabilities and illnesses.”
Making this job another perfect fit for Johnson. When he isn’t sporting the Bird’s mask, Johnson works at Watkins Mill High School in Germantown, Maryland as a special education para educator. He works one on one with a student suffering from cerebral palsy. With the student every day and all day, Johnson helps him with daily tasks.
“I love it here,” Johnson says. “I work with LFI, learning for independence. We teach social skills and academics.”
Although Johnson loves both careers, it has taken a toll on his home life. Living in Germantown, he is about 45 minutes to an hour away from the ballpark. The commute roundtrip equals about 100 miles and adds two hours to the five or six hours he’s performing.
“It is tough because it’s a seven to eight hour commitment,” he says. “Since it’s at night, it’s after school hours but it is tough with home life, especially with a child one the way. So when I have a little boy here, I’ll be leaving him at night to come and do some of the games.”
It’ll be tough for Johnson, but his years at Camden Yards aren’t over yet.
“With a little boy on the way, a little Orioles fan,” Johnson says. “I think I have to stay in it a bit longer because I think it’d cool to have him have the Oriole Bird as his best friend.”