When people think of America, they think of bald eagles and baseball. So for their home opener against the Seattle Mariners, the Minnesota Twins decided to go full ‘MERICA and have a bald eagle fly into the stadium as the “National Anthem” played. It, um, didn’t quite go as planned.
Rather than flying back to his handler, the eagle found Mariners’ pitcher James Paxton and then treated him like his own private jungle gym.
The eagle tried to perch on Paxton’s shoulder, but after finding uneven footing, landed on the ground and glared at Paxton before a handler went and retrieved the feisty bird.
Paxton remained much calmer than most humans would have if a gigantic bird of prey tried to land on them, and luckily he escaped any serious injury.
The bald eagle at the Mariners game is named Challenger.
“Challenger simply thought the pitcher was one of his handlers standing near the large U.S. flag in the outfield ready to catch him and give him a piece of salmon,” an American Eagle Foundation spokesperson told Forbes.
It’s not the first time a bald eagle has taken aim at a baseball player, as 15 years ago one took aim at Derek Jeter.
Challenger, who is 28 years old, is a veteran of of more than 350 free flight demonstrations at collegiate sporting events and major sports stadiums, according to Forbes.
So you have to wonder what caused such an experienced and noble symbol of America to seemingly try to carry off a baseball player…
Baseball and bald eagles are two of the most American things ever. Former University of Kentucky pitcher and Seattle Mariner James Paxton is a Canadian, though. https://t.co/U7CWjee9aa
— WKYT (@WKYT) April 6, 2018
Oh. That explains it.
Challenger The Celebrity Bird
Challenger even has his own Facebook page, where he posts about his upcoming appearances and other news.
He lists his personal interests on Facebook as: “Salmon, trout, quail, flying, football stadiums, my handlers, being photographed, playing in my water bowl, sunbathing in the grass.” Pretty funny and cute, huh?
This esteemed eagle was blown from his nest when he was a baby. After that, some people rescued him and began feeding him by hand, which meant he could not survive in the wild. That’s how he came to be a celebrity eagle.
His resume is super impressive: the 1996 Summer Paralympics games in Atlanta, 12 World Series games, dozens of regular season Major League Baseball games, over 80 NFL regular season games, two NFL AFC Championships, one NFL NFC Championship, Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, NCAA Men’s Final Four, NCAA Women’s Final Four, three NFL Pro-Bowl All-Star Games, two NCAA World Series of Baseball games, numerous Fiesta Bowls, five BCS National Championships, Cotton Bowls, and an NCAA National College Football Championship.
Apparently people have been giving Challenger a hard time for landing on Paxton. His handlers say it was just a “mishap.” Let’s give the guy a break shall we?
“Some overreactive sports writers reported that pitcher Paxton was ‘mauled’ and ‘attacked,’ but that was not the case or the truth,” said Al Cecere, the American Eagle Foundation’s president, in a news release. “The bird was simply trying to alight onto his arm.”
Cecere also clarified that Challenger’s talons are always trimmed so they aren’t as sharp before performances.
“Once in the air, Challenger chooses his own flight path to his handler, and we can only speculate as to why he chose Paxton to land on, maybe because of his stand-alone position in the outfield during the anthem,” Cecere continued. “In fact, he flew perfectly to my glove while I stood on the pitcher’s mound during three practice flights several hours before the game began. Also, as the Anthem singer began to sing, a number of news media people wielding video and still cameras suddenly rushed out onto the field right behind me while I was standing on the pitcher’s mound ready to catch Challenger, which may have made the eagle reluctant and even took me by surprise.”