Justin LeBlanc limped the final stretch on Valley Street of his 114-mile walk from Fenway Park to Hadlock Field wearing dark sunglasses, red shorts, a navy blue Sea Dogs pullover, a faded red baseball cap and a growth of black stubble.
“I’ve got blisters so big I’ve named them,” LeBlanc said Thursday after completing a five-day journey to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Slugger the Sea Dog’s first appearance as mascot of the nascent Portland Double-A baseball franchise. “The one on the left big toe is Buzzy.”
The higher purpose of LeBlanc’s amble was to raise funds for and awareness of Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive involuntary movements or vocalizations called tics. Five years ago, LeBlanc’s son Theo was diagnosed with it.
Now 11 and a fifth-grader at Brown Elementary School in South Portland, Theo was among an entourage of four dozen walking the final half-mile from a dog park below the Western Promenade to Hadlock, then inside for a final lap around the warning track. Friends, family, teachers and classmates were among the strollers, as was Slugger.
The big furry seal walked alongside LeBlanc, an unsettling sight for those who remember when the energetic mascot first burst onto the Hadlock scene in early May 1994. Back then, LeBlanc and Slugger were like Clark Kent and Superman: inseparable and yet never seen together. They remained that way for the first three years of the Sea Dogs, originating many of the antics now familiar to any regular visitor to Hadlock.
Law school, marriage and family life took LeBlanc from baseball, but the mascot business remained close to his heart. This journey was a way to finally cut the cord.
He started from a nearly empty Fenway Park on Sunday. Not long after, in full Slugger regalia, he turned onto Beacon Street and found himself in the middle of … a walk-a-thon.
“There were about 10,000 other walkers,” LeBlanc said. “Slugger did his best to convince them to come north but we didn’t get one taker.”
LeBlanc’s support group varied but included his father, his mother, his wife Hope, his two sisters and a friend. The Sea Dogs provided a recreational vehicle.
“Slugger would like to tell everyone not to text and drive,” LeBlanc said, “and also not to throw trash out of your car. That was kind of shocking.”
Encouragement came from honked horns and friendly waves.
“It was hard to tell how much is recognition,” he said, “and how much is, ‘Hey, there’s a seal walking down the street!’ ”
In Kennebunk his group encountered a recreational vehicle supporting another quest – four runners attempting a 10,000-mile counter-clockwise circumnavigation of the United States to raise money for sarcoma cancer research.
“I imagine it’s what through-hikers feel when they meet other through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail,” LeBlanc said. “They were laughing at the fact that we were doing it with a seal.”
LeBlanc’s original goal was to raise $20,000 to be split between two youth acceptance programs, Camp Twitch and Shout, and a youth ambassador program run by the National Tourette Syndrome Association.
As of Thursday night, pledges totaled a little more than $14,000. The fundraising page is http://active.com/donate/sluggerswalk.
“I wouldn’t necessarily do it again,” LeBlanc said. “But I’m glad we did it.”
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: