Each summer, baseball fans gather at Goss Stadium to root for the Corvallis Knights. Besides the Knights themselves, fans have mascots Mack the Knight and Lil’ King to thank for the cheers that sweep the stadium.
Bringing his 4 foot 2 inches costume to life at every home game, Justin, known as Lil’ King, takes great pride in entertaining fans. “It’s pretty much my dream job,” he said.
We agreed to refer to Justin by his first name to protect his privacy and to “preserve the mystery for the kids, kind of like Santa.”
Whether he is operating the tee shirt gun or showing off his dance moves, Justin approaches his role as Lil’ King with spontaneity and spirit. Every night is different, depending on the energy of the crowd, the team, and his co-mascot.
“When I am Lil’ King, it doesn’t matter if it is a good day or a bad day,” he said. “I love being in the costume. It’s the best part of my day.”
Those who work with Justin share in these sentiments. “We feel lucky to have Justin as a part of the hometown team for almost a decade,” said Corvallis Knights President and General manager Bre Miller. “He truly brings great energy to the ballpark and makes sure every fan is having a good time. He connects with all fans, young and old.”
On Being a Little Person
Justin was born with dwarfism, a medical or genetic condition resulting in a height of less than 4 feet 10 inches as an adult. While there are over 200 kinds of dwarfism, Justin has the most common type known as achondroplasia. He mentioned that there is some confusion about the most respectful words to use when describing someone with dwarfism.
“The right term is little person or dwarf. The wrong term is midget,” he explained. “We call it the ‘M-word.’”
According to a statement from the Little People of America, the word midget “was created as a label used to refer to people of short stature who were on public display for curiosity and sport.”
“I’ve had kids call me that, I’ve had fans call me that, [saying] ‘It’s midget knight,’ or ‘baby knight,’” Justin confided. “I am not a midget. I am a little person. I am who I am.”
Justin believes educating people is the best approach when he is met with incorrect or hurtful labels. “You want them to learn the right words and the right phrases… Just teach them, don’t be embarrassed.”
Throughout his career, Justin has built a resiliency to being teased or called names, and has even been assaulted. He says he developed situational awareness at an early age, and appreciates the fact that most Knights fans, the team, and staff have his back.
“Most everyone is wonderful,” he said, warning, ”Just remember, whatever you say or do, you don’t know who’s underneath that costume. I could be a 12-year-old boy.“
His stature limits his opportunities as a mascot, since many teams hire people who fit their existing character costume or present a large presence on the field. However, Justin sees his height as an advantage when engaging with young people.
Fans Young and Old
“I am the kid’s mascot; I am right at a kid’s eye level. They can come up to me and hug me and not feel afraid,” said Justin.
At games, kids will often approach him to talk about their summer plans or other parts of their lives. When he is Lil’ King, he cannot speak, so he nods and gives them a thumbs up or high five.
“I won’t talk back or give advice, they just need someone to talk to.”
Occasionally, kids talk to him about serious issues such as loss. In these cases, he sometimes needs to take a break from being Lil’ King and return to being Justin, so he can express his sympathy with the parents.
“We’re doing this for the kids,” said Justin, in a Mascot Diaries podcast last July. “To make them feel special. They get one night during the week to not worry about what’s happening at home, or what’s happening in the world that we live in. When everybody comes to the ballpark, I make sure they remember their time at the stadium. Because every time you hear the news anymore, it gets more depressing.”
The Birth of a King
Justin was a cheerleader in high school. He always loved getting the crowd fired up as they rooted for their team, and considers his current role as a mascot similar to that previous role.
The character Lil’ King was born in 2015 when the Knights rebranded and updated their mascot costumes. The role was created for Justin, who at that point had been with the Knights for a few years.
Sometimes people don’t realize that character costumes can alter the wearers spatial awareness, ability to see, and even contribute to overheating, which makes the correct fit and design crucial. The Lil’ King costume was custom-made to Justin’s measurements.
By working for the Knights, Justin was continuing a family tradition. His step-brother played baseball for the Knights when they were called the Aloha Knights, prior to the team’s relocation to Corvallis.
Justin began his career just under a decade ago, when he saw a classified advertisement in the Corvallis Gazette Times for the Knights mascot position, and called to inquire about any height requirements. He learned the applicant should be at least 5 foot 4 inches to fit the costume. Since Justin is only 4 foot 2 inches, he thought the job was beyond his reach. However, a teacher and mentor encouraged him to pursue the opportunity.
After meeting Justin, the Knights management offered him a position. He drew from his cheer experience, incorporating dance moves, cart wheels, and visual jokes into this role. He created a signature look consisting of a backwards baseball hat, shorts, long socks, and a sports jersey. This character came to be known as Lil’ K, short for little knight.
Justin said that although he loves working for the Knights, he endeavors to become a mascot for a minor league or major league sports team. In the meantime, he is making the most of his role as Lil’ King.
“I love who I am, and I love being a mascot,” said Justin “And I love being part of this team!”
By Samantha Sied