It was the era of Florida’s burgeoning citrus industry, the international Space Race – and the dawning of a new university in Orlando. Squeeze them all together and out the other end of the juicer emerged the Citronaut, a character concoction that blended the body of an orange with a Jetsons-like head and leafy bowtie.
The colorful figure debuted on the 1968-69 cover of the first student handbook of Florida Technological University, the original name of the University of Central Florida. But the caricature’s official association with the campus soon went sour.
Until now…the Citronaut is back!
The space-age astronaut with its feet planted firmly on the ground has returned to the spotlight.
The Knights baseball team will celebrate the character’s re-emergence Saturday, May 10, during a game on the team’s newly proclaimed Citronaut Day. The players will wear throwback uniforms to recognize the character that has been lying low all these years as just a footnote in UCF’s past.
Well, maybe “throwback” isn’t quite the correct term, since the Citronaut was never used as a mascot for the university, as is often mistaken.
“Since he was never an official mascot, I’d call him a lovable historic character in the history of UCF,” said Zack Lassiter, senior associate athletic director of external operations.
The idea of the Citronaut as the mascot apparently blossomed after it appeared on the handbook, but according to university archives the design created by the brother-in-law of first university president Charles Millican was merely for printing the book. The artist, Norman Van Meter, also co-created FTU’s official seal.
The drawing had a couple early variations such as different poses, placement of the FTU lettering, and the option of a large T on the orange body for “Tech,” short for Florida Tech.
As lovable as it may seem now, the Citronaut in those days had fewer fans because of concerns by some that it wasn’t a very distinguished figure. One scornful editorial headline at the time in the FuTUre student newspaper posed the question: “Doomed to be Citronauts Forever?” (Yes, the newspaper was spelled that way, taking the capitalized FTU letters from Florida Technological University.)
It didn’t take long for students wanting to secure a mascot for the new university to approach the president, and a campus vote was held in 1970. Several other possibilities were discussed – most prominently the Vulture – but a vote by students selected the “Knights of Pegasus” to be the official mascot, putting the question to rest.
And now, turning the clock forward about 45 years, the Citronaut looks as fresh as ever – and it’s ready to get back to its roots. The first 250 fans at the game will be given T-shirts to help welcome the character back.
NASA will even help launch the Citronaut’s return. The game’s ceremonial first pitch will be thrown out by UCF graduate and NASA employee Kelvin Manning, and the space agency will have promotional displays at the field.
So, welcome back, Citronaut. We’ll see you at the baseball game.
UCF will take on the Presbyterian College Blue Hose of Clinton, S.C., at 4 p.m. May 10 at Jay Bergman Field. For Citronaut Day tickets, apparel and other information, go to http://www.ucfknights.com/sports/m-basebl/spec-rel/050214aao.html .