It was a joyous moment early in a September ballgame at Safeco Field. Nothing more than that. Nothing to suggest that lives were about to change, and a classic meme was about to be born.
The crowd of 15,434 cheered the Mariners’ first-inning rally lustily. A family on the first-base concourse, visiting from New Jersey, joined in with particular gusto.
And that was that — or so it seemed. The game continued, fans went back to their peanuts and Cracker Jack, the Mariners finished an 8-3 victory over the Texas Rangers. One of 162 games, nothing to stamp it as particularly memorable. The Mariners’ record moved to 71-68 in what would prove to be another thwarted playoff chase.
Who could have ever guessed that the random combination of an adorable 3-year-old girl, a messy batch of blue cotton candy, an Adam Lind grand slam, and a serendipitously on-the-spot camera person would soon send the resulting image hurtling across the internet and into the popular culture zeitgeist.
This is the story of Cotton Candy Girl, as she came to be known — seen, smiled over and related to by millions of people around the world, to this very day. And probably for as long as GIFs, memes and heartwarming videos are a thing.
The little girl is Beatrix Hart, now 8 and possessing wisdom and perspective far beyond her years. Looking back at the genesis of her 15 minutes of fame, which has extended to five years and counting, Beatrix said, via phone:
“I think people really, really like that (video), but I never knew why. It’s just a little girl making faces.”
Taken at its essence, that’s indeed all it is. But in the 10 seconds or so she’s on the screen, Beatrix exudes such a sense of pure exhilaration, mixed with 3-year-old silliness, that you can’t help but smile when it crosses your screen. Try it: I defy you.
“It still makes me happy even now, any time I see it,’’ said Beatrix’s mom, Virginia, in the course of a recent speakerphone chat with the family that is interrupted by Beatrix’s fascination with an intruding spider. “So I appreciate that.”
“There are so many things we could be online for. It’s one of the better things,” added Beatrix’s father, Jake.
The Harts were in Seattle that day, five years ago Tuesday, because Jake was attending his 20th reunion from Edmonds-Woodway High School. An actor who you very well might have seen on television in an eclectic variety of roles (or heard as the voice of an assortment of animated characters), Jake Hart lives close to New York City with Virginia and Beatrix, who started second grade this week. Jake will soon appear in the Netflix animation series, “Spirit Rangers.”
Jake’s ongoing connection to the Red Eagle Soaring Native Youth Theatre on Queen Anne, as well the Cornish College of the Arts, his alma mater, brings him back to Seattle frequently. On this particular night, some buddies suggested a Mariner outing.
Beatrix had been to Mets games, so she was well aware that snacks, not always healthy ones, were a key part of the routine. She insisted that the cotton candy be blue, her favorite color. She was sitting on Virginia’s lap munching the sugary delicacy, when Lind hit his grand slam.
“She had never had cotton candy before, and she was really enjoying it,” Virginia said. “She was barely 3, so of course it was all over her face.”
“Beatrix was standing on Virginia’s legs, already kind of dancing and having a great time,” Jake chimed in. “After the grand slam, everybody was excited and celebrating.”
A roving camera person, part of the 20 or so folks employed by the Mariners on the game-day entertainment crew, knew an “aha” moment — or in this case, an “awwww-ha” moment — when it presented itself. The camera remained trained on Beatrix, whooping it up on Virginia’s lap — an image that was now being beamed onto the 11,425-square-foot video screen in the outfield.
“I saw that she was on the JumboTron,’’ Virginia recalled. “So I said, ‘Oh, Beatrix, make your excited face.’ I mean, she made that face all the time at that age. So it was standard for us. But most people weren’t used to seeing that on the JumboTron.”
Back in the Mariners’ control room, their lead producer of the in-house television show, Gregg Greene, was taking it all in. When he saw Beatrix’s face take on the wild but euphoric countenance of someone who had just discovered true bliss, Greene had an epiphany.
“It was like, the alarm bells went off,” Greene said. “I saw it, and I immediately said, ‘That is going to go viral.’ That was incredible. Like, we knew it when we saw it, that we had a viral moment.”
Greene quickly got on the phone with the Mariners’ social-media crew and instructed them to send it out in GIF form on their various platforms. And Cotton Candy Girl, as she was soon dubbed, was off and running to every corner of the World Wide Web.
“Mariner fans took to it and shared it,” Greene said. “And then it started, as viral clips do, getting shared more and more across every inch of the Twittersphere and the internet. It is still shared to this day, by fans to highlight their excitement about something. If they’re really pumped about a moment, they will share a GIF of Cotton Candy Girl.”
A big part of the clip’s charm is the pure affection emanating from Jake, sitting next to Beatrix, as he watches his daughter’s antics.
“I’ve always made it known to Beatrix that I’m very proud of her,” he said. “And one of my favorite things about her is that she loves to have fun and enjoy herself. So yeah, whenever she’s partying, I’m definitely the biggest fan of the party.”
Many people still assume Beatrix’s histrionics were a manifestation of a massive sugar rush from the cotton candy. But it was just a little girl doing her shtick.
“People always thought that, but Beatrix has always had a penchant for making funny faces and doing her excited face,” Virginia said. “I mean, it was something she did almost every day.”
The Harts knew something might be brewing when a steady stream of fans greeted Beatrix and called to her as they exited the stadium, Beatrix riding on Jake’s shoulders. But they truly had no idea what was in store. Until they woke up the next morning to a barrage of messages and interview requests.
“It was already huge,” Jake said. “And we were already getting calls from radio stations and news stations.”
They did the interviews, enjoyed the attention, watched the various incarnations of Beatrix’s antics on a multitude of platforms (including the customary photo-shopping of her excited face in the middle of familiar scenes), and then went home to continue their lives.
But now the Harts had a new element inserted: Cotton Candy Girl was never going to go away. Virginia estimates that it intersects their life on a weekly, if not more, basis. That could mean seeing Beatrix pop up randomly on a GIF, or more likely, a friend seeing it and letting them know. Virginia calls it “the GIF that keeps on giving.”
“It’s not every day, but it’s still so common that I don’t think it’s ever going to disappear,” Jake said. “It’s funny, a lot of people always ask, is she rich? They don’t realize that you can’t monetize a thing like that. The footage technically belongs to MLB. So, no. We appreciate it for what it is.”
Beatrix had already done some acting work in commercials, but her fling with internet fame accelerated her offers. She appeared on Steve Harvey’s “Little Big Shots” and was featured as a judge in a sketch on John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight.” Those prompted widespread GIFs of their own.
“She’s obviously got some kind of quality that people like,” Virginia said.
Beatrix, who has curtailed her acting since the COVID-19 pandemic began, appears remarkably grounded (though impossibly cute). Her parents laugh at how her 3-year-old self processed the attention that was thrust her way. Like being recognized on a hotel rooftop while the family attended a bris and being asked for selfies.
“It was a funny thing, like a child’s concept of what it means to be famous,” Virginia said. “When she was really little, sometimes we would have to tell her, ‘You probably shouldn’t start off the conversation saying, “Hey, did you know I’m famous?” ‘ “
“There was a short period of time, whenever she met someone, she’d say, ‘Have you seen me on TV?,’ ” Jake added.
“Now she’ll sometimes ask us, ‘Am I still famous?’ ” Virginia said.
The answer is resounding: Now and forever, even if Beatrix’s most vivid memory of that night is the picture of her asleep in the car seat after the game.
Whenever people want to convey an image of unrestrained, goofy excitement, there’s a good chance they’ll summon Cotton Candy Girl.
“You know, it’s just a relatable face,” Virginia said. “I think most people look at it and think, ‘Yeah, I’ve felt like that.’ ”