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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, June 20, 2012

By Bethany Bradsher

It's a Pirates' life for Pee Dee

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Pee Dee the Pirate, ECU's swashbuckling mascot
(Bonesville archive photo by Brian Bailey.
© All rights reserved.)

Anyone who spends untold hours a week in a mascot’s costume is guaranteed to have a raft of unusual stories to tell. So when I wrote a short article about Aaron Brooks for a recent issue of East Magazine, there wasn’t nearly enough room to do justice to his tales of life as Pee Dee.

So, if you have ever wondered if cavorting around your favorite Pirates venue dressed as your favorite Pirate is glamorous, exhausting, annoying or just an unpredictable mash-up of the three, read on for the insights of a man who spent a large part of three years inside the swashbuckler’s suit:

* Beware of children who have fear in their eyes or a strong grip.

All children love mascots, unless of course they are completely terrified of them. One part of being Pee Dee that was wearying for Brooks was the parents who forced their children to go see him and take a picture with him even when they were clearly frightened. He always tried to be gentle and not freak the child out any more, but he has a little advice for overzealous moms and dads in this situation.

Parents, recognize that your child is scared to death of me,’” he said. “I’d be the same way if someone said to me, ‘Aaron, take a picture with a spider.’ ”

At other times, a child’s reaction to Brooks was such a polar opposite to fear that he wondered if that child was going to become Pee Dee’s permanent sidekick. These are the Pee Dee fans who gripped his large white hand with such enthusiasm that they wouldn’t — or couldn’t — seem to detach.

“They grab my hand and they won’t let go,” he said. “Those are tough. I’ve tried to shake them off before, and I feel like I’ve got a crab on my hand.”

* Do you really want a picture of your newborn with Pee Dee? Perhaps Photoshopping the baby in would be safer.

One phenomenon that has always puzzled Brooks is some parents’ habit of handing a very small infant to him for a photo. He’s not sure they know this, because he is as careful as he can be in those situations, but he really can’t see very well in there.

“Parents give me their children who are literally fresh out,” he said. “In that suit, my vision is so limited. Tunnel vision, it becomes a real thing. The logic, I guess, is this will be a good picture to have later. But I can’t really see the child sometimes.”

* It really is sweltering inside that thing.

If you’ve ever seen Pee Dee jog past you on the way back to the fieldhouse after a football game, don’t take it personally if he doesn’t have time to stop for one more photo. It’s just that after three-plus hours in the Eastern North Carolina humidity, he is literally baking inside his costume, and he’s exhausted from so much of his trademark dancing.

Add about 20 degrees to the temperature in the hottest part of Dowdy-Ficklen, and that’s what Pee Dee is feeling, Brooks said. He tries to stay hydrated as he can, but he has had days when his muscles have cramped up after the game because he just sweats so much. Ironically, while sweating inside the suit is practically a job requirement, it can’t get wet from the outside, which is why you’ll never see Pee Dee at a rainy game.

* For a true Pirates fan like Brooks, nothing is more gratifying than transforming into Pee Dee.

Brooks finished his second undergraduate degree in May — he stayed in school a little longer so that he could keep wearing the suit — and he was still weighing his next steps. But he is passionate about his role as Pee Dee and he hopes that future students who don the costume will see that they have the chance to make people happy and pump up the Pirate Nation.

“I want everybody who’s going to do it after me to just embody the persona and have a good time,” he said. “I love to make people smile, in or out of costume. I’ve have the opportunity to affect so many people.”

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

PAGE UPDATED 06/20/12 03:29 AM.

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