One Cookin' Bird
By Eileen Loh-Harrist
JUNE 21, 1999: Next time you're griping about the heat, try this: Don a heavy costume, akin to a thick pile rug. Make sure you have no exposed skin and little ventilation. Now go outside during one of Memphis' 100-degree days, with the sun beating down like an angry god. Begin bouncing around. Run back and forth. Dance! Flap your arms. Attitude! Attitude! Attitude! Kick your legs. Higher! Higher! Don't slow down!
Sounds like an undertaking along the lines of the Bataan Death March -- but for Chris Pegg, it's all in a day's work. Pegg, 29, is the alter ego of Rockey the Rockin' Redbird, the Memphis minor-league baseball team's energetic and eternally goofy mascot. While the players sweat and bitch and wither in the heat, Rockey stays unruffled -- all panache, all showbiz.
It's Pegg who has the hottest job around, making sure Rockey keeps his cool. It's not always easy. Nor does it necessarily smell good.
"There's something on the market called 'Febreze,'" Pegg says, referring to a spray that improves the odor of fabric. "It's a miracle savior for mascots. It's the miracle cure for the smelly, funky mascot."
Transforming from a mild-mannered Redbirds mascot coordinator to the frenzied Rockey takes Pegg little longer than zooming in and out of a phone booth. "First you put the leggings on. Then you have a belt that you see those dock people wearing for back support the tail is attached to this belt, and that is Velcroed around my waist," says Pegg, who describes the inside of the costume as "thick foam that does not breathe.
"Then you put the outer body on, the part you see that's red. Then the shoes go on, the head goes on, then the gloves go on. The only ventilation, I guess you would say, is the holes out of the eyes and the mouth. It's stuffy. Oh, yeah."
What does he wear under the costume? Let's just say, um, not much. Pegg has never taken an exact temperature, but estimates it has gotten as hot as 130 degrees inside the suit.
"You have to figure if it's 100 outside, it's 110 degrees on the Astroturf. And then if you put an enclosed mask on your head, there's no air circulation in that whatsoever it's almost like an oven."
Not to mention the weight of the costume. "It's 12 to 15 pounds before the game," Pegg says, "and probably 30 to 40 after. What happens is, the shoes, they're heavy to begin with, and -- this sounds terrible -- they fill up with sweat. You just drain into your shoes the suit becomes damp, then it becomes saturated. It becomes pretty heavy," says Pegg, who has lost up to 12 pounds during a three-hour game.
But Pegg is a seasoned sports mascot, since his days as a University of Memphis student performing as the school's Pouncer and Bouncer tigers. He's hammed it up as the Memphis RiverKings' River Thing, the Memphis Chicks' Chief Chickasaw, the Memphis Pharaohs' Mummy, and other characters, including a stint for the Dallas Cowboys as Rowdy.
As such, Pegg has met his share of athletic trainers who pass along their methods for staying cool. What keeps Rockey from becoming a cooked bird is plenty of water. Pegg gulps copious amounts of water, plus electrolyte-replenishing sports drinks, during breaks.
"Water is the key. You just drink water, and water, and water. Last week we kept count at one game, one of the hottest games -- I had 20 [16-ounce] bottles of water in a 3-hour period," he says. "And that was not using the bathroom once."
When the heat gets too severe Pegg heads inside and chills out, sometimes ducking into walk-in freezers or applying ammonia-soaked rags to his pressure points. "It cools your body core down a lot faster."
Pegg says he's learned not to overdo it, especially after one episode when Rockey nearly passed out on the field. Keeping Rockey rockin' often means appearing in bursts throughout the game, as opposed to staying visible the entire time as some sports clubs demand.
"That can wear you out and drain you really quick," says Pegg, who is adamant that Rockey appear jazzed and energetic whenever he's seen. "Rockey has a personality with certain characteristics the walk, style, movements," he says. "Rockey is Rockey. Period."
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