GREENSBORO - The city's most famous dog is in the ninth inning of a life that brought joy to thousands who watched her work, took her picture, petted her soft coat.
Miss Babe Ruth has cancer.
The 12-year-old black Labrador retriever, an ambassador for the Greensboro Grasshoppers her whole life, was diagnosed in Raleigh at N.C. State's School of Veterinary Medicine.
There is no cure. Only the symptoms can be treated. The disease that has left Babe's hind legs partially paralyzed cannot be driven from her body by science or medicine.
"It's awful," Babe's owner Donald Moore said. "It's broken my heart, and it's going to break a lot of hearts. None of us live forever. None of us. But we'll do the best we can do for her, figure out how to keep her happy and hopefully enjoy her a little while longer before …"
Moore paused and sobbed once, sucking in a deep breath.
"… Before her days are done."
Moore, the president and general manager of the Hoppers, took Babe to Raleigh to see a specialist to treat an ailment believed to be spondylosis deformans, in which bone spurs form on the spine. Babe could not walk on her own and needed a support harness to get around.
Dr. Natasha Olby, a neurosurgeon educated at Cambridge in England and a specialist in spinal cord injury, examined Babe. And the news was not good.
"Poor Miss Babe," Olby said. "We knew she'd developed some weakness (in her hind legs) that got worse and worse. Unfortunately, she's got cancer affecting the vertebrae, the bones of her spine. We did an MRI, and sadly, we found it in multiple different bones. It's pretty grim."
Olby prescribed some steroids, medication aimed at reducing inflammation of the tissue compressing Babe's spinal cord and causing her weakness. The next step at State would be to see an oncology specialist to discuss options to treat the symptoms.
"She's lived a great life, a long life, and we don't want it to end," Moore said. "We could be aggressive and try all kinds of things, but in some ways I think that's more self-serving than good for the dog. You've got to put their best interests in front of your best interests."
Right now, Babe is not suffering. Moore said she acts as if nothing is wrong, even though she needs help to walk. Olby said the same.
"She doesn't seem to be in any pain," Olby said. "She's certainly weak, but she's in very good spirits. She's very keen to get up and motor around. And with a little bit of support, she does pretty well. So we're hoping she'll respond, at least in part, to the steroids and that will make her a bit stronger for at least a short period of time."
Although found in Babe's bones, it's likely a soft-tissue cancer, Olby said.
"It's found in all (breeds) of dogs," Olby said. "We do see spinal cancer. It's not super-common, but it's not unusual, either. The older the dogs are, the more likely they are to suffer from something like this.
"There's no cure. There are a number of different types of cancer it could be. Some of them don't respond to treatment at all, and others respond for a limited period of time to radiation. … Every dog is so different."
And this dog is special.
For more than 9 years, starting when she was a 9-month old puppy, Babe worked at Hoppers games, delivering buckets of baseballs to the plate umpire and fetching the home team's bats for two innings per game.
Before her retirement in 2015, Babe worked 649 consecutive home games. The bucket she carried was donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and it was on display in Cooperstown this past baseball season.
Babe's younger brother, Master Yogi Berra, had cancer, too. He died five months ago at age 9.
The two dogs went everywhere with Moore, one on a blue leash, the other on a red one. They were fixtures at the downtown ballpark, with free run of the team offices as well as their on-the-field jobs.
"She's home," Moore said. "She'll go to work with me on Monday morning like always, and hopefully go to work with me for a lot more days. She and I have been side-by-side, best friends and companions for 12 years. That's the hardest part. Babe's one of my best buddies. … We could use some prayers for Babe."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.