They say that every dog has its day. For the Lowell Spinners icon known as "Dogman," that day came Sept. 7.
The Spinners honored Dogman on the field prior to this Labor Day matinee, since it would be the Lowell native's last game with the team after 20 seasons of service. The bulk of this time was spent as clubhouse manager, but the "Dogman" name -- and the legend that accompanies it -- hearkens back to the early days of the franchise.
The Spinners -- Class A Short Season affiliate of the Boston Red Sox -- played their first season in Lowell in 1996. Dogman, whose real name is Del Christman, applied for a job prior to the season and got an interview. What happened next is a story that has been told many times; I received my version during Aug. 31's Spinners game as Dogman held court from behind a table on the LeLacheur Park concourse. His words came quickly, spoken with unrelenting enthusiasm and coated in a thick "Bahhston" accent.
"So I go for the interview and [team owner] Clyde Smoll says, 'Would you like to do hot dogs?' I say, 'Sure, I don't mind," said Dogman. "And the first day I was doing the hot dogs, I just grabbed 'em. I come from underneath the stands, and I start barkin.'"
This, of course, comes out as "bahh-kin."
"'Dogman in the house! Hoo hoo hoo!,'" continued Dogman, acting out his frankfurter sales pitch with gusto. "'We got 'em! We got 'em!' And I had the fans going. So what happened was…"
At this point, Dogman is briefly interrupted by a middle-aged male fan passing by on the concourse.
"Hey, Dogman! Woof woof!"
"See, young and old, they all know who I am!" replied Dogman with pride before resuming his origin story. "So what happened was, Brian Lindsay, the head of concessions here, he says, 'Hey! The hot dog with ketchup, it's a bloodhound.' So then I get the idea, and I started naming the hot dogs. You get one with mustard, a golden retriever. One with relish, an Irish setter. A plain dog is a cocker spaniel and one with everything is a mongrel -- my ex-wife! And then I used to hold up two hot dogs when the umpires made a bad call. 'Seeing-eye dog, two for one!' See, I had the fans going like that."
Though he couldn't recall the exact date, Dogman said that the pinnacle of his vending career occurred when he sold 488 hot dogs over the course of a single ballgame. Dogman had mastered the craft; there was nothing left to prove. But a new challenge awaited: during the 2000 season, Dogman made the transition to clubhouse manager. At the time, his services were urgently needed.
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"The kid that was doing it, he quit. There was a note that said, 'Dogman, I can't take it no more.' So I took it over and have been doing it full-time since 2001. I'm here from six in the morning and I don't get to bed sometimes, like if it's late, extra innings n'at, until two or 2:30 in the morning. But then I'm back again."
He continued, "Like tonight, what I do, when [the players] are getting ready to go for the game, I clean my clubhouse from top to bottom. I take out all the trash, go to the visitors' side and get their [batting practice] tops, put 'em in. … I clean the umpires room, the manager's room, all the players' towels, the coaches' towels, all the personals -- everything. I'm on my last load of laundry right now, --that's my fifth load of laundry I've been doing since the game started."
Dogman, who spends Spring Training at the Red Sox's Minor League complex in Fort Myers, Florida, before returning to LeLacheur Park in the summer, has always found great joy in his work. He's gotten to know legions of future Red Sox stars, been honored with his own bobblehead and, most meaningfully, received a personalized 2013 World Series championship ring. Through it all, Dogman says that he always tried to keep the clubhouse atmosphere light. He occasionally "scares the [stuff]" out of players by jumping out of the towel bin, and is always ready with a joke.
"I just tell 'em, I tell 'em, 'Hey! The Red Sox are gonna change their name this year, to the Nylons. They'll get more runs!'"
But, alas, it's Dogman's run that has now come to an end.
"Y'know, the hours are getting to me," he said. "I'm 60 years old, and I've had enough. I know what time is time. My body's trying to tell me something. When my body starts talking to me, then, hey, that's it."
But Dogman doesn't plan on disappearing from the public eye. He said that that he has a job lined up at a local Italian restaurant, and that he'll continue to visit LeLacheur Park in 2016 and beyond.
"I'll come to the games and see the fans, because the fans always want to see me," he said. "It's been a good ride, and I have no regrets. It's nice, you know, just being myself, just being the Dogman. People say 'Wow, we want to have you here. You're a colorful character. People all know you in this city.'
"I'm like a legend."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.