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Ballpark dogs: A beloved Minor League tradition

From Chase to Dash, Trenton set in motion an ever-popular trend
Brooks (Frisco), Finn (Las Vegas) and Slider (Myrtle Beach) are just three canines carrying on the Minor League bat dog tradition.
August 26, 2020

The Nationwide Dog Dugout is home to MiLB's official bat dogs and the latest four-legged news. Through Aug. 31, 2020 be sure to enter your furry friend into the Nationwide Dog Dugout Sweepstakes for a chance to be featured in the logo and win more great prizes!

The Nationwide Dog Dugout is home to MiLB's official bat dogs and the latest four-legged news. Through Aug. 31, 2020 be sure to enter your furry friend into the Nationwide Dog Dugout Sweepstakes for a chance to be featured in the logo and win more great prizes!

When the Trenton Thunder announced that Derby, the team's beloved team bat dog, had passed away a couple years ago, the news resulted in a flood of condolences from across the country, an outpouring of grief that spoke to the profound impact the ebullient golden retriever had on the Yankees' Double-A affiliate's game day experience.

The passionate public response to Derby's passing was motivated, at least in part, by the strong bat dog tradition the Thunder have established -- one that teams across the Minor Leagues have been happy to emulate. His importance speaks to the outsized roles of dogs at Minor League baseball parks across the country. Some, like Derby, are trained to retrieve bats and deliver water to the umpires. Others enliven the ballpark with their simple, joyful presence.

Derby carried on in the footsteps -- or "paw steps," using the Thunder's preferred terminology -- of his father, Chase, who began his bat dog duties back in 2002.

"Chase was more than just a dog," said Thunder senior vice president of corporate sales Eric Lipsman, who served as Chase (and Derby's) caretaker. "He had those piercing eyes and he'd look at you right into your soul."

Derby's son and Chase's grandson, Rookie is now the head bat dog in Trenton. The 6-year-old earned multiple callups to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, though the home dugout location tripped him up a little.

Rookie even got called up to the Majors in July 2019. And although dogs aren't allowed to retrieve bats in The Show just yet, he still made an impression on players and fans.

Now, Rookie spends his time teaching the family business to his cousin, Dash. The latest puppy was born in February and is slowly learning how to pick up bats, as well as swim.

The canine family's onfield lineage expanded out of Trenton. Derby's older brother, Ollie, served as the New Hampshire Fisher Cats' "Big Paw-Pi" before retiring at the end of the 2016 campaign.

In 2006, four years after the Thunder acquired Chase, the Greensboro Grasshoppers debuted their own bat dog. Over the ensuing 11 seasons, they have been perhaps the only team to rival the Thunder for commitment to the bat dog tradition.

It began with Miss Babe Ruth, a black Labrador who was 9 months old when she took the field for the first time in July 2006. She quickly became a fan favorite and worked 649 consecutive games before retiring in 2015 (at which point, her ball bucket was donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame). In November 2018, the Grasshoppers reported that she received two votes in the city's mayoral election.

For a large part of her run as a bat dog, Miss Babe Ruth worked alongside her brother, Master Yogi Berra. Master Yogi Berra's signature between-inning promotion was to chase a tennis ball shot out of a modified T-shirt gun. On one memorable evening in 2009, the dog was ejected from the game after relieving himself on the field in the midst of this endeavor.

These days, the Grasshoppers currently employ the services of Miss Lou Lou Gehrig, a black lab who took over the bat dog role upon Miss Babe Ruth's retirement.

Master Yogi Berra isn't the only canine to relieve himself on the field. Deuce, an English yellow Labrador, has worked as the Myrtle Beach Pelicans' bat dog for the better part of a decade. In 2009, he "lived up to his name."

Following Deuce's retirement in 2018, Slider took over for the Pelicans in 2019. The yellow lab fetches bats, carries baskets and loves to run the basepaths on offdays.

Joining Master Yogi Berra and Deuce, a third instance occurred in 2010 at a Northwest Arkansas Naturals game. The culprit was a shelter dog who was on the field as part of the team's "Adoptable Pet of the Game Promotion."

Such promotions are common in Minor League baseball. In at least one instance, the team running the promotion adopted a dog itself. That was the case with the Reno Aces, who took ownership of Princess the pit bull. Initially, the team agreed to foster Princess until she found her "forever home." But after no takers were found, the Aces took her on as a member of the front office family. Princess mingles with fans on the concourse at Greater Nevada Field and has become so popular that the Aces began selling Princess plush dolls at the team store.

There are other notable Minor League ballpark dogs and many more will make their presence felt. One especially valiant pup can be found in Frisco, Texas: the RoughRiders have Brooks, who was originally trained as a guide dog, switch careers to a bat dog role. As this tweet from 2017 indicates, training for that bat dog life isn't easy.

From Lexington to Las Vegas and beyond, a pack of even more scrappy puppies have joined the Minor League ranks in recent years. For more info on some of the newest cool canines, check out this roundup!