Have you heard about bat dogs? They’re the canine version of a baseball bat boy, aka the person who fetches the bats after successful hits—and if you live near one of the many cities across the country with a Minor League Baseball (MiLB) team, there may be a bat dog “working” at a ballpark near you.
In 1990, a MiLB promoter spotted a dog named Jericho delivering money and purchases to customers at a drive-through farm store in rural Ohio. Inspiration struck, and the promoter asked the dog’s parents if Jericho would be interested in delivering water bottles to umpires at baseball games. Before long, Jake the Diamond Dog was traveling to ballparks around the country to serve as honorary bat dog, delighting players, umpires and fans alike. The tradition continued until 2018, with three additional dogs taking on Jake’s title over the years. Jake’s example proved that dogs and baseball go together like peanuts and Cracker Jack.
Today, several MiLB teams have added baseball dogs to their own rosters. Some come from a family lineage of bat dogs that dates back generations. Others, like Jake, show an aptitude and get trained specifically for the job, sometimes by the team staff itself. One of this year’s bat dogs even had a previous career as a guide dog-in-training!
But no matter how they got on the field, one thing is clear: These pups do more than fetch bats. They also serve as unofficial mascots for the teams during home games, greeting spectators and sometimes entertaining fans alongside the action on the field. With baseball season in full swing, we’re taking an inside-the-dugout look at the league’s cutest teammates: baseball dogs.
1 Finn the Bat Dog
Finn, who lives with professional dog trainer Fred Hassen, started picking up bats for the Aviators back in 2016. The happy dog excelled in spite of all of the distractions in the stadium: the loud crowds, the umpires, the players coming and going, and balls. Lots of balls.
“I was nervous at first,” Hassen says. “But after two or three games, I realized we could do this in our sleep.”
Finn quickly stepped up from retrieving bats to performing agility tricks like jumping over chairs and fences, taking a seat on a portable fire hydrant on command, and even waiting at home plate for the batter to cross after hitting a home run. “Before long the players started doing all kinds of stuff with Finn when they’d cross home plate,” says Hassen, including high-fives, a good scratch behind the ears and more.
The animated pup became such a beloved member of the team that when the Aviators moved to a new stadium in 2019, Finn got his own parking spot as well as a clubhouse with a TV and shower to cool down between innings. Finn got his own assistant, his sister Lambo (4), a chocolate Lab, last year. And this season, they’ve added a third, Ruin (14 months), a Belgian Malinois.
“I think fans and players appreciate the skill level of what he’s doing,” Hassen says. “He does it so happily, and it’s entertaining. People are always saying, ‘Everyone should have an attitude like that dog.’”
When it comes to fetching bats, the Trenton Thunder’s Rookie is a born natural—perhaps because he comes from a proud line of bat dogs. That’s right: Rookie is a third-generation baseball dog. He’s the grandson of the Thunder’s very first bat dog, a Golden Retriever named Chase (full name: Chase That Golden Thunder), who debuted with the team in 2002. Chase has since passed, but his legacy lives on in his grandson Rookie, says Eric Lipsman, senior vice president of corporate sales and sponsorships for the team.
Rookie started entertaining spectators in the summer of 2014, watching the games and meeting fans while his dad Derby was still the main bat dog. The next summer, he was tasked with retrieving his first bat—but Rookie, who was just 2 years old at the time, struck out. “He just ran out into the outfield,” Lipsman recalls, laughing. “He just wasn’t ready.”
But Rookie wasn’t deterred. He kept training and practicing, and the following summer his bat dog skills were “absolute perfection,” Lipsman says. “He’s been perfection ever since.” Well, except for this adorable snafu that made headlines across the country:
The friendly, well-mannered pup has many responsibilities during games. He fetches bats in the first couple of innings. Around the sixth, Rookie brings a basket of water to the umpires. He also hosts meet-and-greets with fans.
And now, Rookie has added one more task to the list: furthering his family baseball legacy. His cousin on his mother’s side, Dash (age 3), has been training alongside Rookie for the past couple years—learning the ropes from one of the best.
As bat dog duties go, the Frisco Roughriders’ Golden Retriever-Lab mix Brooks might just have the cutest one. His signature move is leading a group of children in a victory lap around the bases after every Saturday game. After a quick countdown from the public address announcer, Brooks takes his lap while fans cheer him on in his trek around the bases.
Brooks is a 9-year-old guide dog dropout. (He had to change careers because he spills water all over the floor when he drinks.) But he’s found his calling as a baseball dog, beloved by fans of all ages, many of whom come to games to meet and take photos with the dog. In fact, says the Roughrider’s chief operating officer, Scott Burchett, the team’s most-liked social media posts are always related to Brooks.
This extremely “chill” pup, as Burchett describes him, has a different title from many other baseball dogs. Brooks is officially known as the team’s “Chief Morale Officer.” Burchett says the greatest of all his skills is keeping the mood up for everyone in the stadium, especially the staffers.
“If you need a break from the stress of the day, you just grab Brooks and go for a walk through the ballpark,” Burchett explains. “It gives you perspective and puts a smile on your face.”
Ripken, who is named after Baltimore Orioles Baseball Hall of Fame player Cal Ripken, Jr., didn’t make his local high school team when his parents pitched his bat dog services. But his career quickly blew up right after amateur team the Holly Springs Salamanders took a chance on the goofy Labrador Retriever in June 2019. Six months later, in February 2020, Ripken got officially signed on as bat dog for the Minor League’s Durham Bulls—which wasn’t exactly great timing.
“We had signing day on the field and made it to the news,” says his mom, Melissa O’Donnell, who runs outposts of Sit Means Sit Dog Training in nearby Apex and Charlotte with her husband Michael. “Then, COVID hit in March and the world shut down, so he missed the 2020 season.”
Though Ripken did serve as the dog ambassador of the team throughout the course of the pandemic, it wasn’t until August 2021 that his paws hit the field. The black Lab was such a hit that his career skyrocketed from there. He was quickly offered a role as the official kicking tee retriever (get it?) for the North Carolina State football team, which is where someone from the National Hockey League spotted the pup. So, in February 2023, when the league hosted its outdoor Stadium Series game at NC State’s Carter-Finley Stadium, pitting the Carolina Hurricanes against the Washington Capitals, Ripken was invited to lead the ceremonial puck drop. It aired on ABC nationwide and in 50 countries on ESPN Plus.
Even though the very good boy is now a three sport athlete—who even boasts his own baseball card—his mom says fame hasn’t got to his head. Ripken still loves begging for food from his human siblings at the dinner table, belly rubs and pets (which he forcefully demands by using his nose to lift his family’s hands to his head) and chasing squirrels with his one and a half year old lab-sibling Rivers.
“He’s just our goofy lab at home,” adds O’Donnell. “The whole thing still blows my mind.”
Baseball Dogs Near You
Brooks, Rookie, Finn and Ripken are just a few of the bat dogs who’ll be taking the field this year. If you’d like to see or even meet a baseball dog in person, why not contact your nearest Minor League Baseball team and ask if they have any dogs on the roster? With 120 teams across the United States and Canada, there’s likely to be a club near you.
The diamond and dugout aren’t the only places you can find dogs at the ballpark, either. Many teams, in both the Minor and Major Leagues, host special “bark at the park” nights when fans can bring their well-behaved pups to watch the game. Search your local team’s calendar for upcoming dog-friendly events to share the baseball experience with your pet. Think of it as teaching your dog a whole new meaning to the phrase, “play ball!”
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