Pro Baseball Team Uses Dog to Fetch Bats
Chase the Batdog Rests with Trenton Thunder Mascot
TRENTON, N.J. -- About 90 minutes before game time, minor league baseball’s most popular dog, nearly 8-year-old “Chase,” is enjoying a pre-game nap with his Teddy Bear, in this case a baseball.
During the first inning of Trenton Thunder home games, Chase replaces the team’s bat boy, serving as its bat “dog.” Fetching each Thunder hitter’s bat, he’s a Golden retriever turned Gold Glove retriever.
Aren’t the hitters --who consider their bats precious -- leery of getting dog saliva on them?
“I don’t worry about it at all,” said Thunder infielder Chris Malec. “The bat comes back, there’s no slobber on it at all. And he’s pretty good with the bat.”
After lining up in front of the dugout with the players for the singing of the National Anthem, Chase sits in the corner of the Thunder dugout during the first inning. When Trenton comes to bat, he sits near the top dugout step.
As each Thunder hitter completes his at-bat and tosses his bat aside, the bat boy commands Chase to retrieve it – which he does without fail. Between his moniker, Chase, and his breed, retriever, talk about a dog living up to his name.
“Yes, very much so,” said Thunder pitcher Steven Jackson. “He’s very good at what he does. He’s a great retriever and he can chase down balls very well.”
Even in the minors, known for wacky between-innings stunts and promotions, Chase’s act stands out from the crowd.
“I think where it fits in with the fans is it’s just something fun every night,” said Thunder general manager Brad Taylor. “Chase can do the bats in the first inning every night, and every night people will stop what they’re doing to make sure they see the first inning when he’s doing the bats.”
“We had one fan drove up all the way from Virginia one day and said they came here specifically to see Chase,” said Thunder Vice President of Marketing Eric Lipsman.
Some other minor league teams have bat dogs, which is where the Thunder got the idea. Since learning his skills from a local trainer, for six years Chase has become the team’s unofficial mascot.
The diamond is practically the eight-year-old’s second”home, proven by his ability to grab one last nap about a half-hour before the game’s opening pitch – right in front of the Thunder dugout.
Chase is owned by the team and lives with Lipsman.
“When we go sit down at dinner at the dinner table, Chase just lies down, does not beg at the table,” Lipsman said. “So Chase is an extremely well-trained dog, and he’s probably the sweetest, calmest dog I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Before each Thunder home game, Chase interacts with fans – especially kids – that are on the field during pre-game warm-ups as special guests of the team. That is, when he’s not getting a belly rub from one of the players.
“And plus getting him out in the off-season,” Taylor said. “Over a hundred schools and hospital visits. I mean, he’s a fun dog in the off-season as well for a lot of other reasons.”
Trenton isn’t just any minor league team, though, but rather the double-A club of the New York Yankees. That means that same storied franchise that has produced the likes of Ruth and Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle, now counts a Golden retriever as part of pinstripe tradition.
“Yankees” is prominently displayed on Chase’s collar.
“The 26-time world champions and we’ve got a dog out there,” Malec said. “It’s an experience.”
Owned by the Steinbrenner family – run for many years by George and now by sons Hank and Hal -- the Yankee organization is known for certain traditional rules, like no facial hair for its players.
Asked if allowing a dog to serve as bat boy means the Steinbrenner’s bark is worse than their bite, Jackson said, “I guess so. I guess that’s a good way to put it, definitely.”
The Thunder’s home stadium, Mercer County Waterfront Park, often hosts Yankee players rehabilitating from injuries, who typically play in a few games in Trenton before returning to the big club in the Bronx. Chase has charmed Yankee stars like outfielder Hidecki Matsui, who owns Golden Retrievers back home in Japan.
“Derek Jeter did that five-day rehab here and he just went crazy over Chase,” Lipsman said. “And at the end of his five games here he was wearing a Chase jersey under his jersey. I know he took a bunch of Chase items back to New York with him.”
Chase even appeared on a Thunder baseball card last year with the team’s “other” Chase, left-handed starting pitcher Chase Wright, who started a few games for the Yankees last season, and is now pitching in Trenton again.
“It’s exciting for the fans and stuff,” Wright said of his namesake’s bat-fetching routine. “We see it pretty much every home game and I still get a kick out of it.”
A puppy born in January is now training to eventually replace Chase on the field, namely Chase’s son, Derby, as in Home Run Derby.
“I think basically they’ll start working in tandem next year, and then Chase can start resting up and Derby can take over doing the bats,” Lipsman said.
Asked how Chase holds up come the “dog days” of August, Lipsman said, laughing, “He tries and keep as cool as possible.”
Indeed, there’s even a pool beneath the stadium for Chase to take a dip on those scorching summer days.
When he’s doing his thing in the opening inning, after the third out is made Chase is often torn between grabbing the bat and chasing -- what else?-- the ball. After all, he’s a celebrity, but he’s still a dog.
“You never know,” Jackson said. “You might see him out in the monuments out at Yankee Stadium one day.”
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