Milwaukee Brewers' stray dog becomes publicity hound
February 22, 2014
Wandering pup finds purpose as Brewers’ spring-training mascot
He arrived as a non-roster walk-on, coming out of left field with little hope of being noticed, let alone making the team.
They’d seen his kind before. He walked slowly, wearing a bedraggled coat that told of hard times.
Yet there was something about this scrappy prospect that turned heads. It wasn’t just his friendly demeanor, but the mellow, laid-back attitude that fit perfectly with the club.
Contract negotiations were simple: All he needed was a name. And some water. A bath, too.
And with that, Hank the furry, dishwater-colored dog was all but signed as the Milwaukee Brewers’ spring-training mascot. Now Hank has become one of the most popular figures at camp — and a media darling, having been extensively covered by several TV outlets in Wisconsin, as well as Yahoo and MLB.com.
Since wandering onto the grounds of the Maryvale Baseball Park on Monday, the fluffy pooch has ingratiated himself with players, coaches and staff. He has privileges in the clubhouse, in the offices and even on the practice fields (as long as baseballs aren’t flying, and even then he’s been known to dash around the infield in the midst of drills).
Pitcher Yovani Gallardo is among players who have enjoyed the rookie and his antics. On Thursday, Gallardo ran Hank from diamond to diamond, letting the four-legged phenom meet his teammates.
“For having short legs, he kept up really well,” Gallardo said. “The guys love him. A lot have already bonded with him.”
Catcher Jonathan Lucroy took a few minutes earlier this week to pose with Hank for publicity shots. Dog — catcher. It was one of the several photos the team posted with Hank’s dedicated Twitter hashtag, #ballparkpup.
Yes, that is how quickly Hank has caught on.
“He’s so relaxed,” Lucroy said of the rising star. “His personality goes so well with the rest of the team. He’s very loose, very friendly. It’s great having him around.”
Hank proved again on Friday that he was a gamer. Let off the leash for some free time, the pooch dashed onto the field in the midst of double-play drills. He refused to turn tail as players turned two, stealing hearts as easily as second base.
As an air horn sounded to end drills, minor-league coach Fred Dabney was happy for the canine training aid.
“Way to always expect the unexpected,” Dabney told the players. “A dog runs onto the field and you still make the play.”
Butch Spicer wasn’t so sure the pup had a future at the ballpark. When a guard notified the head of security Monday of the interloper, Spicer thought of other strays he’d encountered in his seven years at Maryvale Baseball Park.
Sure, a handful proved good enough to earn homes with local staff members. Most didn’t stay around long enough for a cup of coffee in the bigs, just barking a few times before running off.
But this one, Spicer thought, had potential. He was wandering along a sidewalk along a practice field at the far side of the complex. The dog remained calm as the guard fetched it for Spicer, who offered the stray his initial tryout.
“The first thing I noticed was his demeanor,” Spicer recalled. “He was very friendly, and so well-behaved I thought he might have run away.”
Knowing the kid might have a future with the Brewers, Spicer had his crew posted “Found” posters in the adjacent neighborhoods, just in case the dog had been previously signed by a family.
No one had called claiming ownership, so the pup likely was a free agent. But the kid needed a name.
Spicer thought a few seconds and settled on Hank — as in Hank Aaron, perhaps the greatest Milwaukee (and Atlanta) Brave ever.
Brianna Tavilla and Ross Herbert in the ticket office volunteered to give the rook his first bath, using a sink in a storage room.
Thanks to shampoo reserved for players, most, but not all, of the dirt and grime flowed down the drain, revealing a cream-colored coat.
Hank then hit the Brewer Team Store to cash in his signing bonus, scoring a jersey, T-shirt, collar, leash and dish.
Mike Leidl, who works in concessions, took Hank to a nearby vet for the mandatory physical. The vet estimated the dog’s age at about 2 years, a canine in his prime. Though he tested positively for ticks, Hank was dipped, vaccinated and given a clean bill of health.
There were some cuts as well as a sore tail, so the vet suggested a brief stay on the disabled list before his first grooming.
“The doctors wanted him to be in better shape before someone took shears to him,” Leidl said. “As soon as he’s ready, though, he’s getting groomed.”
Still to come: neutering, aka performance-unenhancement surgery.
Leidl and roommate Eric Babcook took Hank home the first two nights, adding “house-trained” to his impressive list of stats.
The 15-pounder with quick acceleration and wide range soon adapted a major league diet. Brewers third-base coach Ed Sedar volunteered to fetch Hank’s breakfast, gathering a bowl of eggs and ham from the training table. And Leidl found the pooch loves Cheez Whiz straight from the can.
But before you can say “Prince Fielder,” Tyler Barnes said, Hank was being weaned from the ballplayer banquet.
“We’re mixing in dog food,” said the Brewers’ vice president of communications. “We want to get him on a normal diet.”
Hank has quickly become a fan favorite, posing for photos as those attending practice turn their attention from the diamond to the dog. On Twitter, many fans are asking for #ballparkpup to come to Milwaukee.
For a team once dogged by controversy — star Ryan Braun’s use of performance-enhancing drugs — the ballpark pup is welcome relief and may even be a closer if players and staff members have their way.
Gallardo said he would love to see Hank in Milwaukee, as long as the pup frequented the clubhouse.
Based on the attention he earned in just his first week of spring training, Hank may give the team’s racing sausages a run for their money. And Barnes said efforts will be made to bring the mixed breed to Miller Park, based on his solid spring.
“Whether he finds a home locally or in Milwaukee, I can’t really say,” Barnes said. “But odds are very good that when we go back home, Hank will be with us.
“One thing I can guarantee. His days as a stray are over.”
It’s all a four-legged walk-on could hope for.