The Trenton Thunder — Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees — invited fans to bring their dogs to the ballpark on Friday night for a very special occasion.
In February, the team's long time bat dog, Chase, was diagnosed with cancer, and up until this night had yet to appear at the ballpark this season. However, the golden retriever was able to make one final appearance to celebrate his 13th birthday and officially pass the torch to his son, five-year-old Derby, who has been filling in during his absence this season.
The night turned out to be an overwhelming success and a great celebration for Chase.
Many fans of the golden retriever turned out, and that was a delight for Eric Lipsman, Trenton Thunder senior vice president of corporate sales, with whom Chase lives.
“I’m actually happy and surprised, and when I saw so many people in line tonight I said, ‘You came out in the heat?’” Lipsman said. “And they said, ‘Yeah, we’re big fans of Chase!’ And that just meant the world to me.”
The original plan called for Chase to fetch one last bat in his final appearance, but he was unable to do so due to his health. That didn't put a damper on the festivities though. Especially when Chase's grandson, Chief, who made the trip all the way from his new home in Alexandria, Va., trotted on the field wearing a “Happy birthday Grandpa” bandana.
In another cool honor, the first 2,000 fans through the turnstiles older than 14 were given a Chase bobblehead.
“He’s just a one-of-a-kind dog. That’s all I can say. And that’s part of the problem is poor Derby is always going to go through life being compared to his father,” Lipsman said.
Chase was the first dog to fetch bats exclusively for a Minor League Baseball team. The team got the idea after bringing a traveling bat dog, Jake The Diamond Dog, to the ballpark a few times a year, Lipsman said.
“We thought our fans would love having a dog here 71 times a year,” he said.
Judging by the reaction on Friday, Lipsman was right about that. And though it would appear Derby has some awfully big paws to fill, it sounds to me like he's already well on his way to winning the heart of Trenton.