Created on Wednesday, 24 April 2013 Written by SARAH PFLEDDERER,The Columbus Dispatch
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — While much of the crowd watched the Columbus Clippers' Cedric Hunter make a dash to first base in the bottom of the third inning, one Huntington Park visitor kept his gaze fixed on home plate.
"Jake the Diamond Dog" returns a bat from the field April 14 while visiting Huntington Park ballpark in Columbus for the Minor League baseball game between the Indianapolis Indians and the Columbus Clippers. (AP Photo/The Columbus Dispatch, Brooke LaValley)
On command, he shuffled out to home, picked up Hunter's bat and turned back toward the dugout.
In such ways, the golden retriever — aka Jake the Diamond Dog — dutifully took care of business on a Sunday during the first of his four visits to Columbus this season.
The home team lost 12-7 to the Indianapolis Indians, but Jake became the star of the afternoon — delivering the game ball to the pitcher, retrieving bats, taking bottled water to the umpires between innings and otherwise entertaining the 6,248 fans on hand.
"Nothing away from the other batboys, but we love Jake," Hilliard resident Melinda Brant, 35, said as she stood in line for his "autograph" with her young son. "When Jake goes out and gets the bats, that's our favorite."
The dog is hardly a minor league rookie: "Jake" has visited ballparks nationwide with his owner — Jeff Marchal, 55, of Lima, Ohio — for 2 ½ decades and Clippers games for the past seven years.
The appearance grew out of a trick that Marchal taught his first golden retriever, Jericho: Twenty-five years ago, as a resident of Pompano Beach, Fla., Marchal would put money in a basket for the dog, who would trot to a nearby store to fetch a six-pack of beer.
After gaining attention for that stunt and others, the duo made Fort Myers, Fla., its home — where Jericho was named a full-time mascot for the Fort Myers Miracle, a Minnesota Twins affiliate.
The first official "Jake the Diamond Dog" — the second Marchal-trained golden retriever (real name: Jake) — was prepped to take over for Jericho before Jericho died in 1994.
A year later, the dog and owner moved to Lima, Marchal's hometown, to extend their entertainment to other teams. Jake represents one of several acts that the Clippers will showcase during the season.
Marchal has since had two other golden retrievers: Homer, who died in 2009; and his latest pup, Deuce (with "Jake the Diamond Dog" as their pseudonyms).
"I'm with them 24/7," he said. "Their vocabulary is very wide, so, in order for them to understand you, you have to be with them. You have to teach them right and wrong."
Marchal is committed to quality: He once ripped up a check after a game, he said, because he thought Jake hadn't performed well.
"I didn't feel my dog worked up to par...?. The majority of the time, he does great."
The biggest challenge seemed to involve the bottled water.
Jake, making his rounds from the umpire at home plate to those in the outfield, sometimes sat down and let the men in blue approach him to get a bottle out of the basket. Another time, he took the basket away before an umpire had finished his drink.
"Sometimes it's funnier when he doesn't do something he's supposed to," said Mark Galuska, director of marketing for the Clippers. "That's when the fans seem to get a bigger kick out of it."
Jake did a little better in the first inning when he delivered flowers to his "ballpark sweetheart" of the game: Patti Wogan, 38, of Columbus.
When not performing his duties, catching Frisbees or propping his front paws on the baseline walls to meet the crowd, Jake was perched in his blow-up doghouse next to the Clippers dugout.
He will attend about 30 games in all this year, including a few at Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians — his first and only major league gigs.
The goal of breaking into the majors, Marchal said, sealed Jake's career.
"It'd be nice if baseball season was year-round," he said. "I'll do this until no one books me ever again."
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com