Beware Of The Yard Dog

BASEBALL JOURNAL

April 21, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

Something can get into a man at the ballpark. Beer, yes, but something else.

He might paint his face orange and whoop. He might wave a foam-rubber tomahawk and go OOHHHooohhOOHHHoohhhOOH. He's apt to risk injury by diving for a foul ball in the stands or spend $3.50 for a 75-cent beer.

He might even bark.

As in this quote heard recently on the first base line of Camden Yards: "HEY, RICK . . . ARF, ARF, ARF, ARF."

Rick Reed, the first base umpire, doesn't turn around, continues watching the batter's box as Kansas City Royals leadoff man Vince Coleman steps in. Reed lifts his left arm, though, and points in the general direction of Section 12, acknowledging the dog that barks in the Yard.

Among umpires and players around the league, the Yard Dog is getting a reputation, perhaps even a following.

"Visiting players say, 'Is there a dog in the ballpark?' " says Rex Barney, Orioles public address announcer and WBAL Radio sports talk show host. "Well, you could say that."

Barney, the soul of graciousness, means not offense but admiration. The bark is that good. The first time he heard it, he says, "I thought there was a dog in the ballpark because it was so authentic."

Chalk it up to natural talent and years of practice. For most of his life, Dan Mink -- the man behind the dog -- has been barking.

Twenty years, Mink figures, ever since he worked as a bar and party disc jockey in Detroit, his hometown. He had all sorts of shtick, all sorts of amusing and perhaps irritating stunts he'd pull. Most have fallen by the wayside as Mink grew from teen-ager to man to father and responsible adult.

But the barking goes on.

Perhaps it's the ballpark, which brings out the kid in us all. In Mink's case, it's a portrait of the inner child as a dog, a broad-chested dog with a resonant bark. Or, as he sometimes describes it, "a Chihuahua with a megaphone."

Folks used to hear it emanating from the third base side at Memorial Stadium.

At Camden Yards, the dog barks in the field-level seats by the right-field line. Sounds like a Great Pyrenees, maybe a St. Bernard.

It's not. It's a 36-year-old resident of Anne Arundel County who sells construction equipment for a living. Husband and father, season-ticket holder, regular guy.

"You get over and talk to him and he's a normal person," says Bill Ripken, a Texas Ranger who became acquainted with Mink during six seasons with the Orioles. "But you hear him bark, it's not normal."

Mink has gotten to know several players over the years. Some he met at an Orioles fantasy camp. Others, such as Gary Gaetti of Kansas City, he knows "just from being here, barking at the guys."

As when Orioles starting pitcher Ben McDonald seems to be getting into a little trouble against the Royals: "COME ON, BENNY . . . ARF, ARF, ARF, ARF, ARF."

Zoologists tell us that animals use sounds to convey a variety of signals. So it is with the Barking Dog Man, who, depending upon the occasion, may variously "ARF" encouragement, exuberance, protest, disgust. After Rafael Palmeiro lofts a home run over the right-field scoreboard against Kansas City, Mink cups his hands around his mouth and barks the first few bars of "Jingle Bells." A seasonal non sequitur, but nevertheless remarkable.

"People say, 'Come on, give me a bark,' " Mink says. "No. It has to be the right time."

For some folks who sit in his section, that time comes too often.

"It's kind of an extreme contrast, a baseball game and a barking dog," says Stuart Kiegel, a season-ticket holder who sits four rows down from Mink and does not consider himself a Yard Dog fan.

"I still haven't figured out the connection," says Kiegel, a faculty member at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, taking an analytical approach to the subject. "We don't have a dog for a team mascot, or a Mad Dog for a player. There's no consistency."

As Kiegel tells it, his neighbors in the section consider the Yard Dog a nuisance. The comments he has heard are "really negative. . . . Have you heard anybody say it was great?"

Asked whether he finds the barking annoying, Chris Rhodovi, who sits in front of Mink, says: "Not at all. It's cool, it's fun. It adds a little entertainment."

Section 12 usher Todd Coppell says he never has heard a complaint about the Yard Dog.

"He's just one of these guys who gets along with everybody," Coppell says.

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Mink has an admirer sitting somewhere behind him. During the fifth inning of the Kansas City game, another bark -- much less impressive, more like a schnauzer -- is heard a few rows back. The guy might as well give it up, says the original Yard Dog.

"It's like somebody trying to copy the Colonel Sanders recipe," says Mink, who also does a pretty good seal and a passable elephant. He is willing, however, to share the secrets of barking with his daughter, Danielle. She's only 4, he says, but "she's working on the big dog."

Barney says one could consider Mink a throwback to the more raucous days at Memorial Stadium, something of an anomaly at Camden Yards, where the crowd is sometimes criticized as too polite, too corporate, too restrained.

Asked whether he thinks the Camden Yards crowd is quieter than Memorial Stadium, Mink says: "Let's put it this way, I'm not any quieter."

It certainly is more tranquil down in Section 12 with the Rangers in town and Mink away on vacation. During the course of the weekend series, the Orioles win on Friday night and Saturday and lose Sunday.

Through it all, not a bark is heard. And the Barking Dog Man's absence does not go unnoticed among the faithful in Section 12.

"It's real pleasant," Kiegel says.

For a sample of the Yard Dog's repertoire, call Sundial at (410) 783-1800, code 6122.

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