Woofers: Yesterday, baseball players at Comiskey Park got barked at by the fans and they didn't mind a bit as more than 300 well-bred canines joined their owners for a dog day afternoon. And someone else did the cleaning up.


August 29, 1996|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO -- He was almost 13 when he saw his first Major League game, although he had been a fan since he was a little fella. For years, he had stayed up past his bedtime, listening to the West Coast games with his father in the backyard, where the radio reception was clearest. He had even been to Cooperstown, but they wouldn't let him in at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Prejudice, and not for the first time.

Then, thanks to the Chicago White Sox -- not his father's team, the Yankees, nor his hometown team, the Orioles -- he entered a ballpark for the first time, ate his first ballpark hot dog and roasted peanuts, saw his first pitch. Almost 13, and small for his age.

But big for his breed.

Spike is a 65-pound springer spaniel who lives in North Baltimore, in the home of the person under whose byline this story appears.

Yesterday, in a promotion in keeping with both the White Sox tradition of gimmicky promotions and the ever-deepening mania of this country's dog owners, the White Sox invited dogs to take in a day game from a special section of the bleachers. From the moment my husband and I heard the offer on WBAL last March, we knew we had to be there.

Why? Well, as Nora Ephron once wrote, one enters into a certain madness when one marries someone with pets. And I'm not alone in this madness. An estimated 321 dogs showed up in the right field bleachers yesterday, where vendors circulated with not only sodas and beer, but doggie treats and water.

For some reason, the hot dog vendors stayed away. Self-preservation, probably.

The dogs turned out to be pretty good baseball fans. They stood for the national anthem, howling after the last notes. They cheered -- well, barked -- for any play that drew applause from the sparse audience at Comiskey Park. Best of all, they didn't do the wave or the Macarena.

On the down side, they blocked the aisles by sniffing each other's hind quarters, but some human fans have done worse. As to the delicate question of how dogs handle what we'll call the middle relief situation -- just wait.

Although dogs were long ago surpassed by cats as America's favorite pets, there is ever-increasing evidence that the owners of this country's 55 million dogs are interested in what we'll call doggie parity, a world where their pets can enjoy the same leisure activities that they do, in similar fashion.

Totally, people discriminate against dogs," says Howard Winston, a 29-year-old investment banker from Chicago, who was escorting basset hound Buford ( "Or you can use the French spelling, Beaufort,") to the game. Winston moved from a high-rise to a much more expensive townhouse so Buford could have a dog door and back yard. He also flies Buford's friends up from Cincinnati for visits. With their owners, one presumes?

"Sometimes," he says. "But sometimes they come alone, by Delta air freight."

"Love me, love my dog," proclaims Nancy Gifford, 39, an assistant principal in Chicago, who brought 3-pound Bitsy, a teacup Yorkie. Bitsy, who wore a teeny-tiny Sox hat, has a complete wardrobe, which allows her to go to formal banquets and holiday events. But since Gifford's husband, Mike, doesn't want the dog to accompany them on vacation, the couple simply doesn't go on vacation.

"I love my husband and I love my dog, but not necessarily in that order," Gifford says. And she had Mike before she had Bitsy.

Dogs of all breeds and all sizes were in attendance at the game, from the Bitsy range to the 115-pound Taylor Dane of Park Ridge, Ill., who was drooling happily and shedding on owner Laura Scully, when her tail wasn't knocking over beers. There were even reports of dogs from as far away as Ohio and Tennessee, although Spike's 700-mile trek may have set a record. At least, that's what we told a local radio reporter in a fit of shameless self-promotion.

Even some invalids made the trip: Izzy, a golden retriever hit by a truck just seven weeks ago, still limping from her injuries, and Butch, blind and almost deaf at age 17. His owners lined a wagon with a padded quilt and brought an umbrella, in case the sun became too hot.

Pampered pooches

The White Sox provided similar amenities for all the dogs -- free water, a tented section for overheated dogs, veterinarian consultations and free treats from Science Diet, which underwrote the event. There also were dog competitions ( best costume, smartest) and a dog parade.

But how did the dogs -- just wait.

The Dog Day Afternoon was the fifth in a series of what the White Sox billed as "Wacky Week Nights" -- games that included a used car night, a romance night and stupid human tricks. (Boxing night had to be canceled because they couldn't find an opponent for former Partridge Family star Danny Bonaduce.)

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