Who let the dogs in? Baysox event a hit for canine lovers

It's peanuts, Cracker Jack and kibble in Bowie


Bowie -- Here they come, eyes bright, tongues already dripping from all the hot dog smells, heads topped with child-sized Baysox caps set at jaunty angles and, in some cases, clipped on in case things get crazy in the nosebleed seats.

True, the infield fly rule doesn't mean much to them, and several will have little trickling accidents near the food stands. But they are hopelessly loyal, as all baseball fans should be. They are dogs.

Yesterday afternoon, hundreds of canines panted their way into Prince George's Stadium for the Bowie Baysox's fourth annual "Bark in the Park" event. There was riotous barking after players hit foul balls - a boxer seated out behind left field lunged for one - and during the climaxes of the national anthem.

A good time was had by all, including the owners among the nearly 3,000 people in attendance. That's why a growing number of minor league teams, including the Frederick Keys and the Delmarva Shorebirds, are offering pooch-appropriate games this season, and the Baysox will host another May 21.

Their presence is the latest reminder of dogs' departure from the drafty doghouse for the human world, where they're dressed in couture, stuffed with organic tidbits and - at least in the case of one airline - awarded frequent flier miles.

"You know, some people won't ever leave their dogs," said Ryan Roberts, the team's communications manager. Without the program, "they might never come out to the park."

Roberts believes the tradition was started in the early 1990s by the Oakland A's. The Chicago White Sox have a Dog Day event, and it's not impossible that one day hounds will haunt Camden Yards, said Bill Stetka, the Orioles' spokesman, although the logistics - such as handling fan allergies - are daunting.

For now, the promotion is more popular among minor league teams "because it's the kind of wacky thing that we like to do," Roberts said. Also, fans typically don't have to travel as far with Fido in the back seat.

Although a purist like Don Schroeder, bent over his neat-as-a-pin scorecard, resolutely ignored a Wheaton terrier that brushed by his knee - "anything that's not baseball is peripheral," the Alexandria, Va., resident grunted - the presence of pooches did change the stadium atmosphere.

That cordoned-off grassy area outside the stadium, where everyone was hanging out? Not a tailgate party. "That's the doggy toilet," Roberts said.

And dogs flashed tags instead of tickets at the gate, entering free as long as they proved all their shots were up to date.

It's high time that all local venues started embracing canines, said Maria Watson of Bowie. Her escort to the game was a bichon frise named Dolce Louis. Dolce as in Gabbana, and Louis as in the Louis Vuitton bag Watson sometimes carries him in.

But even when traveling in such style, Dolce Louis is sometimes expelled from stores.

"I mean, in Europe, dogs are welcome everywhere," said Watson, who used to live in Germany. "They're allowed in stores, restaurants. They sit at the table with you. Here they're not even allowed in the Dollar Store."

One exception to that tyrannical rule, she said, is at Nordstrom, where salespeople assume - rightly - that Dolce is an indispensable part of her outfit.

Yet as happy as many pups were to be allowed to frolic the public square, some were intimidated, and understandably so. A squat corgi only came up to a sheep dog's elbow. A tiny pug skittered by with furrowed brows: Am I safe here? his brown eyes seemed to beg. A golden retriever puppy gazed up at the Baysox mascot - a green, furry creature of questionable pedigree - with an expression of honest terror.

And at Bark in the Park last year, Maddie, a dog from Alexandria, Va., got badly spooked "by a guy in a balloon suit, kind of like this moon bounce thing," said her owner, David Almasi.

But Almasi returned this year, as many owners did - in part because they enjoy the company of dog people. At least one dog owner present had never attended a baseball game before, and overhead conversations contained few references to pitch counts or bad calls.

"And then, can you believe it, he dragged her right into the street. ... "

"He's a pound overweight for a miniature. ... "

"Is this the third inning?"

People were absorbed by dogs, other people's and their own. They were of the breed who plan Halloween parties for dogs, with glow-in-the-dark Frisbees and bobbing for tennis balls; who attend human-dog campfire singalongs; who take their dogs out to breakfast; and who just might consider patronizing one of the luxury pet boarding facilities hawking fliers at the game. Imagine: garden-view pet suites for only $70 a night - unless, of course, your schnauzer wants a massage.

Some owners contended that dogs are far better athletes than baseball players could ever hope to be. One dog sports club at the game - called 4 Dog Nights - competes in flyball, a kind of dog steeplechase where the animals catch tennis balls, then soar over a series of hurdles.

Later this year, the Mid Atlantic Disc Dogs club - or Mad Dogs - is planning its own version of Bark in the Park that is even dog-friendlier than the Baysox's. The dogs will be running the bases of an Annapolis field as the owners look on and sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

But on Sunday afternoon there were at least some mutts who didn't seem to mind watching the sport from the sidelines, their tails wagging away. Among them was Linous, a young Lab mix whose owner, Leo Daigle, plays first base.

"I really like knowing he's out there," Daigle said. And even the times he's left at home, "he cheers me up when we have tough games."

The Baysox lost yesterday to the Reading Phillies, 8-3, the first scar on an otherwise unblemished season. Yet the dogs - in their brightly colored bandannas, bellies distended with the hamburger buns and half-hot dogs that they nipped from their owners' fingers - still had a great time. As the best fans always do.


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