The last six months have been particularly rough for the small world of batdogs throughout the minor leagues.
In August, the Greensboro Grasshoppers lost Master Yogi Berra, the middle of their team’s three black Labradors. Earlier this month, the Trenton Thunder said farewell to Derby, the oldest of their two golden retrievers.
And on Sunday the Grasshoppers announced that Miss Babe Ruth, the 12-year-old black Labrador who has spent most of her life greeting fans and retrieving bats in Greensboro, has incurable cancer. The team announced last week that Miss Babe’s back legs were paralyzed because of spondylosis deformans.
The Greensboro News & Record reported that Miss Babe was diagnosed with the cancer at North Carolina State’s School of Veterinary Medicine.
With the paralysis, Miss Babe already needed help from her owner, Grasshoppers president Donald Moore, just to walk. Now, it’s a matter of keeping her comfortable on a day-to-day basis.
"It's awful," Moore told the News & Record. "It's broken my heart, and it's going to break a lot of hearts. None of us live forever. None of us. But we'll do the best we can do for her, figure out how to keep her happy and hopefully enjoy her a little while longer before her days are done.”
Anyone who’s ever seen a Grasshoppers knows the impact Miss Babe, Master Yogi and Miss Lou Lou Gehrig. Miss Babe retrieved bats and brought baseballs and water to the umpires. Master Yogi retrieved bats and played the world’s most hilariously frustrating games of fetch with a different fan each night. And Miss Lou Lou, the youngest of the trio, also retrieved bats.
There are plenty of batdogs throughout the minor leagues, but Greensboro’s black labs were and are the most determined bat-fetchers in the sport. When their turn comes, it’s all business, all the time. During their designated inning, each dog sits with a team employee behind a makeshift screen (to protect from foul balls) until the at-bat concludes. When they’re released, they’re off like a shot to get the bat as quickly as possible and return to receive their reward.
Even broken bats aren’t a deterrent. They might be a little confused, but you’d better believe they’ll find the biggest shard and bring it back. There have even been occasions where Babe, Yogi or Lou Lou have snatched the bat from a hitter’s hands after a strikeout, much to that player’s surprise.
Their jobs aren’t done once the game is over, either. As soon as the players have cleared the field, the dogs gather at home plate for coordinated, joyous run around the bases, much to the delight of the fans.
When Miss Babe retired from full-time batdog duties in 2015, the team held a special night in her honor. The evening was complete with red carpets on the concourse and plenty of tributes and highlights of her reign as Greensboro’s queen of the diamond. The bucket she used to bring baseballs to the umpires was even sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In the two years since she’s served as a team ambassador, greeting fans every game, even though as Moore has often noted, she missed being on the field fetching bats.
No matter how much longer she lives, whether it’s days, weeks or months, Miss Babe can rest easy knowing she’s left an indelible legacy that stretches from Greensboro to Cooperstown and into the memories of every fan who ever got the chance to see her do what she loved most.