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.
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.)
Some might say the Dog Day event was the stupidest human trick of all, but the dogs were remarkably well-behaved. The White Sox, who have kennels for dogs who visit at other times, required all fans to fill out liability waivers and provide rabies vaccination numbers before selling tickets to the bleacher section.
"I feel tension," says Clyde Smith, a season ticket holder who decided to leave his box seats to experience the dog section. "I think something's going to happen." But except for a few lunges and snaps, the dogs behaved. In fact, a dog fight might have livened up the lackluster game, which the White Sox won from the Milwaukee Brewers 2-0.
Stockbroker Paula Epstein turned in box seats bestowed by her boss so she could take in the game with her new German short-hair pointer, Cocoa Chanel.
Still, even with the dog fans and the White Sox still contending for the wild card slot, paid attendance was a paltry 17,269. "Everyone should do this, but with one suggestion -- do it at a night game," says Bill Camp, whose Frisbee-catching dog, Whitney, performed for the first time for her peers in this, her 379th show.
But as a star, Whitney seldom faces the kind of species-ist thinking that dogs other canines. She can get into any hotel, while other dogs and their owners have to search out friendly hotels, such as the Ritz-Carlton, where we might have stayed if the Democratic National Convention hadn't been in town.
The Ritz-Carlton has a room service menu for dogs (with chopped filet mignon for $12) and dog-walking service arranged through the concierge. It even sells dog and cat-size terry cloth robes for visiting pets.
Spike, alas, is long-used to being shut out wherever he goes. A well-traveled dog, he has been to San Antonio twice, but never seen the Alamo; stayed in Charleston, S.C., but only caught a glimpse of Fort Sumter; and waited in the car in Oxford, Miss., while his owners dashed through the home of William Faulkner. None of this seemed to bother him, although he did appear morose when he wasn't allowed to tour Memphis' barbecue restaurants.
He almost didn't make this trip. Two weeks ago, our other dog, the greyhound Dulcie (who had to miss the game because of her aggressive tendencies) jumped on Spike, knocking him down and injuring his arthritic hind legs. But he healed quickly so we made the journey with the dogs sleeping peacefully in the back for most of the trip.
Dog owners understand that we are sources of ridicule, that it is easy to mock the devotion to four-legged animals. We know better than to tell cute stories about our dogs after a colleague has told a cute story about a child, understand that stories about housebreaking do not compare to stories about toilet-training. And as Spike grows older and more feeble, his death more imminent, we know our grief for him will not be respected.
So it was wonderful, for one sunny, breezy day, to take him on an outing, to not leave him behind. And Spike, who always seemed so indifferent to other dogs, had a fabulous time, taking in all the new smells.
At game's end, the dogs filed out, still intent on one another's behinds, but more orderly than some baseball fans. And as for the delicate question of what they left behind -- well, Diane Brandon cleaned up, literally and figuratively.
Brandon owns Doo-Rite, a dog waste removal service that provides weekly services to 300 Chicago clients, for $8 to $12 a week. The White Sox game gave her a chance to promote her services to the perfect target market, the kind of people who would spend $12 for a bleacher seat at Comiskey Park, just for the pleasure of having their dogs beside them.
Her three-person crew kept busy with rakes and scoops throughout the game, while owners and dogs visited a small green patch, decorated with two fire hydrants, when possible.
Only once did Brandon's sunny demeanor falter -- when she saw a huge Great Dane sauntering by her station outside the entry gate.
"Oh, please, let him get inside before he unloads," she said.
He did. Dogs are thoughtful that way.
Pub Date: 8/29/96