Dog Days in Milwaukee
Quick: Name the hottest member of this year's Milwaukee Brewers. Slugger Carlos Gomez? Nope. Ryan Braun, the 2011 NL MVP? Try again. Ageless starting pitcher Kyle Lohse? Not even close. No, only one Brewer this season has gotten his own merchandise line, in-stadium accommodations, and bobblehead night. He's the same one whose shirt is the best-selling item in the team store. And believe it or not, he's a dog.
Hank, named for Milwaukee baseball legend Hank Aaron, wandered onto the Brewers' spring training complex in Phoenix, Arizona, in February. He was just another desert stray, one of many to visit Maryvale Park over the years. Now, five months later, the pup — believed to be a bichon frise mix — has gone from homeless to having a six-foot, custom-built doghouse in Miller Park. The house even has a slide, a miniature version of the one the team's official mascot, Bernie Brewer, rides down after a Milwaukee player hits a home run. It's a rags-to-riches story that has at times overshadowed the play of the Brewers, who are contending for their first playoff spot in three years.
When Brewers third base coach Ed Sedar arrived at the team's spring training facility early on the morning of February 17, he found someone waiting for him. Sitting by a security guard was a scraggly dog who had wandered into the complex. He had no tags and oil on his fur, which led Sedar to believe he'd been hit by a car. The pup was given breakfast and examined by a veterinarian while the team began looking for his owner.
After a few days, the team started to have some fun with the pup. The security guard who found him came up with the name Hank. Players began hanging out with him and dressing him in Brewers gear. Pitcher Yovani Gallardo took Hank to his workout stations. Reporters noticed, and the precocious pup became a social media star.
The younger players on the team especially took to Hank. Outfielder Logan Schafer and second baseman Scooter Gennett did interviews with him. "For younger guys, or whoever doesn't have a family, a dog is really all we have," says reliever Brandon Kintzler, whose pet boxer, Bo, is now friends with Hank.
After Hank went unclaimed, the Brewers decided to keep him. On March 14 the team released a video in which general manager Doug Melvin told Hank that he "officially made the team" as a "rover" and presented the dog with a jersey bearing his name and the number K9. Two days later, Hank flew with the team to Milwaukee, where he was greeted by mayor Tom Barrett and hundreds of fans, all there to welcome Hank to his new hometown. On Opening Day, he was introduced with the players — and received one of the loudest ovations.
The secret to Hank's popularity is his personality. He possesses an unusual affinity for people, and he wasted no time becoming part of the team from the start. Every morning after being discovered, Hank would sense Sedar enter the spring training facility and start barking to announce his arrival.
During his appearances at Miller Park, some fans will ignore the game and stand in line just to get a photo with their favorite live mascot. (Some even feel compelled to talk to him.) During a May 14 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the line had to be cut off after nearly 800 people. "We could have done a three-hour appearance," says Marti Wronski, Hank's adoptive mom in Milwaukee.
Hank lives with Wronski, the Brewers' team lawyer, her husband, and their four boys, who range in age from five to 11. Like Superman, Hank leads a double life. Some days he's a mild-mannered house pet, other days he's a local hero. When he hears the words "Alright, Hank, let's go to work," he bolts to his rack of miniature Brewers uniforms by the front door. "He's just this little white dog at our house," Wronski says. "Then when we take him out, we kind of have to laugh, because he turns into a celebrity."
And like Superman, Hank uses his powers for good. Twenty percent of sales from his merchandise — including dolls and shirts — benefit the Wisconsin Humane Society, which has set up a fund to help strays find similarly happy endings. "There are plenty of Hanks out there," Sedar says.
Still, there's something about the Hank that makes him one-of-a-kind. "He is just so content," saiysWronski. "He plays like crazy. He loves to play. If you could [create] a dog personality — your perfect dog — that's what he is."
Photos: Todd Rosenberg for Sports Illustrated