They say to write about what you know. But I’ve never had a dog.
But in a way, having covered games in Trenton for the past ten seasons now, it felt like Chase was mine, at least a little bit. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. That makes today all the more difficult.
I think everyone who had been around the ballpark on a frequent enough basis knew that Chase That Golden Thunder, who began his incredible run as the team’s bat-fetching dog all the way back in 2002, hadn’t been doing well lately. But today’s revelation that the beloved golden retriever has been battling cancer since February came as a shock to many, and tugged at the heartstrings of those who’ve come to know and love him over the 13 years of his life.
I’ve been coming to Waterfront Park, Arm & Hammer Park, whatever you want to call it since I was 12 years old. I’ve always spoken about how special it is for me to cover games here now, and how I grew up at that ballpark. Well, I got to see Chase grow up there too. The last games I came to as a fan were in 2002, and I can remember the amazed reactions people had the first time they’d see him.
Over the years, and this is no secret to anyone who’s ever read anything I’ve ever written, I became snarky and cynical and there were times that, in certainly acknowledging Chase’s vast benefit to the team as a marketing tool and somewhat of a gimmick, it became easy to forget that he was a beautiful, friendly animal that brightened the day of anyone who came across him.
Chase was always happy. Always. And he could make you happy, too. One of the best parts of my day was being able to go into the front office and pet Chase during my early years of covering the team. No matter how much my day sucked, you couldn’t help but smile seeing the way he’d react to you.
With that said, it took everything I had to not break down in Eric Lipsman’s office just before tonight’s game ended, seeing Chase on his leather couch, looking tired. Eric, who you may best know as an occasional Twitter adversary of mine (and you should take all of that in jest anyway) is the team’s Sr. VP of Corporate Sales as well as the owner of Chase and his son, Derby. And it was tough seeing Eric go through a day like he did today as well. But you know what? Today was a happy day.
Chase had his retirement party of sorts. For one last time, he got to hear the cheers of a crowd that, regardless of who was in it on any given night, absolutely adored him. Those reactions to Chase that I can recall back in 2002 never changed. You could always tell when it was someone’s first time at a Thunder game by their nearly dumbfounded reaction to seeing a dog sprint from the first base dugout to pick up a bat in the first inning. He got to lay in his customary spot in the grass, a spot where myself and countless thousands of fans got to spend time with him. Chase would let you pet him all day long if you could, and he’d always let you know how much he appreciated you doing it. You would not find a better dog for the task he was asked to perform night in and night out.
But they say to write about what you know. So there’s the tough side of this as well. Chase has been fighting lymphoma since February, and the tear-jerking reality of it is that there’s some uncertainty on how much time he has left. Losing a pet is hard. There’s nothing anyone can say or do, and Thunder manager Tony Franklin echoed those sentiments tonight, saying he hoped Chase was around for many more days, months and years, but that you could see he’s in pretty bad shape.
I lost my cat, Bo, in 2007. He was an absolutely perfect black American shorthair. I got him when I was seven, lost him when I was 24. He was the perfect pet — it’s hard to even get through typing this, really — and I think about him every day. Every day, at a certain time, I take a minute to remember him. I’d do anything for another day with him. Things were tough at the end. Bo had diabetes in his later years, and I can remember having to inject him with insulin every day. When things were really bad, I’d have to give him maple syrup with a syringe. I think about seeing where he’d had some of his fur shaved off for injections and how he’d whittled away to next to nothing in his last few months, and I’d have done anything to put everything he was going through on myself.
Eventually, enough was enough, and one day in March, my family and I put him to sleep. I suppose I’m fortunate I can say that’s the absolute hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, but the fact is that it was. I miss having him to look forward to when I came home. It still breaks my heart looking at the end of my couch and knowing that he isn’t there, asleep by my feet as he’d so often be. But he had his day in the sun too.
Bo was an indoor cat. I’ve never even told my family this, but I’ll share it with you. On one of his last days with me, when he was too weak to run off and explore, I scooped him up and carried him with me outside. I took him around every spot in the yard that he’d stared at out of the window for years and years. The way he perked up when he got to sniff the trees and fence posts and everything else that had piqued his interest at least made me hope that I’d done everything I could to make our last few days together special.
Hopefully, Chase is with us for a long time to come. This is NOT an obituary, so let me daydream that I’ll never have to write one. But when the time comes to go to doggie heaven, I hope that today is memorable for him as well. I hope 6,090 of the hundreds of thousands of fans who he’s entertained over the years were able to provide him with one final send-off. One final thank you.
So…thank you, Chase.
WATCH: The Thunder production team’s tribute video for Chase here — http://www.milb.com/multimedia/vpp.jsp?content_id=28621907&sid=t567
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com