If you’ve ever been to a minor-league baseball game, then you know it provides a special sports atmosphere: one that’s focused on family, fun, and community. It’s a place where you can watch America’s pastime, enjoy affordable food, and experience things you won’t find anywhere else.
One of those unique experiences is ballpark dogs—pooches who serve as the team’s mascot and, in some cases, the bat dog.
One legendary bat dog is Jake the Diamond Dog, who has been eliciting smiles and cheers from fans since 1990. Jake—the ballpark name of golden retrievers owned by trainer Jeff Marchal for almost three decades—retrieves bats but also does much more. He delivers water to the umps in a basket, brings out the first pitch ball, stays with the pitcher during the national anthem, and even “chooses” a Ballpark Sweetheart and gives her flowers.
Marchal says that this baseball journey came about almost by happenstance. “In 1988, I was working at a farm store in Pompano Beach, Florida, which had a circular, two-sided drive-through. I had my dog, Jericho, working on one side collecting the money from the customers, and I worked the other,” he reveals. “The manager wondered why the receipts were so high. He came in one day when Jericho was helping, and the cars were backed up forever wanting to see my dog. The manager chuckled and said, ‘This is great!’”
This led to a meeting with a member of a legendary baseball family that was known for its long history of innovative ideas. “One day in 1990, my neighbor brought in Mike Veeck, who had a minor-league team at the time,” Marchal shares. “He wondered what I could do with Jericho at a ballpark and invited me over. So I had Jericho take water to the umps, catch balls down the foul lines, and give flowers to a female fan, all of which were right up Veeck’s alley. Jericho was seven at the time, so if anyone says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, that’s nonsense.”
Jericho eventually earned the moniker of Jake the Diamond Dog and became the first unofficial baseball dog. After a few years, however, the team changed hands and experienced high turnover, so Marchal struck another deal, which included letting him control his own travel itinerary, and moved back to his Ohio roots. By 1996, he and his next baseball dog, Jake, had an agent and the Jake the Diamond Dog experience was happening at fifty to eighty games per season at various minor-league ballparks across the country, mostly in the Midwest. Marchal says that he’s logged approximately 400,000 miles on his 2003 truck.
Since 2009, the fourth iteration of Jake has entertained fans at ballparks across the Midwest. (Homer, the third Jake, died from lymphoma in 2009, which Marchal calls “really tough.”) He still delivers water, baseballs, and flowers, and he also continues to collect bats, which requires care—both for the players’ property and Jake himself. “He picks it up on the sweet spot, not where the pine tar is,” Marchal emphasizes.
“People never believe the dog can be that specific, but it’s true. That’s part of the rapport: you train him, and he trusts you. It’s all about consistency, always letting him know he’s doing a good job. You have to be patient. As long as you put your soul into it and show your dog love, you can convince him that whatever he does is OK and he will do anything for you. It’s all about bonding, trust, love, and compassion.”
Their travels have provided countless interactions for Marchal and Jake over the years. “Jake loves meeting people and getting affection. And it’s nice to get a chance to talk to kids and brighten their day,” Marchal says. “But it really blows my mind when people who are twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old come up and ask if I remember them from when they were kids because they met Jake or got his autograph (a paw stamp). That happens all the time. It’s pretty amazing.”
Jake has been especially popular in Louisville, Kentucky, where he’s even been pictured on the scoreboard. How popular did Jake get in the Derby City? In 2018, after the Louisville team fired its manager, the Louisville Courier Journal wrote a tongue-in-cheek article suggesting that Jake should be the team’s next manager.
Not surprisingly, this overwhelming admiration also happens on the field as well. Players and umps love seeing Jake and petting him, and they often start talking to Marchal about their own dogs. During games, Jake stays in an inflatable doghouse for protection, and Marchal is his constant companion, giving him treats, encouraging him, and rubbing his ears during fireworks. “He trusts me,” says Marchal. “And he loves being out there on the field. He’s always wagging his tail.”
Jake has been popular since his rookie season, but his fame skyrocketed in the summer of 2017, when his videos went viral after being on the websites of Inside Edition, People, and even the BBC; in all, they garnered several million views. But, as it turns out, that heyday was the seventh-inning stretch of the current Jake’s baseball career.
An important part of the process is knowing that every dog has its day—and knowing when it’s time to hang up the leash. “Jake is eleven and a half,” Marchal shares. “I turned down a lot of work during the 2018 season. I could have been busier than ever, but that’s not fair to my dog. Like all my dogs, he’s been a great soulmate, and you’ve got to know when enough is enough.”
“That’s the hard part about this business,” he continues. “I enjoy seeing the smiles on people’s faces, as well as the fans’ kind gestures to Jake, especially little kids. But I’ll start over with another dog. This was this Jake’s last year at the ballpark. It’s time for him to stay home. He’s earned it.”
The return of baseball is an annual time of comforting tradition. As the dawn breaks on another minor-league season, fans in parks around the Midwest will once again enjoy the warmth of the sun, the sound of bat hitting ball, the smell of popcorn—and the joy of seeing Jake the Diamond Dog romping around on the ball field.
For more info, visit sroagency.com/jake-diamond-dog