Hank The Dog: Fan and Front Office Best Friend
WC Fields wisely said that a performer should make sure that he never follows either an animal or child onstage.
The Milwaukee Brewers obviously didn't get the memo, or see the the talkies.
The team had barely taken to the Cactus League fields of Maryvale, Arizona when coach Ed Sedar found Hank, the squad's new four-legged mascot and the franchise's hottest story line. The appetite for any morsel of information about the lost-now-found hound is insatiable--witness the breathless coverage his Milwaukee arrival received Sunday night into Monday morning. His every move is chronicled breathlessly in the pages of the Journal/Sentinel.
Hank spawned his own line of Brewers merchandise, which goes on sale dark and early Tuesday morning at Miller Park, a portion of the proceeds going to charity.
Hank comes at a very fortunate time for the Brewers, a team that was near the bottom in both the National League Central and in the quest for anything resembling good news in 2013. There was the awful start that left them out of contention by Memorial Day. There were injuries to key players like Aramis Ramierez and off years from the likes of Rickie Weeks.
Then came Ryan Braun.
It's a new year and hope springs eternal. Weeks is ripping the cover off the ball the the point where there's talk of starting him at second base again. GM Doug Melvin fooled the world and schooled the rest of the majors by landing starting pitcher Matt Garza. Ramierez has made it through half of the spring training slate without tweaking his knee sliding into second base. Braun is back, toughening his hide and honing his stroke while hoping to win back the hearts of the disillusioned.
And then comes the ultimate warm-and-fuzzy: the headline-hog stray dog.
The cynical among us--certainly not me--may say Hank is a plant, the creation of a shrewd marketing department which wove the story from whole cloth in hopes of creating a fan sensation and preseason diversion. Did he leap from the trunk of a front office person's car and into Sedar's arms one morning as pitchers and catchers were reporting, or did this play out as we've been told? Some who've rung the grassy knoll bell on air--hello, Jeff Wagner--bore the scorn of an angry Brewers nation for suggesting such heresy.
I'd like to think Hank is organic as this morning's grapefruit. I hope he nuzzled Sedar's leg one Arizona morning (as opposed to lifting one of two hind ones) and warmed the coach's heart while capturing the squad's devotion.
No matter what, the Brewers have an authentic sensation on their hands, one that doesn't demand a seven-figure paycheck, become a free-agent or need a 401k. The team is doing all the right things, politely cashing in on the phenom while devoting a bit of the buzz toward others of his ilk.
Personally, I don't await dispatches on Hank's every move and will sleep quite well tonight even if I don't know if he supped on kibble or Gravy Train (do they still even make that stuff?) I love dogs (I'll be tending to the daughter/son-in-law's Puggle and Corgi this weekend) but really care more about who's playing first, if Scooter Gennett can hit lefties and if Garza can find his stroke before Opening Day. I won't be buying any Hank swag, but then again, the same can be said about my mercantile relationship with Mr. Braun, too. I'll spend a lot of cash on my favorite team this year as I always do but I pick my spots.
Baseball is a sport that is a religion to a core of fans but also a business that has to appeal to the masses. That's why there's Bernie Brewer, tailgating, the Kids Zone, suites, restaurants and the sausage races. Those who love the game would come if Miller Park was stripped of all of the above, if it only had the old Amber-vision scoreboard from County Stadium and reanimated Frank Charles at the organ. Fact is, an industry needs all the customers it can get, all the items it can find to put on the shelf that the customer wants to buy. On the face of it, the Brewers gave a stray dog a home, a winter-bound city a story line, and found itself a four-legged ambassador who can also be a merchandising machine. If he sells a few tickets or moves a few K-9 jerseys (with some of the proceeds going to charity), who am I to complain?
My burning interest is on the potential for a Lyle Overbay renaissance among other things, and lacking news on that front, I'll go fetal when the focus shifts to Hank's latest foible, realizing my favorite sport remains a business that has to appeal to all sorts of fans, from those who appreciate a finely crafted hit-and- run to those who otherwise might play dead.