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Last season, my teammate Don McCreary and I were relaxing together, watching the baseball game that followed our own. Sitting with us in the bleachers were Don's wife, Gloria, and their dog, Perry. A couple of teenagers came shuffling along and stopped in front of us, blocking our view of the action. None of us said anything, but after a few seconds, the dog started growling. The kids turned around. "Would you please move," Gloria said. "Perry doesn't like anyone to stand in his way."
Perry is a working ranch dog and a true baseball fan. By day, he herds sheep and cattle with Don, a 43-year-old cowboy from Esparto, Calif. In the evening, Perry unwinds at the ballpark, watching games in our over-30 hardball league. His concentration is uncanny. He bears down on every pitch and follows every batted and thrown ball, often moving to get a better look at the play.
In his master's opinion, the clue to Perry's absorption in a baseball game can be found in his genes. "Perry's father was a kelpie, an Australian breed of stock dog, and his mother was a McNabb, an offshoot of the border collie," says Don. "The kelpie and the border collie are two breeds with a particular quality called 'eye.' It's a stare, almost a trance. They work livestock with this real fixated stare. Their ears flatten out, they almost freeze, and they just stare down the stock."
The McCrearys became aware of Perry's penchant for baseball about seven years ago. "We were at a park, and there was a softball game," recalls Gloria. "We noticed that the dog was watching the ball go back and forth. Other people picked up on it as well, and soon Perry had more of a fan club than the ballplayers did. He became known almost right from the start as 'the baseball dog.' "
Perry won our league's Number One Fan Award in 1987, and his interest in baseball has never flagged. His passion was much in evidence at last year's aforementioned game. Having already taken in one contest that evening, he showed little interest in the pregame warmups and lay around waiting for the real action to begin. When the umpires returned to the field, one of them greeted him by name, but Perry didn't respond. "He doesn't talk to umpires," Gloria told them curtly.
However, when the pitcher took the mound and the first batter stepped into the box, Perry came alive, making his way toward the backstop in a slow, crouching creep. He took up a position behind the batter's box, his eyes glued on the pitcher, his body tense with anticipation. The first pitch was a ball, and Perry came out of his trance, relaxing for a moment.
When the pitcher wound up, the dog leaned forward once again, straining as the ball approached the plate. The hitter swung, grounding a grass cutter to the third baseman, and Perry took several hops to his right to get a better view. The third baseman fielded the ball cleanly and gunned it across the diamond. Perry followed the throw all the way into the first baseman's mitt. Upon hearing the crisp slap of ball against leather, Perry relaxed. As the ball was whipped around the infield, he returned to his position behind the plate and waited for the next hitter.
He watched virtually the entire game, following the action with that characteristic kelpie/McNabb eye. Between pitches, he would check the fielders, the on-deck hitter, the base coaches. Between innings, Perry, who is now 10, would lie down. But he was back on his feet when a batter stepped into the box. A couple of kids tried to pet him, but Gloria told them, "Don't bother the dog, he's watching the game. He gets annoyed if you distract him." Later, when someone cracked a home run and the fans erupted in cheers, Perry joined in with several excited yips.
Don doesn't mind Perry's occasional vocalizing, but he will not allow the dog to chase foul balls, no matter how close they land. "I feel that the justification for bringing Perry to a baseball game lies in his ability to watch," says Don. "He has an area within which he has to stay, and he has to show a certain amount of control and class. If he were allowed to chase foul balls, he'd be just another hooligan dog, rowdying around the ballpark with no self-respect and pestering the people. Perry is there to watch the ball game."