Turbo up to new tricks in Bowling Green
It was only a matter of time before baseball's sticky stuff issue made it to the Minor Leagues. But it’s incredibly unlikely that many people expected pine tar or other grip-enhancing substances to be of extreme detriment to a fan favorite: The bat dog. Fortunately for Turbo -- the yellow
It was only a matter of time before baseball's sticky stuff issue made it to the Minor Leagues. But it’s incredibly unlikely that many people expected pine tar or other grip-enhancing substances to be of extreme detriment to a fan favorite: The bat dog.
Fortunately for Turbo -- the yellow Labrador retriever who found a home with High-A Bowling Green general manager, Eric Leach, in December of 2019 -- his experience with pine tar hasn't been quite so controversial.
“We trained him, and he can get the bat extremely well,” Leach said. “I didn't account [for] pine tar or sticky spray. So, the first bat, he went to go out and it was covered in pine tar, and he looked at the bat, he looked at me and he's like, 'I'm not picking this up.'”
After some further training, the process for retrieving the bat has gone a lot smoother for the Hot Rods’ newest front office staffer. He made his game debut on Aug. 10 and, since then, has remained a joyful presence at Bowling Green Ballpark.
For more than two decades, bat dogs have been a staple at Minor League ballparks. But Bowling Green’s participation began with a Twitter poll in Sept. 2019, which was started by social media manager Holli Hawkins while Leach was at the MiLB Innovators Summit in El Paso, Texas.
The overwhelming response to the poll left Leach with limited options.
“I started getting hounded, 'Oh, buy the team a bat dog,''' he said. “Of course, I kept saying, 'No, no, no.’ It’s like when you have kids, and they want a dog and everybody's promising they're gonna take care of it, but you know it’s going to end up being you.”
He sought permission from team owner Jack Blackstock, but not until he got the thumb’s up from his wife, Sunshine.
“Once my wife signed off on it, of course our owner was gung-ho, and we didn't even have to convince him,” Leach said.
With everyone’s approval, Leach brought Turbo home after the Winter Meetings.
Turbo made it to his new home, which he shares with a border collie, two cats and 28 chickens, and Leach went on to search for trainers who could help him become a proper bat dog. He eventually found Jake Riley and “Riley’s Retrievers,” a local service in Bowling Green that typically trains bird hunting dogs.
Riley and Turbo first worked together for three months to get him ready for the field.
“[We] utilize the same type of skill set that they do for retrieving the birds -- a series of commands and everything,” Leach said. “We were working with them prior to the 2020 cancellation of the season. So he went back for a little refresher this year.”
Y’all ready? pic.twitter.com/HKUavuQgtr— Turbo (@HotRodsTurbo) August 5, 2021
While Turbo is coming up on his second birthday, he is still learning the trade of the bat dog. Leach, in addition to being the team’s GM, is also Turbo’s primary handler.
He’s still easing the pup into the position and only letting him out on the field at the end of an inning to make sure there’s no disruption to the game. He's made tremendous strides. Even that business with the pine tar was sorted out after some further training, and Turbo now knows to pick up the bat from the barrel.
“He's going to get it down, and the fans love it when he does,” Leach said.
The organization and community quickly grew quite fond of Turbo. A Twitter account devoted to the pup has more than 2,000 followers, and the club currently sells T-shirts and socks that commemorate the beloved canine.
Leach also added that Turbo has been something of a therapy dog for the players and fans at Bowling Green Ballpark.
“What better way to engage with fans than with a dog?” Leach said. “We had a young fan fall and get hurt and he was crying and he didn't want to be embarrassed to look at his cut, so I bring Turbo over, and the next thing you know, the kid's petting Turbo, and he's completely distracted. It's great having him around.”
Dad 🥰 pic.twitter.com/efdTpgFa6J— Turbo (@HotRodsTurbo) July 29, 2021
While Turbo may be a source of calm at the ballpark, Leach said he has to keep an eye on the yellow lab at home, especially while the chickens are out in the yard.
“Our other dog is a border collie, and she'll actually herd the chickens and do what border collies do, but Turbo wants to keep trying to wrestle the chickens and that's not a good thing,” Leach said.
While everything has worked out very well for Turbo and all involved in Bowling Green, Leach -- an obvious animal lover -- said he’s putting his foot down on some calls for an office cat.
“That is not one they're going to win,” Leach said.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.