TRENTON – Dogs are wonderful,
aren’t they? They provide so much – love, companionship, protection – and ask for
so little in return. So Friday night, after 11 years of bringing smiles to the
faces of millions, Chase That Golden Thunder got his day.
|Fritz, soon after we brought him home|
The Thunder’s staff put together
a terrific tribute on the video board, complete with clips from throughout his
life, including appearances on CNN, ESPN, the YES Network, and even a strange
Japanese TV segment.
Afterward, while members of the
team gathered around to get a look at the furry man of the hour, it was hard to
find someone who wasn’t at least a little moved by what they’d seen.
“It was quite special,” manager
Tony Franklin said, “considering Chase’s health right now. It’s a big thing,
and I hope he’s around a few more years, days, years and months and what not.
You can see he’s in pretty bad shape.”
His owner, Thunder Senior Vice
President of Corporate Sales Eric Lipsman, revealed on Friday night that Chase
has cancer, lymphoma specifically, and has been undergoing chemotherapy to help
battle the disease.
He’s 13 now, typically the far
end of the lifespan for golden retrievers. This Opening Day it was clear that
something was wrong. His walk was slow and his face was flecked with patches of
white fur that had overtaken his formerly glorious golden sheen.
But whenever he was around the
ballpark that big, goofy dog smile was still there. That never left. It made
you believe that he truly enjoyed being here, soaking in the applause whenever
he’d grab a bat and gallop back to the dugout.
It made you believe he understood what good he
was doing when he trotted through the stands greeting fans young and old and
collecting the adoration, pets, and probably a few bites of hot dogs or French
fries or even funnel cake along the way.
“That’s the one great thing,”
Lipsman said, “that the fans got to be so up close and personal with these
The players also got a huge kick
out of both Chase and Derby. When he was here, Cody Johnson would spend tons of
time roughhousing with both dogs and throwing balls for them to fetch. Center
fielder Slade Heathcott has taken up that role this year, even going so far as
to bring special treats for the dogs from home.
Perhaps the biggest Chase fan of
all, Lipsman says, was catcher Austin Romine, who spent two seasons here in
2010 and 2011. When Chase trekked up to Yankee Stadium earlier this year, he
and Romine were together once again.
“One of the best,” Lipsman said.
“When Austin Romine saw Chase at Yankee Stadium, he practically had tears in
his eyes. I’ve never seen someone so excited to see somebody. He went out there
and hugged him and it was just such a great moment.”
From a personal standpoint,
seeing Chase over these last few months and watching the tribute on Friday has
given me a chance to re-learn how to grieve. I haven’t dealt with human death
since the early part of last decade, when my paternal grandfather passed away.
He was the last of my
grandparents, and I’ve been fortunate enough not to lose a loved one
prematurely. So the last time I truly had to wrestle with the emotions of
preparing to say goodbye was in 2008, when I last saw my dog, a mischievous,
neurotic, black and white miniature schnauzer named Fritz.
I saw Fritz a few weeks before he
passed, while I was home on my first vacation after taking this job in the
summer of 2007. He didn’t look good then, and I knew the time was coming. I sat
with him often, petted his fur, and told him often how much I loved him and how
much I would miss him when he was gone.
He was mostly non-responsive
during those few days, but there was one final, heartwarming moment the day
before I left. While squeaking one of his favorite fuzzy toys, Fritz jumped and
chased it across the floor of my parents’ room.
My mother and I looked at each
other stunned but delighted to see one final jolt of puppyhood spring from his
increasingly weakening frame. That’s how I’d like to remember my dog, as the
same joy-filled, crazy scamp we brought home when I was in elementary school.
And that’s how every fan who’s
crossed through the turnstiles and sat in the stands at Arm & Hammer Park
will remember Chase, as more than a retriever of bats, but also as an unending
bearer of fun, love and happiness to countless people throughout the Delaware
Valley and across the country.
Thank you, Chase, from me and
from anyone who got the chance to see you and watch you grow over these last 11
Thank you so very, very