Champ, the yellow Labrador retriever who was the Joliet JackHammers’ team dog, died earlier this month. He was 14.
Nick Hill, Champ’s owner and the former head groundskeeper for the JackHammers, said he’s had the dog since the team ceased operations in 2010. He said the team bought Champ from a breeder in 2006.
Champ was the team’s “bat dog” during the fourth inning, when the JackHammers were up to bat. Hill said the team tried to do other things with Champ such as train him to run the bases, but it was difficult.
“It didn’t work out, because the crowd would go nuts,” Hill said. “You could tell that he was just feeding off the crowd.”
Hill said he would walk Champ around the stadium, where fans would stop them to take photos and even get the dog to “autograph” his own baseball card by licking it.
Hill remembered Champ as a gentle dog who was great with children, but one memory of a fan interaction stuck out. One time a child, who happened to be holding a hot dog, asked for a photo with Champ. As they were posing, Hill noticed Champ staring at the hot dog, and, while the child’s parent was taking the photo, Champ smoothly grabbed the hot dog from the bun without the child even noticing. Hill said the kid’s father laughed at Champ’s hot dog-grabbing skills.
“He did it so gently,” Hill said. “He couldn’t resist having a hot dog.”