They had trained together five days a week for almost six months in the solitude of the backyard of Josh Snyder’s country house. And while Milo the golden retriever seemed to master this routine of reaching for a baseball bat, Snyder still worried about how his best friend would react when it came time to perform in front of thousands at a Rochester Red Wings game at Frontier Field. in summer. of 2018.
“I had a lot of sleepless nights before Milo’s first game,” Snyder recalled the other day. “I was a nervous wreck.”
When it was time for Milo to retrieve his first piece of wood that night, the gold one took four steps toward the batter’s box before making a sharp turn and returning to Snyder sans Louisville Slugger. “Milo gave me this look that said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry Josh, but I’m not doing this,’” he said. “The bat boy came out and took the bat, and my heart sank.”
The mighty Milo had struck out. But baseball, like life, is a game of failure and second chances. And Milo would make the most of his.
Snyder, who grew up with goldens and is a professional dog trainer, decided to “go all out” on Milo’s second try and take him off the leash. Untethered, he confidently trotted onto the diamond, grabbed the bat in his teeth and handed it back to Snyder. The crowd roared their approval at him, Snyder breathed a sigh of relief, and Milo received a delicious treat.
A star was born.
“The rest is history,” Snyder said. “From that point on, it’s been pretty seamless.”
He is hitting a thousand, with his owner and the Wings fans.
After a season in which Rochester shuffled a franchise-record 77 different players and won just 39 percent of its games, some die-hards believe the team has gone to the dogs. And, while there may be some truth to that, it’s also true that a dog has come to the rescue, with Milo’s hilarious pursuits providing a reprieve from the two-legged ballplayers’ underwhelming game. Our furry friend clearly captured the fan fantasy and became one of the most beloved figures in the franchise.
In recent years, Milo has been gifted with t-shirts bearing his image, a freebie at the “bobble-tail” ballpark, and a ubiquitous presence on Wings’ clever and thoroughly entertaining Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages. Heck, he even starred in a recent press conference, legs on the podium.
“We thought it would be a hit with the fans, but we never expected its popularity to reach this level,” said Wings general manager Dan Mason. “Every time we post something on social media, the views really increase. People love to see it on their computer and phone screens and in the ballpark. Wow, we could be losing a game 18-0, and the minute Milo goes out to get a bat, the whole place goes nuts and acts like we’re up by 18.”
The idea for a bat dog was the brainchild of Tim Doohan, the wonderful and creative director of promotions for the Wings. He had seen another minor league team succeed with a canine searcher and inquired with Off Leash K9 Training in Rochester, where Snyder works. Snyder’s boss asked him if the mild-mannered Milo might be a candidate, and after deliberating for a week, he decided to give it a try.
“My background was in obedience training, not what we call ‘forced retrieval,’ so this was going to be my first time teaching retrieval,” he said. “I basically tried to make it a fun game for him. He wanted him to feel like doing it. That was the biggest. He wanted it so that every time he saw the bat, he would get very excited and realize that it was a game that we were making; a game in which he would be rewarded with treats.”
Over time, Milo got used to it. “We started with him lifting the bat at my feet and handing it to me,” Snyder said. “Then he would place it three feet away, six feet away, 10 feet away and long distances, and ask her to bring it back. Before his first Wings game, we went to some Little League practices, so we could get him used to doing it with a lot of people around. Eventually he became second nature.”
The bond between Snyder and Milo has played a part in this successful collaboration. They trust each other implicitly. They really are the best of friends. “I can read it very well, and vice versa,” she said. “If I’ve had a really bad day or seem out of it, he’ll notice, he’ll drop close to me, he’ll touch me and give me his full attention. We are very in tune with each other.”
There’s a goofy side to Milo that Snyder loves. At the first sign of snow, the dorado will run to the door and scream to be let out immediately so he can “make snow angels.” Although Milo is six years old, he occasionally behaves like a puppy, buzzing around. And he really enjoys being a celebrity. “He’s a people lover, so when we’re in the ballpark, he’s in the glory of it,” Snyder said. “She likes his fame, but not in an arrogant way. There are times when he struts to grab the bat and throws it up in the air and catches it. He can be a ham.
That’s fine with his growing legion of fans and with the Wings, who will be using Milo more than ever in 2022. “The Goodest Boy” will be at the Wings’ home opener on Tuesday, April 12 against the Buffalo Bisons, a of the six appearances. he will be doing this season. There will also be “Pawtographed Poster” and Milo Cap giveaway nights, as well as two “Meet and Pet” games where fans can get their picture taken with Rochester’s most famous dog.
As in previous years, proceeds from Milo’s appearances and merchandise sales will benefit local charities. Flower City Group will donate $50 to the Bivona Child Advocacy Center and the Society for the Protection & Care of Children for each bat recovered. In 2019, Milo helped raise more than $3,500 for the Wounded Veterans Foundation, a cause near and dear to Snyder, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served on deployments to Afghanistan and Romania. Last season, Milo raised more than $2,300 for TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors).
“It really amazes me to see how popular it’s become and how much good we’ve been able to do as a result of that popularity,” Snyder said. “He has always been a special dog to me, and it’s good to see the community feel the same way about him.”
Scott Pitoniak, bestselling author and nationally recognized journalist, is a sports columnist for the Rochester Business Journal.