09/25/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
The next time Ken Griffey Jr. or Barry Bonds powers a baseball over the right-field wall at Pacific Bell Park, the new home of the San Francisco Giants, Rio will be ready. So will Shadow. And Topper. And Father Guido Sarducci will be very happy.
Rio, Shadow and Topper are among the six Portuguese water dogs of the Giants' new Baseball Aquatic Retrieval Korps (BARK). During Saturday home games the dogs wait in a boat just outside the bayfront stadium, ready to dive into the water and retrieve any balls that come their way. The idea came from writer-comedian Don Novello, who played the oleaginous Sarducci on Saturday Night Live, because, as he puts it, "baseball gets slow." Giants president Peter Magowan loved the tongue-in-cheek concept, calling it a "brilliant suggestion."
The web-footed dogs, whose ancestors were used to herd fish into nets and carry messages between boats, are trained by their owners. Balls retrieved by the dogs will be auctioned, with proceeds going to Pets in Need, a local animal shelter. In the meantime, Giants fans are treated to scoreboard photos of the dogs practicing in the bay.
Novello's only regret is that Lassie, his Chihuahua-dachshund mix, didn't make the team. "He couldn't open his mouth wide enough for a baseball," says Novello. "For an English muffin, maybe."