The Dog Days of Summer
By: Dan Kolko
The baseball schedule can be a grueling one.
This year, the Nationals will play 162 regular season games in 182 days. The road trips are long. The nights in hotel rooms add up quickly. The days off, especially the days off at home, can be few and far between.
That’s why most players rely on their families to help get them through the tough times. Parents, siblings, wives, children — they all help to provide a support system, a base that players can lean on during the long season.
And for many Nationals players, that family, that base, isn’t complete without a canine as well.
As fans have noticed over the years, thanks to the Nationals’ popular pet calendar and player Instagram posts, players like Gio Gonzalez, Jayson Werth and Max Scherzer have added dogs to their home setups. In some cases, those pups have gained a bit of a celebrity status of their own.
Werth’s gigantic Great Dane, Magnus, was even featured in a Nationals Park giveaway this season. The first 20,000 fans that came to the game on June 27 received a figurine of Jayson and Magnus, who is shown standing on his hind legs, nearly looking eye-to-eye with his owner.
When asked if Magnus is aware of his level of popularity in the D.C. area, Werth smiles.
“I’ve told him,” he says. “I think he’s that kind of dog anyways. Whenever somebody comes over, they’re coming over to see him.”
Magnus is one of two dogs the Werths own; the other is a German Shorthaired Pointer named Gunner, who Werth says isn’t nearly as social as his larger counterpart.
Magnus has made a handful of appearances at Nationals Park in the past, though his presence has been less frequent this year.
“I usually save him for when we need him,” Werth jokes. “The old ‘rally dog.’”
Gonzalez’s French Bulldog, Stitch, has become a frequent visitor at the Nationals’ Spring Training complex, and also sometimes accompanies his owner into the Nats’ home clubhouse in D.C. Every appearance by the dark-coated pup leads to teammates, coaches and team personnel flocking around, making Stitch the center of attention.
“I know the chefs love him. I know that,” Gonzalez says with a laugh. “He hangs out in the kitchen all day long. He’s like, ‘You’ve gotta go to work? I’ve gotta go to work, too! I’m gonna go crush this bacon spread out here.’ But they love him. Everyone that sees him loves him. He snores really loud. He sounds like a little pig running around. He’s real friendly, friendly with kids. Personality-wise, I wouldn’t trade him for any other dog in the world.”
Only recently has Gonzalez added another dog to the mix — another French Bulldog, named Kylo.
“He’s got more of the energy,” Gonzalez says. “He’s a full-time ‘Red Bull’ the whole time. He’s full throttle. And Stitch is more laid-back. But Kylo’s still a puppy.
“Both of them now are in boot camp. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever seen Stitch lay down, stay still, and stay by someone’s side. You can see this joy in Stitch’s face, this joy where he actually wants to go to these boot camps.”
While Kylo and Stitch are only now going through the boot camp classes, Scherzer’s three dogs — Bo, Rafi and Rocco — have already graduated. Scherzer and his wife, Erica, got the pups (all of which were adopted from shelters) off-leash trained, allowing them to take the trio out and about, even on crowded D.C.-area streets.
“I’m able to go down any major road, and they heel,” Scherzer says. “And I get on a bike and I have them heel and we can march down anywhere. As long as there’s a sidewalk, we can cross anywhere. They know how to sit at stoplights. And once we get to bike paths, dog trails, they know that once I say, ‘Free!’ they can kind of roam and chase anything they want.”
Scherzer is well-known throughout the baseball community for having two different colored eyes, a genetic anomaly called heterochromia iridum. The condition affects roughly 1-in-500 humans.
In the Scherzer household, however, heterochromia iridum affects three of five living creatures. Two of Scherzer’s dogs, Bo and Rocco, have it, as well.
“You wouldn’t believe the number of people who send pictures to me of dogs with two different colored eyes saying I should adopt this one,” Scherzer says. “I get a lot of ’em. So that’s how we found all three of (our dogs).”
Scherzer’s love for dogs, and for pets in general, isn’t just lip service. It led him to take part in charitable work for The Humane Society’s “Pets for Life” program, which helps pet owners in underserved communities get access to affordable pet care.
“A dog will love anybody,” Scherzer says. “As soon as you go up to a dog and pet it on its ears and show it love, it will instantly love you back. They’re incredible creatures. Just how much trust they build with you and understand you, it’s just been awesome having three.”
For Werth, leaving for road trips means not just saying goodbye to his wife and two sons, but also his dogs. And those goodbyes don’t exactly sit well with Magnus.
“Those dogs don’t live that long,” Werth said of Great Danes. “So when I leave for a long road trip, I think it’s longer for him than for anybody else. You can tell he’s the most hurt. He misses me more than anybody else. He’s only going to live for like 7-8 years. So I think the time is different for those dogs.”
The Gonzalez family unit has grown significantly in the last year. Not only did Kylo get brought home last winter, Gio’s fiancee, Lea, gave birth to the couple’s first child, a boy named Enzo, this spring.
When a long road trip ends, and Gonzalez is able to return home, he says having that support system there to greet him helps bring everything into perspective.
“I think just seeing my entire family around is awesome — Lea, Enzo and the dogs,” Gonzalez says. “It’s almost like everything you’re worried about at the field, you come home and it’s a weight off your shoulders. You get to smile and just be yourself and relax. And I think that’s the joy of having a family like that. The dogs kind of put the icing on the cake.”