Diamond in the Ruff (Yes, you can teach a dog new tricks; Jake visits Wizards on a regular bases)
By Dell Ford, The Journal Gazette, June 16, 2005
Photos by Dean Musser Jr.

Jake’s job doesn’t pay big bucks. Still, he does what he does with polish and aplomb. And who needs money? Jake doesn’t. He has no savings account, no checking account. He’s never even owned a billfold. But he has a title: Jake the Diamond Dog. And as all-around helper at Fort Wayne Wizards baseball games, his “pay” comes in smiles, waves and applause from fans in the stands. It’s the roar of the crowd that puts a wag in his tail.

A 3-year-old golden retriever, Jake has been trained by his owner/handler, Jeff Marchal of Elida, Ohio, to take water to thirsty umpires and retrieve Wizards hitters’ bats and return them to the dugout. The bottled water is delivered in a basket with the handle firmly clenched between Jake’s teeth. The well-behaved canine also visits fans in the stands and between innings will shag floppy Frisbees that Marchal pitches into right field. When not working, the dog rests comfortably in his large, white tubular metal doghouse with a blue roof. A bowl of water with ice is provided to help slake the busy dog’s thirst.

Jake is the second golden retriever trained by Marchal to work Wizards games.

The Diamond Dog making appearances at Memorial Stadium this year is the second golden retriever trained by Marchal to work games in Fort Wayne. Wearing his official Jake the Diamond Dog uniform (knee-length khaki shorts and shirt decorated with machine-embroidered paw prints, little white bones and the head and shoulders of a golden retriever), Marchal said before a recent Quad Cities-Wizards game it takes “a good three years” to train a Diamond Dog. And the hardest trick to teach (he uses hand signals) is “taking water to the umpires ... the men in blue. Players are running onto the field, off the field ... Jake has to know which one is the umpire. Early on during training he took water to a player at first (base). Once in a while, for whatever reason, he goes to visit guys in the dugout. It’s hard for him to understand, all the time, what his job is.”

Last year, “the job” took Jake and Marchal 28,000 miles for 45 appearances from Fargo, N.D., to Birmingham, Ala., Boston to Chicago – and points in between. Each year the pair does 15 to 16 dates with the Louisville Bats, the Cincinnati Reds’ Triple-A affiliate. Marchal’s travels with Jake are in a 2003 Ford pickup. The man’s at the wheel, the dog’s resting on a therapeutic mattress where the back seat once was.

It all began – the training and travel – in 1990 in Pompano Beach, Fla. Marchal was “working for a guy looking for a way to promote his baseball team, the Pompano Beach Miracles. The idea (of using a dog) was more of a group idea. I had the duty of training the dog. If you’re in synch with your animal and can relate to him, I don’t consider (the training) difficult.” Jericho, a 7-year-old golden retriever, became Jericho the Miracle Dog.

How Jake the Diamond Dog found his way to Fort Wayne and other cities has roots in Nashville, Tenn. “Believe it or not,” said Mike Limmer, Wizards director of marketing, “Jake’s owner was a roommate of our general manager, Mike Nutter, when both were working for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds.”

Asked to rate Jake as a Wizards attraction, on a scale of 1 to 10, Limmer thought a moment. “I probably rate him ... boy, that’s hard ... 8 or 9. Fireworks is 10. Different attractions appeal to different people. I think Jake fits in with our effort to have family entertainment. He loves the attention of the people. I think he’s great.”

Nutter agrees that fireworks are far and away the favorite attraction of Wizards fans, but he rates Jake “a solid 9. He’s a real dog. Some other attractions – it’s people dressed up as animals. People can have their picture taken with Jake ... he goes up in the crowd; kids,” Nutter said, “just love Jake. Adults, too.”

For his part, Marchal had a word in mind to describe Jake’s appeal: awesome. “He’s a fan favorite,” the trainer said from his perch on a chair beside his dog’s doghouse. It was Scout Night at the Quad Cities-Wizards game, and hundreds of boys and girls were filing past the doghouse during pre-game activities. Some waved at Jake, many called his name. Jake didn’t move a muscle or utter an “Arf!”

Jake has been trained to take water to the umpires. "Players are running onto the field, off the field...Jake has to know which one is the umpire," trainer Jeff Matchal says.


“He does his job well,” Marchal said, watching the kids watching his dog. “He’s very gentle; he loves the fans.”

When Marchal, 48 and single (“I have a girlfriend, Lisa,” he hastened to say), is not on the road with Jake, he’s on the road delivering medical supplies for Adaptive Medical in Lima, Ohio. On the delivery job for two months, Marchal said he already had missed 12 to 15 days’ work “but my boss, Denny Watt, is willing to work with me ... with my schedule. I’ve been doing (Jake the Diamond Dog) a long time and to find a boss who’s willing to work with my schedule – it’s an awesome trade-off. I’m a good employee – give him 100 percent when I’m there.”

And Jake – who likes to hang out, take an occasional swim and play Frisbee when he’s not working – gives 100 percent on his job. Well, most of the time. There are those occasional goofs, such as “visiting the guys in the dugout.”

Marchal carries small bone-shaped treats in a shirt pocket, but they’re not for Jake. “People treats,” he said, popping one in his mouth. And Jake’s treat? The trainer lightly patted the top of his own head, indicating what the dog gets from him is affection and “thanks” for a job well done.

There have been a few occasions – a hoot, in retrospect – when a treat definitely was not warranted. “Yeah,” Marchal said, recalling one such occasion. “We were in Midland, Texas, in 2001 or 2002. The first Jake (now retired) took water to an umpire in the field and (the dog) decided to water the field ... and water the field. They had to call time. The PA announcer said, ‘Enough is enough!’ This Jake,” he said, nodding toward the doghouse, “once stole the Kane County catcher’s face mask.”

The training is ongoing, Marchal said. “It takes a lot of time – dedication, patience. That’s the biggest thing – patience. And be willing to work with a dog year after year.”

Both the Chicago Bears and the Denver Nuggets have indicated an interest in Jake, Marchal said. But that’s not a tomorrow thing. Jake, the trainer said, needs much more work for the big time. “I don’t want to embarrass us, don’t want to embarrass them,” he says. In the meantime, there’s baseball – including two more appearances this year at Memorial Stadium on Friday and July 3.

Article copyright 2005 The Journal Gazette