PHOENIX — The most popular member of the Milwaukee Brewers at spring training is a rookie who comes with pedigree, an excellent clubhouse presence and good legs.
Four legs, in fact. Along with a button nose and scruffy, white fur.
Hank the dog may be the early lock for camp MVP — Most Valuable Pet.
"Yeah, he's making a pretty big impact, which I've got to say is pretty cool," pitcher Yovani Gallardo said. "It's getting a lot of attention, for sure. I think he likes it, too."
The dog days for the Brewers arrived Feb. 17 when the stray pooch wandered on to the team's complex looking a little roughed up.
Team employees took him to a veterinarian for a checkup and bath. The vet spotted a tail injury and some gray markings around his right hind leg, a sign that it may have been run over by a vehicle.
The vet estimated Hank is around 2 years old. No definitive word on the breed — he looks like a bichon frise mix.
The Brewers quickly took in the dog and named it "Hank" after baseball great Hank Aaron, who began his career in Milwaukee.
And no bones about it — the unofficial mascot has been treated like a Hall of Famer ever since.
One day, coach Ed Sedar went to the food line to get Hank's favorite breakfast dish, scrambled eggs. Barely a week into camp, Hank was already assigned No. 1 for a doggy jersey.
Unlike some temperamental pitchers, Hank doesn't mind being on a short leash. There was Hank posing for a snapshot in the clubhouse with righty Brandon Kintzler.
Talk about a real publicity hound.
"I'm second banana now," tweeted Bob Uecker, the club's popular broadcaster.
Signs were put up in the area about the dog, seeking his owner. The team publicized Hank's arrival on social media, and he soon became a local celebrity.
"I was in Europe this week on business and I had four texts from my wife," team owner Mark Attanasio said, "and three of them were 'What can I do to adopt Hank the Dog?'"
In Hank's case, walks are good.
Sauntering around Maryvale Baseball Park for some exercise. Meandering in between the practice diamonds. Strolling on a leash during infield practice with Gallardo.
"It's awesome, didn't miss one groundball," Gallardo said.
Gallardo owns a boxer that didn't make the trip to Arizona, so Hank has been a more than suitable spring sub.
Hank doesn't stop for autographs, but will gladly turn over if someone wants to rub his belly. When the adorably furry face isn't drawing attention, the dog takes breaks in the stadium operations office, not far from water and food dishes. Staff members take turns housing Hank for the evening.
If the local owner isn't found, Hank appears to be a lock to be adopted by the club and make the trip north to Miller Park.
Figures to be stiff competition for this free agent.
"Well, first of all, a number of different departments are vying for him," Attanasio said. "The players want him on the roster and to travel with the team. (General manager Doug) Melvin's trying to get him into a baseball meeting later today."
Negotiations might be tough. The fleet-footed Hank might easily outrun the Brewers' "Famous Racing Sausages" in the gameday races around Miller Park.
"We want to do what's right for the team," Attanasio said, sounding like he was playing hardball. "I think he's really an asset."
NOTES: Hall of Famer Robin Yount, along with former OF Geoff Jenkins and C Damian Miller are among ex-Brewers who will be instructors in camp. ... Manager Ron Roenicke said 3B Aramis Ramirez felt fine in his first workout. The veteran is recovering from surgery in early January to remove a non-cancerous polyp in his colon. "He went easy yesterday. He'll probably do a little bit more today," Roenicke said Sunday.
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