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Ripken the bat dog, football tee retriever finds fame

Ripken the bat dog and his younger cousin Rivers are like any other dogs that enjoy playing fetch, owner Michael O'Donnell said. The difference is the do it front of 60,000 people.

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Ripken is the Durham Bulls bat dog
Rick Armstrong
, WRAL photojournalist

A Labrador retriever named Ripken got his name from baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr.

Ripken’s younger cousin Rivers gets his name from NC State football hero Philip Rivers.

They are both working dogs.

"They do have a job, and they love their job," said owner Michael O’Donnell.

O’Donnell says they’re like any other dogs that enjoy playing fetch, except for one difference.

"They’re just doing it in front of 60,000 people," O’Donnell said.

Fans love watching Ripken retrieve bats at Durham Bulls games and kicking tees at NC State football games. Ripken experienced some national exposure on "The Kelly Clarkson Show." Ripken is also on Topps baseball cards and all over social media sites like TikTok.

Ripken is living out his owner’s dream.

O’Donnell played baseball in college and had hoped to play in the minor leagues, but it was not to be.

"After college, I decided to open up my own dog training company and got involved with ‘Sit Means Sit,’" O’Donnell said. "That took me to the next level where I said, ‘Hey, I can teach my dog to fetch baseball bats!’"

O’Donnell also owns Rivers, a younger Labrador retriever who is being trained as Ripken’s backup.

"Rivers isn’t quite ready to take over that role," O’Donnell said. "Big shoes or big paws to fill, that’s for sure."

Rivers’ loves the practice. He gets plenty of praise, especially after retrieving football tees and baseball bats.

Ripken has truly earned his fame especially among young fans and athletes at venues like like the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and Carter Finley Stadium in Raleigh.

"It’s really crazy to see how many parents come up to me out of baseball games and thank me just because their kid was able to sit through a whole baseball game because of the dogs," O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell said while the dogs are at work practicing or on the field, they don’t get treats. Love and affection from their owner is enough.

Even though Rivers is eager to play the role of substitute, Ripken shows no signs of slowing down.

"If a dog could smile and do back-flips of happiness, I think Ripken does that every day," O’Donnell said.

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Rick Armstrong, Photographer
Mark Bergin, Web Editor

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