– Matt Rissmiller
With 27 World Series championships, the New York Yankees have a rich winning tradition. But there’s one tradition in the storied Yankees organization that’s as regal if of somewhat less renown: the “bat dog” family of the Trenton Thunder, the Double-A affiliate.
Tonight’s E:60 (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET) features current and former golden retriever bat dogs Chase, Derby, and Rookie. In addition, Pixar director Bob Peterson, the voice of the dog “Dug” from Disney’s Pixar 2009 film, “UP,” also lends his voice to this baseball story 91 dog years in the making.
Front Row asked feature producers Matt Rissmiller and Michael Johns how they approached this story.
How did the idea for this piece come about?
MR: Our Executive Producer, Andy Tennant, had his eye on this story for a few years. Just recently [feature producer] Mike Johns picked up on a new layer to the narrative: The youngest in this golden retriever lineage, Rookie, was making his debut with the Thunder this spring, and we thought it would be a perfect time to begin production.
MJ: I think it was from an article in the Times of Trenton this winter that the Trenton Thunder were training a new dog (Rookie) to be the team’s bat dog. I was dimly aware that the Thunder had a bat dog in the past, but it wasn’t until I read the article that I realized that this job had become a multi-generational institution for this one family of golden retrievers.
How does this compare to other stories you’ve worked on that involve animals?
MJ: This is the first time I think we’ve written a piece directly from the point-of-view of an animal [Derby, in this instance]. So often animals are treated in narratives as if they were essentially mindless, instead of thinking, feeling beings with their own consciousness. Even if it’s inherently unknowable to us, it’s fascinating to try to imagine what their inner life is actually like.
MR: This is the first story that E:60 has aimed to tell from an animal’s perspective, so that’s a big difference from other features we’ve produced in the past. The narrative is literally written from the view of a dog.
How did you get Pixar director Bob Peterson involved?
MJ: Just kicking around ideas on who would actually be a plausible voice of a dog. . .And naturally we thought of the the amazing character “Dug” from the film “Up”… which really is the gold standard for human/canine voice-over as far as I’m concerned.
MR: Bob is a very accomplished director and voice-over artist and has appeared in a number of the studio’s films for e.g. “Up,” “Finding Nemo,” and “Monsters Inc.” among others. Johns suggested the idea, so I worked with our team at E:60 that had a relationship with Pixar, and together we were able to make it happen. We’re thrilled with Bob’s work on the project, and hope that viewers enjoy it, too.