Behind The Scenes

How Tara, the “Hero Cat,” made SportsCenter

The Triantafilos,  the owners of Tara the "Hero Cat,"  spoke with ESPN's Tom Friend for a "SportsCenter" report. (Joy Benedict/ESPN)
The Triantafilos, the owners of Tara the “Hero Cat,” spoke with ESPN’s Tom Friend for a “SportsCenter” report.
(Photo courtesy of Joy Benedict)

Tom Friend, an ESPN feature reporter and ESPN.com senior writer, had plenty of time to think about Tuesday night’s unique assignment as he drove four hours from San Diego to Bakersfield, Calif.

Jeremy Triantafilo (l), the boy Tara the "Hero Cat" saved from a dog attack, poses with ESPN senior writer Tom Friend. (Joy Benedict/ESPN)
Jeremy Triantafilo (l), the boy Tara the “Hero Cat” saved from a dog attack, poses with ESPN’s Tom Friend.
(Photo courtesy of Joy Benedict)

“I got the idea – as a feature reporter I search for stories every day — and when we decided to cover it, I did my research, finding all the video and information I could,” Friend said en route to Sam Lynn Ballpark, home of the Cincinnati Reds’ Class A affiliate Bakersfield Blaze. “At first there wasn’t a sports angle, but when I read she was going to throw out the first pitch, that provided one for us.”

The “she” was the curveball in Friend’s assignment, prompting him to laugh about covering the night’s star – Tara, the “Hero Cat.”

“I’ve been in the newspaper business for 30-some years [including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post] and I’ve never done anything like this,” said Friend, whose feature has been airing on SportsCenter today. Tara’s “pitch” has been featured in a prelude to SportsCenter’s “Top 10.”

Tara catapulted into national stardom when the fearless feline prevented a potential catastrophe on May 13. She pounced on a dog that attacked her 4-year-old human, Jeremy Triantafilo. The boy needed needed 10 stitches in his left leg, but Tara’s heroism prevented further damage. The scene, captured on security camera video, has received more than 21 million YouTube views.

“The story has to be done with the right mix of seriousness and lightness, that’s the trick to it,” Friend said. “You want to make it light — it’s a light story, the cat and the first pitch, but what happened was scary – it was dicey for a while. It’s a light story, but the little boy was in a serious situation, so you can’t be too over the top either way.”

Friend set the scene with interviews of Jeremy and his parents, as well as Blaze pitcher Ben Lively, who caught the first pitches from Jeremy and Tara (a southpaw), and pitching coach Tom Browning, a former Red who threw a perfect game.

In the spirit of balancing the serious and light approaches to the story, Friend ponders the possibilities: “I’m curious – this team reached out to the family, who else has? Companies? Animal groups? If Lady Gaga replaced Madonna, maybe Tara will replace Morris for 9Lives.”

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