That Old Bat Magic — Finn Wins Hearts and Minds
Larry Thornberry
by

My wife and I spent Memorial Week in Las Vegas. That’s right. Sin City, though I don’t suppose Las Vegas city fathers and mothers much like this old designation. They’ve tried to make the place more “family friendly.” This by necessity, as so many states have made so many ways to gamble at home available it’s no longer necessary to fly to the middle of the desert to give one’s money away. Walking the Vegas strip one is entitled to wonder which family the city’s marketers had in mind. People-watching on the ant-hill Las Vegas Boulevard always is can recall the bar scene from the original Star Wars movie.

But not to worry, gentle reader. We didn’t take the mortgage money with us. The purpose of the trip was to meet up with my computer-smart step-son and his delightful bride (she’s smart too). They live in nearby (as these things are reckoned in the West) Salt Lake City. None of us are gamblers. So we never ventured as much as a quarter in the thousands of available slots. And we only observed the poor souls shooting craps or grimly playing black-jack or poker. The most depressing were the quietly desperate $8 an hour folks sitting at the slots, smoking and trying to improve their lives. Of course their chances of doing so are roughly the chances that the San Diego Padres will win the World Series this year. All but the quantitatively feeble-minded realize that the only machine in Las Vegas that’s even money is the ATM in the hotel lobby.

Speaking of hotels, we breezed through all of the household names and found them as gaudy and over-the-top as we anticipated they would be. The themes are different, but there is a sameness to the kitsch and the pricey shops and the pricy restaurants (we ate in two that were pretty good). Of course there are things worth seeing. I don’t mean to sound too cranky. We liked the conservatory at the Bellagio, and the light and water show out front of same is, though a bit hokey, pleasant to watch. So there’s obviously a lot in Las Vegas that appeals to a lot of people. And to these folks I say, “God bless, and have a good time. Just don’t try to draw into an inside straight.”

Some of the best times of the week were the away from Las Vegas day trips, the first to Hoover Dam and the second to the beautiful Red Rock Canyon. This last could be called God’s layer cake. If you’re ever fortunate enough to see it, you’ll immediately see why.

Regular readers of this space will not be surprised to learn that while in Vegas we took in a baseball game. This entertaining contest was between the Las Vegas 51s (from Area 51, which has something to do with aliens from outer space, some of whom I think we saw on The Strip) and the Tacoma Rainiers of the AAA Pacific Coast League. The game, which took place in comfy Cashman Field between The Strip and the mountains that surround Las Vegas, went to the Rainiers 8-6.

One of the favorite 51s did not wear cleats or a number on his back. The big crowd favorite was Finn, a five-year-old black Lab bat-dog who ran out to retrieve the 51s’ bats and return them to the dugout. He also carried bottles of water in a small blue and white cooler to the umpires between innings. After these missions, which he clearly enjoys and for which he is lustily cheered, he sits on his red, plastic fire hydrant until duty calls again. In between innings Finn performs more complicated evolutions, including jumping chairs and running good routes to a Frisbee.

I was privileged to meet Finn and his trainer, the able Fred Hassen, and sit with them for the three innings that Finn worked. Finn could work the entire game. He may be five years old, but there’s still a lot of puppy in him, including inexhaustible energy and joie de vivre. But Fred, who played baseball through junior college, has a day job, so doesn’t wish to stay out too late. Thus the three-inning stints. The dog training business Hassen started, called Sit Means Sit, now has 130 locations across the country. If Finn is an example of Sit Means Sit graduates, he’s a fine advertisement for the company, and for Hassen’s skill as a trainer.

I asked Hassen if Finn reacted badly to his first taste of pine tar. Fred reminded me of the things dogs willingly eat, and the places their snouts visit. Of course I know this, so after a moment’s reflection I withdrew the question.

Speaking of questions, I’ll answer the obvious one. No, Finn doesn’t take off after the baseball when it’s in play, though you can tell he would really like to. He’s well trained and makes no rookie mistakes that his more than ample enthusiasm could lead to. He sticks to his business, at which he is fast and precise. What a joy to watch someone who is good at his work and so obviously loves it. So on this soft desert night, which already included the blessings of baseball, beer, and the company of loved ones, we had the bonus of the charming and most entertaining Finn. The Rainiers may have won the baseball game that night. But it was Finn who won our hearts.

Larry Thornberry
Larry Thornberry
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Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.
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