Vahe Gregorian

Love for dogs has made Danny Duffy another of man's best friends

Danny Duffy’s Alaskan Malamute, Sadie, in her seventh year at Royals spring training

In her seventh year at spring training, Sadie an Alaskan Malamute belonging to Kansas City Royals pitcher Danny Duffy, runs around the practice field with Duffy in Surprise, Arizona.
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In her seventh year at spring training, Sadie an Alaskan Malamute belonging to Kansas City Royals pitcher Danny Duffy, runs around the practice field with Duffy in Surprise, Arizona.

In a recent #AskThePadres Twitter Q&A, former Royal Eric Hosmer was quizzed about the best teammate he ever had.

A: Danny Duffy.

“He was always bringing in stuff for the whole team,” replied Hosmer, who will face his old teammates Friday at Peoria Stadium. “He’s the pitcher always on the top step when he’s not pitching.”

There are many reasons for Duffy’s faithfulness and engagement and ongoing stature as the most real Royal there is, and none are more meaningful than being blessed to have nurturing parents and a naturally sensitive disposition.

But he’s also who he is because of … dogs, without whom his parents may not have ever meshed and a noble parade of which have been by his side since before he can remember.

If you don’t like dogs, alas, you probably can’t relate.

If you are right-minded and love them, though, this is yet another way you might love Danny Duffy.

“They’re the best friends you’ll ever have,” Duffy said Thursday at spring training, where his dog, Sadie, is roaming for the seventh straight year — making her one of the veteran personalities here as the Royals turn over their roster. “They’re super loyal. You walk in, you have a bad day, they don’t care: They’re ready to greet you at the door.

“So as much as we save their lives, they save ours, too.”

Through it all: being bullied as a child, the extreme ups and downs of pro baseball and the dire and distressing circumstances of the last year.

That included the death of revered friend Yordano Ventura, elbow surgery, wildfires and mudslides near his offseason home in Santa Barbara, becoming the subject of trade speculation and being cited for a DUI on Aug. 27.

“The day after everything went down last year, the morning that I woke up, obviously, I was really kicking myself. And Sadie was right there next to me,” Duffy said. “I woke up, stood out of bed, and there she was. We went out on a walk, and the day got started and time goes on.

“Time doesn’t stop. It’s always nice to have that comfort when everything is going south for you.”

Which is virtually all he’s ever known, starting with the tone set in 1983 when his parents “met in jail,” as his father, Dan, put it when I visited them last year.

Deanna, who would go on to join the California State Highway Patrol, was working for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department when Dan was hired.

Upon seeing her, he thought, “Wow, who’s that?”

She had an equally powerful reaction: “I didn’t like him much.”

Until this: When he was unusually quiet one day, she asked what was wrong. He told her it was the anniversary of his father’s death.

When she asked if he had a picture, he showed her one in his wallet.

But she was struck by something else, too.

He also was carrying a photo of his dog, Taffy, the turning point in their relationship.

Suddenly, she was unfurling wallet pictures of her own dog, Heidi, thinking there “was something more to him.”

That begot what their only child would call “a zoo at my house ever since I can remember” — one that at times included cats, rabbits, birds and then some … but was made whole by dogs.

No wonder Duffy thought to say “fur sure” when he was in that bear suit talking to Fox Sports KC’s Joel Goldberg in the 2015 postseason.

Before Sadie, and her three “cousins” (Tawny, Casey and Scout) living back home in Lompoc, Duffy recalled, there were Kaiser and Molly and Baron and Sally and Champ, “my high school dog.”

Danny Duffy, Royals' front office staff spend anniversary of World Series parade providing service

Every one of them has a story, every one a place in the emotional IQ of Duffy, who among other related initiatives took part in promotional videos last year in support of a vote to finance a new KC Pet Project facility and was “stoked” when it passed.

Kaiser was “super-protective,” and one of the first true friends for an only child who by his own description “didn’t have too many friends.”

One way or another, he could say he received the same from them all.

But especially from Champ, a multi-talented Chesapeake Bay retriever who learned how to open a refrigerator and take out a Gatorade and bring it to him and fetched the newspaper every day.

Nearly four years after his death from cancer, even with three well-loved dogs currently under their roof, Champ still is actively mourned in Duffy’s childhood home.

And he is compellingly commemorated in an artist’s portrait of a clay rendition of a photo of him in their backyard.

Royals pitcher Danny Duffy is happy to look back on all of his dogs, past and present, and consider the important role each has played in his life.

In it, he sits next to a rock the family still has that says, “I Wish That I Could Be The Person My Dog Thinks I Am.”

The Washington state artist commissioned by a relative wanted to know all about Champ and what Danny does for a living, which led to one of the great flourishes of the 2014 work:

At Champ’s front paws sits an imaginary future Lompoc Record, with the front-page headline, DUFFY AND ROYALS WIN THE WORLD SERIES !!!!!!

Now, there’s Sadie, his first non-rescue dog, one he bought after going to the pet store without any intention of buying … for 30 straight days.

She’s such a part of him now that Duffy felt like “I was missing a limb” when she missed the first two weeks of spring training.

All is well now that she has returned to romping around at the practice facility in the mild weather.

As it happens, at 120 pounds Sadie couldn’t afford to miss much more, either — despite the “doga” (yoga for dogs) Deanna Duffy likes to work with her when she visits.

(Full disclosure: Dogs were such a part of my conversation with the Duffys last year that during one of Deanna and Dan’s 2017 trips to Kansas City they came over to meet ours: Ralph, a rottweiler mix and Frankie, a golden retriever.)

That No. 41 Duffy jersey Sadie’s been known to wear while still acting like a lapdog? Well, she’s “barely fitting into it” at 120 pounds.

“She could afford to lose about 20 of those,” he said.

Could be she’s a little spoiled.

Asked how Sadie traveled to California for the offseason, Duffy said it was via private plane to most smoothly accommodate her.

“She’ll do a good job on sitting in the seat, too,” he said.

Add it all up, and it’s easy to see the correlation between man’s best friend and Hosmer’s best teammate ever — something encapsulated in wisdom Duffy’s mother shares with him from an unknown author.

“It came to me that every time I lose a dog, they take a piece of my heart with them,” it goes. “And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart.

“If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.”

A dog’s purpose.

“They definitely are good at softening your heart,” Duffy said. “And I wouldn’t have been the same without them.”