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Ripken the bat dog and wide retriever

Get to know the official bat dog for the Durham Bulls and the tee retriever for NC State Football.

Ripken, an American Labrador retriever, sitting in the NC State football end zone.

Ripken can sit on top of fire hydrants, walk backwards up stairs, and do a handstand.

Photo provided by Melissa O’Donnell

A 6-year-old American Labrador retriever has made quite the doggone splash in the local sports industry. Ripken is the official bat dog for the Durham Bulls and the tee retriever for NC State Football.

Raleighites Michael and Melissa O’Donnell welcomed Ripken to their growing family when he was a puppy. Michael, the General Manager of Sit Means Sit Dog Training, started training Ripken at 10 weeks old. What began with fetching small novelty bats in the backyard quickly turned into retrieving Michael’s old college wooden bats.

By 3 years old, Ripken was fetching bats for the Holly Springs Salamanders, kick-starting his sports career in 2019.

After one season with the Salamanders, the Durham Bulls drafted Ripken as their official bat dog. The Bulls made sense for Ripken and his family: from Michael and Melissa’s first date to a proposal on the mound, they have a lot of history at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Ripken quickly rose to fame and started landing interviews. Recently, singer and TV personality Kelly Clarkson was so impressed with Ripken’s smooth fetching skills, that she Zoomed them in to The Kelly Clarkson Show on Thursday, Nov. 10 as part of her #What I’m Liking segment.

Ripken, a black American Labrador retriever, running with a baseball bat in his mouth.

Ripken’s rookie season as a bat dog was in 2019.

Photo provided by Melissa O’Donnell

After becoming a bat dog pro, Ripken expanded his expertise beyond baseball to football, when he landed a gig with NC State’s football team in 2021.

During Ripken’s first college football game, Carter-Finley Stadium was packed with distractions like rowdy fans and celebratory fireworks. But Michael knew that Ripken would do what he came to do (though he admittedly was much more nervous than his pooch).

Draped in a red jersey and blinged-out gold chain, Ripken successfully returned his first tee like the good boy he is.

Micheal believes that Ripken adds good energy and helps with morale on the sidelines. “One of the coaches [Joey Carnes] who we call Ripken’s personal hype man, jumps around the sideline yelling ‘Get amped like Ripken, get amped like Ripken!’ to fire his team up,” Michael told RALtoday.

The O’Donnells added another member to their pack this year. Rivers, an 8-month-old American Labrador retriever, recently sat on the sidelines at his first NC State game alongside his new brother. Though he didn’t get to retrieve just yet, he sat patiently while getting familiar with the sights and sounds of the crowd.

“The Wolfpack family has really welcomed us in, and the fans have been so generous and awesome to accept us the way that they have,” Michael said.

Over the past two years, Ripken has gained a large following on social media and has landed other roles like fetching bats at two Savannah Banana games and being featured on SportsCenter and ESPN. Next season, The Today Show is coming to Durham to interview Ripken at the first Bulls game of the season.

The family even hopes to add another sport like hockey to the mix (we think he’d look good in PNC Arena).

Now that it’s off-season for Ripken and Michael, the duo will teach Rivers the tricks of the trade. Next season, we hope to see Rivers fetching bats and tees with his seasoned brother.

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