ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Blind Pup Is the Star of Isotopes’ Clubhouse
The most popular figure in the Albuquerque Isotopes locker room in recent weeks never wore baseball gear.
He just might have chewed on some of it, though.
Stevie Wonder, a 5-month-old shepherd mix puppy, has earned celebrity status with the ‘Topes. For the past three weeks, he hung out in the locker room on game days, galloped around the outfield on occasional afternoons and generally charmed everyone he met.
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Stevie technically belongs to starting pitcher John Ely, who adopted him from Albuquerque’s Watermelon Mountain Ranch in May. But he’s since become more of an adopted mascot/teammate than a clubhouse visitor.
“Everyone loves him,” Ely said. “The players, the coaches, clubhouse guys, everyone. Stevie’s way more popular around here than I am.”
Part of Stevie’s appeal – and his name – owe to his unfortunate circumstances. A victim of suspected abuse, he had both eyes removed prior to his adoption.
“We don’t know for sure what happened to him,” Ely said, “but he was in rough shape when he first went to the Ranch. They think somebody didn’t want him and just threw him out of a car.”
As a result, one of the puppy’s eyes was damaged beyond repair. The other was left so badly infected it had to be removed.
When Stevie recovered he was blind but otherwise fully healthy. He was put up for adoption as something of a long-shot candidate.
That changed when Ely and three Isotopes teammates visited Watermelon Mountain Ranch for an adoption promotion.
“We were just there to walk the dogs and help out,” Ely said. “They brought Stevie out and said they were trying to raise money to help him get adopted. We started talking about what we could do to help.”
Ely and his teammates initially thought it impractical for pro baseball players to adopt a special-needs pet. After all, the Isotopes spend half of their season traveling and the rest living at a team hotel.
But when Watermelon Ranch employees brought Stevie to Isotopes Park to visit his new friends, the decision to adopt was made.
“He won everyone over,” Ely said, “so we all agreed to pitch in.”
Ely, a noted animal enthusiast who once wanted to bring in a goat to serve as team mascot, became Stevie’s primary caregiver. He took him back and forth from the team hotel during homestands. Isotopes intern Erik Moulton took care of Stevie during the team’s most recent road trip.
But in the home locker room, Stevie has nothing but friends.
“He’s pretty amazing,” outfielder Brian Cavazos-Galvez said. “He already knows his way around the locker room, and you can tell his other senses are really keen. As soon as he walks on carpet, he gets kind of cautious and follows you around. When he gets on grass, though, he goes crazy.”
Ely took Stevie to the outfield for a run Tuesday, and the pup happily darted about. He chased birds he could hear, nosed around after insects in the grass and obediently returned (most of the time) when Ely called his name.
Back in the locker room, Stevie quickly became the center of attention, perking up when reliever Wil Ledezma gave a series of quick mock-barks.
“Hey, Stevie,” infielder Aaron Miles called out before joking, “You know he’s teaching an umpiring class next week.”
For better or worse, Stevie Wonder’s run with the Isotopes appears to have run its course. Ely and his girlfriend, Betina Gozo, have designated the fleet outfielder for an assignment in their Chicago backyard.
Gozo spent the past few days in Albuquerque and planned to take Stevie home with her today.
“It’s better for him to have a permanent place,” Ely said, “but the guys aren’t too happy with me right now.”
“Terrible person,” pitcher Stephen Fife said of Ely. “You think you’ve made a lifelong friend and Ely just takes him away.”
“(Stevie) just kind of makes you smile whenever you see him,” he said. “He’s fun to play with. I kind of wish he didn’t have to go.”
Such, apparently, is the plight of a minor league mutt, though Isotopes manager Lorenzo Bundy said you never know what future roster moves might be pending.
“He’s not on the airplane yet,” Bundy said. “Something still might happen. Somebody might kidnap him or something.”
Bundy then smiled and added: “Old Stevie really has been fun to have around. He’s pretty special.”