“Buckner, get your Coke.”
It was January 2013, and I had been building to this night—this exact moment, in fact—for several years, although you wouldn’t have known it by my sweatpants.
Long before my wife, Jenny, and I welcomed a German Shorthaired Pointer puppy into our family, I had wanted to add “dog whisperer” to my resume by being the one to train our dog, if and when we got one. Those plans became reality shortly after my part-time job started letting me work from home. My father-in-law was the one who suggested we name her Buckner.
Yes, we’re Red Sox fans. Yes, I took to YouTube in my Yaz jersey shortly after we got her, in August 2011, to say we named her this because “[Expletive] The Curse, that’s why.” And yes, given the subsequent collapse of September 2011, I am thankful we live in relative safety 900 miles from Fenway.
“Buckner, get your Coke” was the shining moment of all the work we put in together, our own 2004 ALCS that followed hard-fought wins over “sit” and “stay” and “Please, God, don’t go there.” For it was in response to this four-word, carbonated command that she would now trot to the refrigerator door, pull it open via a rope tied to the handle, stick her head in, and retrieve a can of whatever beverage I had left on the bottom shelf, bringing it to me in our family room.
Sure, I had used a dog tricks book to teach me to teach her how to do it, and she was still tentative about opening the fridge door. But at the very least, life as Jenny and I had known it would be changed forever, courtesy of our dog butler.
Except not so much.
Once Buckner and I had checked this accomplishment off our list, we succumbed to that post-championship malaise that befalls so many great teams. We got complacent. We got bored. We stopped practicing. The thrill of victory was gone, replaced by the reality of “This all seems like a lot of work.” And then later that year—shortly after the Sox won the 2013 World Series, it should be noted—Jenny gave birth to our first child, and baby whispering suddenly became a far more pressing need. Buckner’s training has since consisted largely of developing the self-assured voice Jenny and I both do for her when we imagine her talking like a person, which is basically any time we don’t have houseguests around to judge us.
That means no helping me sort lights and darks on laundry day (even though the vet keeps asking), no fetching clean diapers when my hands are full, and no pawing through Pride and Prejudice after she licks herself.
I used to feel bad about this, like a YouTube video was all we had to show for something we worked so hard at. But much like that video can’t convey that this is also the dog who consumed an entire red leather glove and digested everything but the thumb—I’ll leave how I figured that out to your imagination—our shared experience transcended aluminum cans, eventually illuminating a greater, universal truth:
Babies are basically dogs.
You can’t say this if you only have a dog. As a stay-at-home dad, however, I can tell you that if I somehow had been gifted with the most nuanced communication skills imaginable, they would still be rendered all but useless when trying to combat the dog’s instincts to play with poop, the baby’s instincts to chew the known universe (including his own shoe), or vice versa.
Rather than mastering how to bring me a drink at the end of a long day, Buckner, our would-be dog butler, was instead busy taking the edge off of becoming a parent.
And I didn’t even have to teach her how to mix a martini first.
Just something I thought was awesome for reals …
This is our dog, Buckner, fetching me a drink from the fridge tonight at dinner.
We’ve been working on this trick for a couple of months as part of my list for the 33 Project. She still isn’t what you’d call lightning quick, and we’ll work on it some more, but considering she pulled this off without any promise of a treat, it’s a win in my book.
If you’re wondering how I’m going to award today’s point to my dog, never fear: She is on Twitter (@BucknerTheDog).
If, on the other hand, you’re pissed because I’m giving an Internet Win to my own pet, you’re taking this whole thing way too seriously.
In addition to writing humor, I am also a devoted fan of the Boston Red Sox, even though the closest I’ve ever come to living there was the six months I spent in Bristol, Conn., as a production assistant trainee at ESPN.
Yes, it was just as glamorous as it sounds.
It was a beautiful girl I was trying to impress on our first date back in 2005, one who had just received her master’s from Boston College earlier in the year, who first turned me onto the Sox. Two-and-a-half years later, we were sitting at Fenway within half-an-hour of getting engaged.
Now, just over three years into our marriage, Jenny would probably acknowledge that I have become a more ardent supporter of the team than her–obviously still not to the same level as someone who grew up in Boston or New England (which would explain how this happened), but enough that I live in Indiana and am still currently watching games on the New England Sports Network despite the fact that we’re nine games out of the last playoff spot with 33 to play.
To that end, I’ve decided to make a bold play and pull out something I normally only don to end a five-game Sox losing streak (right now, they’ve won two in a row) or for an elimination game:
What’s the big deal about this shirt, you ask? Indeed, its beginnings are humble: a $5 purchase from a street vendor somewhere near Faneuil Hall.
However, back in 2007, with the Sox down three games to one to the Indians in the American League Championship Series, I boldly told Jenny this shirt was henceforth “The Slumpbuster” and that as long as I wore it, they couldn’t lose. Clearly, I was talking out of somewhere that was not my face. But you know what?
They didn’t lose again that postseason and, 10 days later, were World Series champions. When I was wearing the shirt, they went 7-0.
Since then, its record has admittedly not been perfect. However, “The Slumpbuster” was in full effect when the Sox rallied from seven runs down in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS to stave off elimination, and I would estimate their winning percentage when I’ve had it on is in the neighborhood of 90%.
I have never tried to stretch its mystical powers out over more than a month, but that is what I will attempt to do now. Because at 62-67, they need to win at a ridiculous 85% clip coming in to get to 90 wins, the same total that snuck last year’s eventual World Series champion, the Cardinals, into the playoffs.
So I will sport The Slumpbuster during every Sox game from now until they make the playoffs or are mathematically eliminated, chronicling our journey here on the blog. It’s a risky move–mainly because its magic requires that I don’t wash The Slumpbuster between wearings, and I’ll be sleeping in it the next nine nights since they’re on the West Coast.
They helped lead to my marriage, so I’m banking on the fact that they couldn’t also trigger my divorce. That may be a mistake.
But it’s the least I can do after this error in judgement that immediately preceded the team’s horrific collapse last September. (It’s the same link as above, but if you didn’t watch the first time, you really need to now.)