You’d think a man accustomed to facing 90 mph fastballs would be afraid of nothing, but former Major League Baseball player Cecil Fielder is afraid of puppies. That’s according to sports journalist Ann Liguori, who learned Fielder’s secret fear firsthand during an interview in New York when Fielder played for the Detroit Tigers in the early 1990s.
Liguori recalls staying at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan with her husband and Max, her new Golden Retriever puppy, and getting ready for the interview.
“The camera crew set up in the suite for my interview with Cecil, so I put Max in the huge bathroom for 20 minutes,” she says. “Cecil went into the bathroom, saw the puppy, and nearly hit the ceiling, jumping in fear. Cecil later told me he is afraid of dogs. I’ve never seen a big guy the size of Cecil afraid of a small puppy! It was quite amusing.”
Liguori has covered sports for nearly three decades and is currently the golf and tennis correspondent for CBS Sports Radio Network and WFAN radio in New York.
Even more than she loves sports, though, she loves animals, especially dogs. Her current companion animal is her Golden Retriever, Skye, the son of the only Golden who won at the Westminster Dog Show in the Sporting category.
Skye recently turned 7, and, like any parent, Liguori still remembers her first experience with the dog vividly.
“I learned that a breeder in East Hampton had a litter of purebred Golden Retriever puppies, and we were ready for another Golden,” she says. “Skye was one of five in a litter that was sired by the Golden that won the Sporting category at the Westminster Dog Show years ago. The father was in Seattle and apparently, his sperm was sent to a vet in Sag Harbor who did an in-vitro procedure with the female in East Hampton.”
Liguori fell in love right away.
“When we went to see the puppies, the puppy we picked out was nicknamed ‘McDreamy’ after the Grey’s Anatomy character,” she says. “He has the longest eyelashes.”
The spunky little puppy ran to her arms immediately, and Liguori assumed it was a perfect match: “I told the breeder, ‘I think I’d like this little one,’ and the breeder replied, ‘Oh, YOU don’t pick the puppy, WE and the dog pick the owners!’”
Liguori thought it was odd at first but understood that they wanted to make sure that all the owners would take great care of their pups. So she — pardon the pun — doggedly called the breeder each day until he finally agreed to let her take the puppy home, which she named Skye.
Since then, Skye rarely leaves Liguori’s side, except when she is covering major golf tournaments like the Masters or the U.S. Open. Still, she tries to bring him along whenever possible.
“We know all the hotels, up and down the Eastern Seaboard, that allow pets,” she says.
Liguori says many of the athletes she interviews are as big of pet fanatics as she is — and it’s a good icebreaker for interviews.
“When I interviewed Maria Sharapova for Hamptons Magazine two summers ago, I could hear her Pomeranian, Dolce de Leche, barking in the background,” she says. “Novak Djokovic takes his miniature poodle, Pierre, with him on the road, although he could not get the dog into the All England Club during Wimbledon, even though he won it in 2011.”
Liguori says Serena Williams also travels with her dogs when she can, including a Jack Russell, a Maltese, and a Pit Bull. She also admires Philadelphia Phillies star Chase Utley, who hosts a benefit with his wife every year to raise money for the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Skye has met professional baseball players, golfers, tennis players, politicians, socialites — all of whom have been to Liguori’s home for a dinner party.
“He prefers mingling with humans rather than dogs and sits right by the side of whomever is willing to offer him a morsel from dinner or just more attention,” she says. “Skye thinks he is human which is fine with me. He’s treated like a prince.”
Liguori says Skye is well-behaved … for the most part.
“Retrievers always have to have a job to do, so Skye is quite fond of parading around the house with my underwear, slippers, pillows, shoes” she says. “It gets a bit embarrassing when he snoops through a guest’s suitcase and comes out with personal items. He never chews anything; he just likes showing us what he’s found.”
Skye may be a pure breed, but Liguori says the advice she offers to people considering buying one is the same she’d offer any dog owner: “No matter where you get the dog, they all need love, attention, lots of exercise and good care. They are part of the family and respond to kindness and love. The more time you spend with your dog, the more love you’ll get back. They really are a gal’s best friend!”
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About the author: Patrick Henderson is a San Diego-based freelance writer specializing in entertainment and lifestyle stories. He has two cats, Mr. Boots and Buster, who tolerate him as long as he brings home the kibble.