No dog ever had a better yard to play in than Drago.
Because as countless Boston Red Sox players and fans saw over the last decade, Drago’s playground was Fenway Park.
Sniffing along the Green Monster, exploring the dugouts or simply resting on the pitcher’s mound before a game, Drago was a delight. And valuable, too, as a German shepherd service dog for head groundskeeper Dave Mellor.
A week ago, shortly after walking on the outfield grass before the Red Sox hosted Oakland, Drago had a stroke. Two days later, he died at age 10.
“I was blessed he was in my life as he saved my life, changed my life, inspired me and gave hope to my life in ways I hadn’t had in decades and didn’t know were possible,” Mellor texted The Associated Press on Thursday.
“I am absolutely heartbroken,” he said.
On Friday night, before a game against St. Louis, the Red Sox recognized Drago on the videoboard and a tribute was read over the public-address system.
“Friends, throughout Fenway Park’s 110-year history, so many have roamed the diamond and given us memories to last a lifetime. But perhaps none have provided more love and comfort than the four-legged companion of our head groundskeeper, Dave Mellor,” the salute read.
“Last night, we learned that this constant presence and beloved figure at the ballpark for nearly a decade was laid to rest,” it said. “We send love and support to his family, honor his service and recognize a life well lived. We will miss you, Drago.”
Mellor has been tending the Fenway lawn since 2001 and met Drago in 2014.
Drago was always near Mellor’s side, on and off the field. Mellor twice in his life was hit by cars, necessitating dozens of surgeries, and Drago helped him cope with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.
A couple days before the Red Sox played the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2018 World Series, Drago romped around the Fenway Park grass with one of his sons, puppy Bronco — owned by then-Boston pitcher Rick Porcello.
Bronco was among a litter of five born that summer to Lisle, another of Mellor’s dogs. Then-Red Sox infielder Ian Kinsler also adopted a littermate.
“You see Dave with Drago out there on the field, you can see he’s a special dog,” Kinsler said a day before the Series.
Many Red Sox fans, aware of the team’s history, often wondered if Mellor’s dog was named for former Boston pitcher Dick Drago.
That would be a nice touch, Mellor would say, but not accurate.
“He was born in Slovakia,” Mellor once explained. “They told us his name means ‘precious’ in Slovakian.”
Mellor is surrounded by dog lovers. Several years ago, his wife and family went to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City and spent an hour touring the backstage area.
Mellor said one of Drago’s sons, Keeper, will become his service dog after completing his training.
In recognition of Drago, Mellor asked people to give “extra love” to their dogs and consider a donation in his prized pet’s name to the Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston or the Home Base Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“We have been overwhelmed by the powerful and beautiful tributes for Drago. He touched so many people’s lives,” Mellor said.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/tag/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports