Wilcox’s lab sparky – July 10, 2003

Detroit Free Press (MI)

July 10, 2003



After spending last weekend relaxing and practicing at
Torch Lake near Elk Rapids, Milt Wilcox and his dog
Sparky will stoke their competitive fires this week in a
national canine competition.

Wilcox, 53, spent 16 seasons as a major league pitcher,
including nine with the Tigers in 1977-1985, but his
black labrador, Sparky, is the one training these days.

Sparky finished the 2003 season as the No. 8-ranked Dock
Dog in the country, a competition in which dogs jump off
a dock into water and are measured by the distance of
their jumps.

“He’s more athletic than I ever was,” Wilcox said of his
dog, which he sort of named after Hall of Fame manager
Sparky Anderson.

“When I got him, I noticed his back two feet were
white,” said Wilcox, who lives in Huntington Woods. “I
said, he’s premature white, like Sparky Anderson. I just
thought, that’s a great name for a dog.”

Milt and Sparky — the dog — will attend today’s Bark
in the Park promotion at Comerica Park, when the Tigers
host the Chicago White Sox at 1:05 p.m.

Dog owners can bring their pooches to Comerica Park and
watch the game with fellow dog lovers in the leftfield

Other activities include a pregame agility show by the
Purina Dog Chow Incredible Dog Challenge Team, and the
Bowser Base Run when dogs and owners will run bases set
up in the outfield to win prizes. There will also be
photo opportunities with Tigers mascot PAWS, in exchange
for $5 donations to the Michigan Animal Adoption

After Bark in the Park, Wilcox and Sparky will head to
Reno, Nev., to compete in ESPN’s Great Outdoor Games on
July 19-22. Sparky will vie with 11 other dogs for the
title in the Big Air competition.

In the first round, each dog will make three jumps. The
distance is determined by electronic sighting of the
point at which the dog’s hindquarters — not including
the tail — enter the water.

The top eight dogs advance to the semifinals for two
additional jumps. The top four after that advance to the
medal round for two final jumps.

Wilcox, who finished his career with a 119-113 record
and 4.07 ERA, became interested in the canine sport
after watching it on television.

“This past winter, I saw these dogs on ESPN jumping off
the dock and into the water,” Wilcox said. “I said, ‘My
dog can do that.’ ”

Wilcox, who gives private baseball lessons and runs
clinics around the state, discovered www.dockdogs.com
and entered his dog in a competition in Indianapolis.

Sparky didn’t fare well in his initial outing, but
Wilcox didn’t give up. Sparky won his next competition,
in Ft. Wayne, Ind., and they’ve been touring the country
ever since.

“It’s almost like pitching again, watching him jump,”
Wilcox said. “When you have a pet, they tend to become
almost like your kids.

“Sparky really enjoys jumping, and you go to all these
other events and see how much fun he’s having. You
become friends with the other people.”

Wilcox and Sparky hooked up with Pet Supplies “Plus” as a
sponsor. They make promotional appearances in exchange
for training supplies for competitions. Wilcox and
Sparky have also performed Frisbee-fetching exercises
for the Tigers at community events.

Sparky’s longest jump unofficially is 22 feet, 4 inches.
Sparky was eighth in the 2003 Dock Dog rankings with an
average of 21-3. The top dog, Little Morgan, averaged

Wilcox said Sparky’s best jumps are ahead of him: “Every
meet he’s been in, he’s improved his distance.”

What: Bark in the Park.
When: 1:05 p.m. today when Tigers host Chicago White
Where: Comerica Park.
Overview: Dogs and owners can sit in the Pooch section
in the leftfield pavilion. Activities include a pregame
agility demo by the Purina Dog Chow Incredible Dog
Challenge Team and the Bowser Base Run when dogs and
owners will run bases set up in the outfield before the
game to win prizes. All pets must be leashed and have
dog licenses. Fans with pets can enter the park through
Gate C, behind the scoreboard.

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