Written by Colt Rosensweig
Going to Michigan may technically be a vacation, but to me, it always feels like going home. This summer’s trip was the most amazing one in a series of memorable getaways.
Heading back has been extra special ever since Kaline began working the trips as a 16-month-old in 2013—Michigan is basically the only place where I never have to explain the origin of his name. He’s come a long way since then. On his first trip, he was quite unsettled by the plane—takeoff, turbulence, and landing. During the visit itself, he did incredibly well for an adolescent/young adult. But we’ve become so much smoother as a team. We are now partners, rather than trainer and pupil.
"The big highlight of our trip was, naturally, a Detroit Tigers series at Comerica Park. For those who may not know, Kaline is named after Al Kaline, the legendary Tigers right fielder."
This year, Kaline got on the plane and went to sleep, just like his vaunted predecessor, Juno. He was a major hit with the flight attendants—once they found out he was on the plane, anyway. This usually took the majority of the flying time since Kaline is so dark and quiet.
The big highlight of our trip was, naturally, a Detroit Tigers series at Comerica Park. For those who may not know, Kaline is named after Al Kaline, the legendary Tigers right fielder. All we had to do was walk into the park with Kaline wearing his massive, sparkling custom collar (a beautiful collaboration between Aggie’s Anvil and Ella’s Lead) and we got the royal treatment.
We were in the same seats for two of the three games, and got to know basically all the ushers working the area. They were always dropping by, checking in to see if Kaline was in need of more water or any other comfort item. (Kaline ended up with his very own Miguel Cabrera blankie.) The usher from the upper deck section where we sat for the second game of the series made a special visit to check on Kaline in the lower deck during the third game. It was unbelievable!
We had specially planned this series because the Tigers were playing the Astros. Steve Sparks, my all-time favorite ballplayer and former Tigers pitcher, is the color man on Astros radio, not to mention one of Kaline’s favorite people as well. And he was on a mission to get service dog Kaline together with Hall of Famer Al Kaline.
Before that could happen, though, Sparky had some other fun up his sleeve. The weekend was part of a season-long celebration of the 2006 Tigers, who won the American League pennant. Two members of that team were at the park, pitchers Nate Robertson and Todd Jones. Todd Jones, fondly known as Jonesy, is second only to Sparky on my personal list (a fact both of them know, which never fails to amuse me).
On the first night, Dad, Kaline, and I were happily watching the Tigers beat the stuffing out of the Astros when suddenly there was a big hand on my shoulder—it was Jonesy! It turned out that he’d stopped by the Astros radio booth, and Sparky had sent him down to say hi and catch up, since we hadn’t seen him since he retired in 2008. Jonesy adored Kaline. The night really couldn’t have been better.
The third game was supposed to be our rendezvous with Al Kaline. It was also, unfortunately, the day before the trade deadline, one of the busiest days of the season—and Mr. Kaline is a special advisor to the general manager. Sparky came to get us about two hours before game time. He has this crazy knack for appearing out of nowhere, which always surprises me and delights Kaline. We were all over the stadium—down to the players’ tunnel, up some secret stairs to the press box, back down to the concourse, back up to the press box again. It was incredibly hectic and crowded, but Kaline heard the cue to “Follow Sparky” and gleefully led me along wherever Sparky went. (He was very popular in the press box, of course.)
But wherever we went, we had always missed Al Kaline by a few moments; the Tigers were constantly having meetings to talk about possible trades, and of course his presence was required. The lengths Sparky went to trying to make it happen were amazing—there’s a good reason he is our favorite! I think for both me and Kaline, seeing Sparky in Detroit was the biggest highlight, even though it would have been mind-blowing to meet Al Kaline.
My Kaline was also a mini celebrity at our other favorite Michigan haunt, the historic Greenfield Village. He’s been coming for four summers now, so most of the regulars know him. At one point we walked into a demonstration a bit late, and the woman showing off Henry Ford’s “kitchen sink” engine looked up and said, “Ah, and here’s Kaline.”
"One of the biggest differences between there and here is how people treat service dogs in public. For all Kaline’s “celebrity,” not a single person in Michigan attempted to pet or distract him when he was working."
The Model T drivers all wanted Kaline (and Dad and me, since he can’t ride by himself!) as their passenger, and he even made friends, as much as is possible, with one pair of the carriage Percherons, Amos and Edsel. For the most part, Kaline and the horses ignore each other, but Amos and Edsel were just fascinated by Kaline. They didn’t seem at all scared, but any time they saw him waiting at a stop, their ears would pitch forward and they’d stare eagerly at him with bright, dark eyes. It was quite adorable.
All too soon, it was time for us to leave Michigan and head back to California. One of the biggest differences between there and here is how people treat service dogs in public. For all Kaline’s “celebrity,” not a single person in Michigan attempted to pet or distract him when he was working. Sometimes people would stand a respectful distance away from him and ask permission to say hi—a request I granted far more than I usually do. More often, we’d pass parents and hear them teaching their children what a service dog is and why they can’t distract them in any way. It’s an amazing, refreshing place, and Kaline and I can’t wait to go back again!