When Padres pitcher Blake Snell has a bad day, he turns to Ken Griffey Jr.
Well, not exactly.
Snell never got the chance to play with his favorite player, but he does spend a lot of quality time with Junior, the 10-year-old labrador retriever he named after the Hall of Fame outfielder.
It’s a strange honor that might not even be aware of, Snell says.
“I think I’ve told him, but I don’t think he would know or care to know,” Snell says. “It’s more I care. … It’s cool having a dog named after my favorite player.”
Junior’s been with Snell since his time in the minor leagues. Snell says he always wanted a chocolate lab, so after playing his first full professional season in 2012, he went out and got one. Now, 10 years and a cross-country move later, Junior is still the one Snell goes to following a rough game. “Whenever I’m upset or I [have] a bad day, I always go to Junior,” Snell says. “He’s been through all of my rough patches since I’ve been in pro ball. … He understands.”
“Something that I really cherish about him is how much I know that he actually loves me and cares about me every day,” Snell adds. “Good, bad, the day doesn’t really matter when I see him. He’s just excited to see me. … And that means more to me than anything.”
In the years since getting Junior, Snell’s picked up a Cy Young Award, has been named an MLB All-Star and has even gotten a second dog: Deuce. The 1 1/2–year-old pup was named by Snell’s girlfriend, Haeley, who already has a dog named Ace. The younger dog is a “cuddle bug,” Snell says—especially with Junior.
“Deuce loves to just throw his body on people, and especially Junior’s face,” he says. “Junior takes the abuse and doesn’t really care. But they’re definitely best friends. And they definitely love each other a lot.”
Another thing Deuce loves? Dancing, though Snell does it with him less now that he’s no longer a puppy. “I lift him up, and I’ll hold him. And I’ll dance with him, and I’ll put his head on my shoulder. He’ll just be sitting there and loving it,” he says.
Both dogs made the journey from Tampa Bay to San Diego when Snell was traded from the Rays to the Padres in 2020. Snell says Junior and Deuce both handled the transition well, but one thing has never gotten easier: leaving the two pooches behind when he’s on the road. “Obviously, I don’t like it, and I prefer to be with them everywhere,” Snell says. “But when I come home, it’s always great because when I open the door, they both come sprinting.”
“[Deuce] comes like a crash [test] dummy, just sliding across. And then Junior comes … and then he just waits for me. And then we go sit on the couch. And then that’s when I express my love to them and how much I miss them.”
Beyond having a big impact on Snell’s personal life, Junior and Deuce also frequently make a splash with the public on social media. Snell says fans love being able to connect with their favorite athletes over pets. When he streams online, Snell’s usually bombarded with requests to show the dogs.
“And then when I show them, it’s all these lovey-dovey emojis in the chat and stuff like that,” he adds.
The fascination with pets follows Snell to the Padres’ bullpen. When he’s warming up, he’ll often speak to eager fans about their own animals.
“It’s cool that we could find a love of our pets, more than just the love of baseball,” Snell says. “It’s cool that I can connect with fans that way.”
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