From April through October, Talli, a 95-pound Bullmastiff, can be found doing what her canine ancestors did more than 100 years ago: guarding her turf against intruders. Talli’s domain, however, is not the estate of a 19th-century gamekeeper, but rather a 21st-century major league park. Each day during baseball season, Talli accompanies her owner, head groundskeeper Heather Nabozny to Comerica Park, home of the 2006 American League Champion Detroit Tigers. And while she sometimes helps with chores around the park, Talli believes her most important job is to alert Nabozny to any suspicious characters lurking around the stadium.
While we think of dogs primarily as companions, most were bred with a specific purpose in mind. Many such jobs have gone by the wayside in contemporary society, but some dogs, like Talli, creatively adapt. Nabozny first started bringing Talli to Comerica Park when she was a puppy so the young dog wouldn’t have to spend long days at home alone. Then, as Talli grew into adulthood, her breed instincts began to emerge—Talli understood that her role in life was to serve as Nabozny’s guardian.
This particular characteristic became evident one morning as Nabozny and the grounds crew were in the empty stadium, working on the field. As she recalls, “I have a crew of six people who work on a daily basis, and Talli knows who belongs on the field and who doesn’t. And she keeps an eye out; she’ll lie in the middle of center field or near where we are working. And she saw people walking down the stands. We don’t generally watch the stands because we’re watching what we’re doing on the field. But she keeps an eye on everything. She saw a group of about four kids, probably college students, that wanted to leap over the fence and get on the field. So she went over, started barking at them and just sat there.” While Talli held the boys at bay, Nabozny walked over and politely asked them to leave. Not surprisingly, they did so without protest.
While Talli understands that her most important job is to watch over Nabozny and the crew, she also enjoys helping them work on the field. One of her favorite chores is to assist the grounds crew in pulling the tarp over the infield in inclement weather. “Oh, she loves to help with the tarp,” Nabozny says. “When she’s in a rambunctious mood, Talli will grab the big rope and pull on it with us. And she’s actually grabbed a handle, too, and after we roll the tarp out, she’ll help us unfold it. Of course, she also runs across it as we’re trying to drag it, and then I have to tell her to sit.” Talli also likes to gather up the flags the crew puts into the turf to mark areas that need fixing. Which means, says Nabozny, “we have to go back and do it again.”
Talli also shows off her considerable groundskeeping skills during the stadium’s annual “Bark in the Park” event. As dogs and their owners gather in the stands to watch the game, Talli joins the grounds crew to help groom the infield. Nabozny decided to include Talli back when “Bark in the Park” was first announced: “I thought it would be cool to have Talli drag the field. So we made her a tiny little drag screen, not very heavy or anything. And I attached it to her collar with the leash attached to it as well so we were both kind of pulling it at the same time. And I trotted her around the field during the seventh-inning stretch.” Not only did Talli receive a round of applause from delighted fans, but Fox Sports also featured Talli demonstrating the “infield drag” on its show that evening.
As the first woman to serve as head groundskeeper at a major-league baseball park, Nabozny finds Talli’s presence, whether on the field or in her lap, to be a source of comfort, as well as a welcome relief from job-related stress —“Just having her around eases me a bit.” Talli is also a great conversation starter, as she “helps break the ice” when vendors come to call. While being able to accompany her person to work makes Talli a lucky dog, as far as Nabozny is concerned, she’s the fortunate one. “It’s a lot better for me. Because I get to see her, I feel like I’m being good to her, as good as I can be. Talli brings me so much joy—I just love her like crazy.”
At the end of the day, Talli makes one last inspection of the field, jumps on the golf cart with Nabozny and takes the elevator up to the stadium parking garage. She snoozes on the way home —dreaming perhaps of hot dogs, bubble gum left by players in the outfield, and the woman seated next to her, stroking her head. Talli needs her rest, because tomorrow, like the Bullmastiffs of a century ago, she has work to do.
Photos by Robin Buckson