This is an installment in our Gil’s Journey series, where we track the progress of a pup in training with the Guide Dog Foundation. Check out his paw-some updates at amNY.com/Gil and follow him on Instagram at #GuideDogGil.
If Guide Dog Gil could hum, he would have been humming the "Meet the Mets" jingle last week.
The 5-month-old yellow Labrador retriever — who’s training with the Guide Dog Foundation — took a trip to Citi Field in Flushing to meet the MLB team and its iconic mascot.
He walked onto the field with his mom, Puppy Program Manager Lorin Bruzzese, before the Mets took on the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday and was greeted by Mr. Met during batting practice.
His first reaction: *Sniffs* What is this 6-foot-10-inch man with a toy for a head?
After a little high-pitched verbal encouragement from Bruzzese, and a few tasty treats, Gil was eager to show off his skills with his new pal. The pair engaged in a glove-to-nose high five "touch" action, took a brief stroll and posed for photos as the Mets looked on from the field behind them.
When introducing Gil to a new environment, like this hectic one, Bruzzese said she lays the encouragement on heavy and weans off it as he gets more comfortable in his surroundings.
"I was proud to see he was confident and comfortable, but also composed. He didn’t get too excited, or lose focus too much," Bruzzese, who’s training Gil, said. "This was Gil’s first time at a stadium."
Keeping his focus on mom during the visit was a big sign of his training progress. As a working guide dog, Gil will have to avoid distractions to keep his handler safe.
On the field, he welcomed pats from the team’s mascot, fans and even the players themselves. Infielder Jeff McNeil, who recently adopted a puppy he met during a North Shore Animal League event at the stadium, was the first of his teammates to take a quick break from his warm-up to cheer on Gil. Shortstop Amed Rosario and first base coach Glenn Sherlock followed behind him, kneeling to ask if they could meet the pup.
"It’s important for people to know that in the future, people seeing Gil working and trying to navigate the stadium should allow him to do that without distracting him or reaching out into his path to get into his lane," Bruzzese explains. Of course, pats and praise are always welcome if first approved by the dog’s handler.
While inside Citi Field, Gil and Bruzzese showed us how he’d help his blind or otherwise visually impaired handler around the stadium in the future.
Lorin walked over to one of 800 ADA compliant seats located within the ballpark, particularly on the field level, and guided Gil into an "under." Gil rested beneath her legs, partially under the seat, similar to how he’d "settle" on a subway car or at a restaurant.
"While someone is enjoying a baseball game or any sort of event like that, something Gil would definitely be doing is settling under the seat, keeping a calm demeanor while under the legs and staying as out of the way as possible … Gil will be a really huge part in guiding his handler safely, taking them around obstacles, bringing them to an empty seat safely, getting them on and off the elevator."
Gil’s handler would most likely find their seat with the help of a park assistant.
Citi Field has hundreds of more spacious, ADA seating areas available. "Overall, we are a very accessible ballpark. We will work with fans to find what seating works best for them. ADA seating is generally at the back sections throughout the ballpark," an emailed statement from Citi Field read.
Citi Field also offers assisted listening devices for fans that amplify the park announcements as well as AM radio devices for fans to tune into the WCBS 880 AM feed. Devices can be checked out at the ticket services lobby on game nights. The stadium also offers noise-reducing headphones, weighted lap pads and sensory kits for fans.
Want to train a guide dog puppy? You can apply to become a puppy raising volunteer with the Guide Dog Foundation here.