MESA, Ariz. — As Daniel Mengden prepared for another day of Cactus League play, he described a pretty relaxing offseason.
“I didn’t do too much,” the Oakland A’s righthander said. “I did a little hunting, fishing, working out, playing video games. Just the typical stuff. Nothing too crazy.”
“Typical stuff” also involves an underground puppy rescue.
After finishing a workout in mid-November, Mengren was headed back to his Houston-area home when he discovered the streets back to his house were blocked off with people milling around.
“There’s people all over, like six to seven,” Mengden said. “I was like, ‘Get out of the way. What are we doing?’ Just trying to get home.”
The 26-year-old stepped out of his car and learned there was a rescue attempt underway.
A group of puppies were stuck in a storm drain. An animal rescue crew had been rounding up several stray pups but two had fallen into the drain and were stuck.
“They were like, ‘Yeah we think they fell down the sewers over here, and we can’t reach them. It’s too wet, and we can’t get to them,’ ” Mengden said.
Like any good reliever, Mengden welcomed the save opportunity.
He asked how far below the road that the pipe was located. He was told the drainage pipe was only about 10 feet down, but rescuers were reluctant to climb into a sewer to reach the lost puppies.
Mengden told them he had waders for fishing and hunting, lived nearby and offered to go in. He quickly returned with waders, a headlamp and fishing net before lowering himself into the hole with another volunteer to start searching for the lost puppies.
“We were following the barks about 300 yards one way,” he said. “We got the one dog, pulled her up and out and then we went back and got the other one, and that was it.
“When we got up, there were five to six news teams there, and I was like, ‘Woah, OK.’”
A’s manager Bob Melvin thought it was a big deal, but then he’s a dog lover.
“When I saw the story and some of the video, it didn’t surprise me,” Melvin said. “For a guy maybe not as known as some of the other guys here, he’s very well liked in the clubhouse. He’s a big part of this group and a terrific guy. So it did not surprise me.”
Maybe nobody appreciated Mengden’s effort more than his fellow A’s pitcher Liam Hendriks and his wife, Kristi. The couple owns six rescue animals and speaks at animal rescue galas across the country.
Hendriks stopped short of labeling Mengden a hero for jumping in a sewer, but he does admire what his teammate did for two puppies in trouble.
“For me, Daniel was certainly close to being there (a hero), for sure, just because the fact he went down, took time and sacrificed his day to do something he wasn’t probably comfortable doing,” Hendriks said. “Anytime you step outside your comfort zone and your boundaries and stuff like that, it’s a huge deal.”
Mengden had one more save in store. He adopted the female puppy that came out of the sewer. She’s acclimating to a normal life, long removed from the craziness of a mid-November afternoon that broke up the “typical stuff” typically occupying Mengden’s free time.
“Everyone is making a big deal out of it,” Mengden said. “I just thought it was a part of my day, helped out and went on with my life, going back to video games and just hanging out.”
Sam Ficarro is a senior majoring in sports journalism at Arizona State University. This story is a part of a partnership between Sports Illustrated and Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.