Back in 1993, Minnesota's brand-new minor league baseball team, the St. Paul Saints, hired Dennis Hauth, of Prescott, Wis., to procure them a pig.
Not just any pig. One that Hauth and his wife, Marilyn, would train, costume and wrangle for its role as the team's "ball pig." While others have enlisted "ball dogs" to ferry game balls between the dugout and the home-plate ump, the Saints are the only team to use swine.
With the help of an annual naming contest (submit at StarTribune.com/namethepig by March 21), each season's "ball pig" is given a moniker. They've been named after celebrities (Garrison Squealer, Brat Favre, Kevin Bacon), fictional characters (Hamlet, Ham Solo), songs (867530Swine), movies (Slumhog Millionaire), video games (Porknite), or whatever was in the zeitgeist (This Little Piggy Stayed Home in 2020).
After three decades with the Saints, Hauth shares how he's outlasted all the team's pigs — and players. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Back when all this started, you were a 39-year-old dairy farmer who had launched a different animal business to rebound from the 1980s farm crisis.
We had a mobile petting zoo that we'd take around the metropolitan area. And we provided quite a few animals for TV commercials — pigs for Bissell, reindeer for Target.
How did the Saints find you?
They were looking for somebody to train a pig mascot for them and put ads in the paper. Somebody I knew suggested the Saints give me a call because I had done a lot of really weird things with animals.
Is it true you were contracted to provide the pig before the Saints had even hired a single baseball player?
Yes, that's correct.
Where do you get your pigs these days?
I have a wonderful pig farmer just on the other side of Ellsworth who is very good about having calm pigs. She'll have four or five sows farrowed — the piglets are born within a month of when they need to be at the ballpark [for the home opener, on April 4 this year] so they're up to 2 weeks old when I see them.
How do you choose?
We gather up four or five or six of them and sit down and play with them and see how they react to me. I'll pick two or three and I'll bring them to the farm here and I'll see who adapts to wearing a harness and isn't too squealy — though little pigs squeal all the time anyway.
Do you consider physical features, too?
When we did Little Red Porkette they wanted a red pig. We try to go with ones that have a shorter snout. And we like ears up, because when they flop down, they cover their eyes. For pictures, it doesn't help anybody if they have their eyes covered.
How does training begin?
The first thing we have to do is get them on a bottle. After they get used to that, we put a harness on 'em and we start walking.
How do they respond?
With a lot of squealing and a lot of grunting and a lot of, "I don't like you!" When we start out, the walks are short — halfway down my driveway, then back up. Pigs are very intelligent, so within a day or two they figure out, "OK, I'm going to scream going down the driveway, but when we turn around to head back to the barn, I will be just fine."
At the ballpark, why do you have the pig on a leash?
They're supposed to go left and head for the ump, but they get friendly with the players and then suddenly they want to go to first base, or they want to goof around.
But at some point, they remember the ump has their bottle?
Pigs do not have the best eyesight, but believe it or not, they recognize the shoes — the umps wear black shiny shoes.
Speaking of umps, tell us about the tradition of initiating new ones.
We always told the new umps that it was tradition that they have to kiss the pig the first time they're at the ballpark. But that has kind of come to a stop now. The umps don't want to kiss 'em.
Tell us about all the costumes Marilyn makes for the pig.
Your standard uniform would be the saddlebags and a baseball hat. For the second inning, we put a tutu on 'em. In the third and sixth innings, they drag the field, so the pig wears his dress. And then he has a saddle and Kermit the Frog rides on his back. He has a cow costume, a spider costume, a clown costume. Sometimes, we have a little sweater we put on him and he's a sausage. We have the super pig, which is a Superman shirt on the pig. Many, many years ago, I actually had a motorcycle that they would ride out there, so he had a motorcycle costume. It worked out fairly well at times, other times not so much, so it kind of went by the wayside.
You mentioned the pig dressing in drag. Why do you exclusively use males?
The second year, we decided to use a female pig. We were assured by quite a few pig people that she wouldn't have any hormonal problems in that short of a period of time. They were wrong.
Every time we did anything with her, she had a temper tantrum.
What does a pig temper tantrum look — or sound — like?
Uh ... screaming maniac? When we would put a costume on her to go out, she would scream. When we'd let her out the door, she would scream. When we'd turn around to bring her back, she would scream.
How do the pigs change as the season progresses?
When they're a month old, they're like a 1-year-old child. At 2 months old, they're like a 2-year-old: terrible twos. They mature quite quickly. Once they get to be about 5 months old, they're over 100 pounds. Marilyn makes the costumes so that she can increase their size quickly, with false seams she lets out.
Why did you start replacing the pig midseason?
If I keep a pig for the entire season, by the end of September, we're looking at over 300 pounds. Uncontrollable. Once they figure out that they can outmuscle me, everything is lost. Because they will do exactly as they want, when they want. Once the pig gets to be about 150 pounds, they'll start testing me as far as, "I don't have to be on this leash" or "I'm not gonna go where you want me to go." There's nothing cute when the pig gets that size. And everybody loves a cute little pig. Also, a pig naturally wants to rut in the grass and a pig that big can dig a 6-inch hole in less than a second.
Now, the question everybody wants to know: Where do the pigs go when they retire?
Back to the farm that they came from. She finishes out their weight and then, unfortunately, they do have to go off to market. The very first pig, Saint, we kept until he died of old age; he made it to 6 ¼ years old. He was well over 1,500 pounds at the time. I spent three years helping him stand up every day. So after that I said, "That's not gonna happen anymore." But he was a real sweetheart.
Did you ever think you'd be in the "ball pig" business this long?
(Laughs.) No. We thought it would be fun to do for a couple of years. We didn't know if this league was going to last. Back in the day, Sid Hartman was on the radio and he did not like the Saints much. I remember once, it was about July, and he said, "The Saints won't last another month." And I remember looking at my wife and going, "I'll make sure we get paid."
Will you and Marilyn keep doing this awhile longer?
You bet. We had always wondered what summer would be like if we didn't do the Saints games. But during COVID, when we weren't there so much, it was boring.