Before the dog days of summer, the Marlins played host to a Hollywood canine during the 2008 season. "Marley & Me," a film based on the '05 autobiographical book by John Grogan, follows the story of a couple that adopts a dog to test its readiness to raise a family. Starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, the yellow Labrador retriever proves to be neurotic but teaches the family life lessons over the years.
Sean Flynn, who was the SVP of marketing and event booking for the Marlins at the time, discovered the movie was being shot in South Florida and reached out to director David Frankel (a fellow Coconut Grove, Fla., resident) about incorporating the club's "Bark at the Park" event into the film. The initial conversation was followed up with questions.
"'That sounds intriguing, but what could we do to make it a little more exciting? What kind of mischief could Marley create?'" said Flynn, who is now CEO of SureAthlete. "The ultimate mischief is Marley got on the field during the game."
After discussing logistics with film production and stadium operations, the Marlins notified Major League Baseball of the idea. Everyone's concerns were eased with the parameters put in place -- from what would happen should the dog have an accident on the field to the 120-second break given between innings to film. MLB gave the OK, and shooting took place when the Marlins beat the Padres, 6-4, on May 2, 2008, at Dolphin Stadium.
Those involved in the film's production arrived to the bus lot where players would enter the stadium toward the beginning of the game. They were greeted, then put in an ancillary locker room until a half-inning before they would shoot. The crew prepped in the stands near the third-base gate with access to the field level. Only a contained group -- "those who needed to know" -- had any inkling as to what was going to happen.
The plan called for the dog actor to run through left field to the corner gate adjacent to the wall. There was a trainer holding the dog until it was time to film and another placed at the entrance of where it was supposed to run. Everything went without a hitch -- except a brief moment when the dog turned toward right field instead of left. Wilson managed to corral his canine co-star on a leash. Players leaving and entering the field momentarily stopped to watch the action unfold. It initially caused confusion because "Bark at the Park" attendees sit in the upper deck. But the on-field antics appeared on the jumbotron, helping the crowd figure out it was part of film production.
"It's kind of weird to see a movie going on," Marlins left fielder Luis Gonzalez said at the time. "I didn't really know it was going to happen then."
Seven months later, "Marley & Me" would set a ticket sales record for the largest Christmas Day box office. The sequence had been kept in the film.
"It was obviously a great opportunity not only for the Marlins but Major League Baseball to get an MLB game in the middle of a major hit at the theaters," Flynn said. "There was an upside for everyone to make this thing work."