Players for Pits shows soft side of pit bulls and the big leaguers helping them

Photo courtesy of Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics

Players for Pits shows soft side of pit bulls and the big leaguers helping them

Spring Training

Players for Pits shows soft side of pit bulls and the big leaguers helping them

by Kara Brown
Cronkite News

MESA, Ariz. — Oakland A’s reliever Liam Hendriks is competitive on the mound, but he also has a soft side.

And so does the breed of dog that he is trying to help.

The Australian-born Hendriks is a passionate supporter of an often misunderstood breed, pit bulls, through Players for Pits, a nonprofit no-kill rescue organization that is committed to saving pit bulls.

Hendriks is one of the more than 30 professional baseball players involved with the organization.

“We have such a huge platform that we can advance, and we can use it to get more people involved,” Hendriks said.

Last year, Players for Pits took in 120 dogs with 105 being adopted. Only one dog had to be euthanized, and that was due to health issues.

(Video by Haley Stesiak/Cronkite News)

Pit bulls have been classified as an “aggressive breed” in some jurisdictions and have been banned in many cities. About 700 U.S. cities have established pit bull-specific legislation. The breed is also restricted or banned in many Canadian cities, most recently Montreal, Quebec.

Despite the standard view of the breed, Hendriks believes that their attitude is merely a reflection of their environment.

“They’re loyal to a fault almost, and that’s their biggest issue — the fact that they’re loyal to their owners,” he said. “And some owners aren’t the best owners.”

Stephanie Paluch and former minor league pitcher Ryan Copeland founded Players for Pits in 2013 after Copeland was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, ending his career in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

“We were both passionate about dogs, but specifically the pit bull breed,” Copeland said. “We decided to start a rescue and just ran with it.”

In 2014, Hendriks and his wife Kristi visited with the dogs of Players for Pits, where they met an emaciated rescue dog named Kingston.

Liam and Kristi Hendriks play with a pitbull puppy while visiting the Players for Pits shelter in 2014. (Photo courtesy of Liam Hendriks from Players for Pits in 2014 in Chicago)

Liam and Kristi Hendriks play with a pitbull puppy while visiting the Players for Pits shelter in 2014. (Photo courtesy of Liam Hendriks from Players for Pits in 2014 in Chicago)

One year later, the couple was able to reunite with Kingston at a Players for Pits function. They saw a healthy, happy dog now named Jack Bing living with his family.

The co-founders planned to incorporate professional athletes for a variety of reasons, but mainly due to the platform athletes enjoy.

While in Toronto recently, Hendriks was able to speak with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about his country’s bans. When Montreal adopted its policy in September, it led to thousands of healthy dogs being euthanized.

“I think we just have that opportunity that the common person doesn’t have, that opportunity to talk to the Prime Minister of Canada,” Hendriks said.

Hendriks and the athletes behind Players for Pits believe they can strip the negative stereotypes about pit bulls and reveal the soft side of the dogs and some supportive professional athletes, one rescue at a time.

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