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PLAYING FETCH AT PAC BELL

1 DOGGIE BAGS

Number of splash hits during the 16 years Pac Bell has been open: 13. Number of those retrieved by the dogs: 1. But don't blame the pooches, blame the players for the dearth of weekend homers. The Good Ship Jollipup sailed only on Saturdays last season; this season it works only on Sundays. But a recovered Sammy Sosa batting-practice dinger fetched $200 when auctioned by Pets In Need.

2 BEST IN SHOW

Tryouts for B.A.R.K. are rigorous. Only Portuguese water dogs are welcome. And just three of five made the cut this season. The boot camp? Tests for swimming speed, hand-signal training, sociability with the four vets and, obviously, water fetching. The soggy spotlight doesn't bother the dogs. But fame has a downside. "Just look what Disney did to the Dalmatians," says Sue D'Augusta, proud mom of

3 BIG SPLASH

Pundits can bark all they want about whether the balls are juiced or not, but we do know that they are corked. Which means the pills float after they splash down. Even if a waterlogged ball started to sink, it still wouldn't escape these pups' slobbery clutches. The lung capacity of a Portuguese water dog is greater than that of most canines, which allows it to dive as deep as 12 feet to corral its catch.

MOTLEY CREW

Novello, who played Father Guido Sarducci in the late '70s on Saturday Night Live, happily threw out the first toss in the Cove on July 1, 2000. Originally, he wanted to train his dachshund, Lassie Molinari, and a fleet of other funny-looking dogs to retrieve the balls. "I thought they could wear wet suits with some advertising on it," he says. "It turns out Lassie likes water. But only in a toilet."

Don Novello, a.k.a. Father Guido Sarducci, had a vision-a slobbery, shaggy vision, but a vision nonetheless. In 1996, when Pac Bell was still a plan on paper, Novello outlined his dream to Giants VP Larry Baer: a floating doggie dugout in McCovey Cove, the inlet beyond the rightfield wall, with trained pups to fetch home run splash-downs. Baer initially tossed Novello's letter (signed Father Guido), but several phone calls later, Baer relented. With Pets In Need (a local animal shelter) at the helm, Baer and Novello co-founded the Baseball Aquatic Retrieval Korps (B.A.R.K.), and installed the crew on the Good Ship Jollipup. Novello says his dream makes strange reality: "Dogs and the Giants is an interspecies marriage that

RUFF JUSTICE

Giants VP Larry Baer was so moved by Pets In Need, he had the team donate $5,000 a year to the shelter. He's not alone in his puppy love. Hundreds of B.A.R.K fans pack the boardwalk before games. And for those itching for a brush with greatness, a $20 donation to Pets In Need will buy a quick game of fetch with one of the B.A.R.K. pack-and

SEA LEGS

At first, the Cove was going to be patrolled by a herd of 100-pound Newfoundlands. But the Ports- which weigh 40 pounds soaking wet, have webbed feet and are bred to carry nets, messages and fish between boats-are a more sensible fit. "They're part of the poodle family," says Camille Marshall, whose dog Buoy is a rookie. "But please don't tell

NOBLESSE OBLIGE

Pets In Need gave away more than 700 dogs last year. None of those adoptees were Portuguese water dogs, which cost $1,500 per pup. "They're like potato chips- we can't stop with just one," says D'Augusta of her two pooches. Many mutts are not as lucky, so B.A.R.K.'s Ports paddle the Bay to save their less prestigious cousins, not to mention those damp dingers.

PUP PATROL

Last season, a yacht nearly hit Shadow as she chased down a ball popped over during practice. Since then, the San Francisco police department patrols the waters beyond rightfield to protect the pups from traffic. Volunteer doggie guard Tom Hoynes, who rides to games from his Alameda home in his inflatable raft, helps keeps poachers at bay.