OCEAN CITY — When the first pet expo opens at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center this weekend, the event will fittingly feature a pair of competitions operated and emceed by a former major league pitcher who won a World Series game in 1984.
The pet expo, set for the convention center this Saturday and Sunday and a nwe addition to the annual Autumn Home & Condo Show, will feature various competitions, vendors demonstrating and selling all manner of pet-related products, talent and costume contests for pets and even adoption opportunities from the local humane societies. However, featured prominently during the weekend festivities will be the Ultimate Air Dogs and Ultimate Luring competitions produced and operated by former major league pitcher Milt Wilcox and his family and staff.
Since 2005, Wilcox and his family and staff have been touring the country with the Ultimate Air Dogs and Ultimate Luring competitions and the tour includes a stop in Ocean City this week, fittingly in the midst of the 2019 World Series. Wilcox pitched in the big leagues from 1970 to 1986 and among his many accomplishments is winning game three of the 1984 World Series as the starting pitcher.
As the name suggests, Ultimate Air Dogs is a competition featuring dogs of all breeds and sizes jumping off a dock and chasing and catching a target before landing in a pool. Wilcox said this week the concept started years ago as a friendly competition between hunters and farmers and their dogs.
“Back in the day, a bunch of guys would go to these fairs out in Minnesota or wherever and that’s kind of where it started,” he said. “We’d have a bunch of farmers with hunting dogs and the next thing you know, somebody says I’ll bet you a dollar my dog can jump higher and farther than your dog.”
From those early beginnings was borne Ultimate Air Dogs started by Wilcox and son Brian in 2005. The friendly competition really got jump started and gained national interest when Wilcox partnered with the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge, a nationally televised event whose winners have been guests on the Late Show with David Letterman, for example.
“We would go to fairs and other events like the event in Ocean City this weekend and set up the dock and the pond and it really generated a lot of interest,” he said. “It really got going when we partnered with Purina and some of their events were on national television.”
The affable Wilcox emcees most of the competitions, which include around 120 events each year, and his running commentary and dry wit are as popular as the jumping dogs themselves. Ultimate Air Dogs is a competitive circuit featuring dogs from all over the country, but Wilcox said there will be plenty of opportunity for local dogs to get on the dock and compete and show off their skills.
“We’ll have competitive dogs coming from four or five states this weekend, but we’ll also draw in some local dogs,” he said. “I just love that area and I know once you get away from the resort it’s big hunting and fishing country, so we’ll have some local dogs out there competing.”
Ultimate Luring is a separate, but equally entertaining competition. It features dogs chasing a simulated target through an obstacle course and Wilcox will emcee those events throughout this weekend in Ocean City.
“Everybody who has ever had a dog knows if it sees a squirrel, he’s gone,” he said. “This is a way to kind of simulate that. They’re setting the course up now. It’s an obstacle course where the target is pulled through the course with a series of pullies and the dogs chase it through the course. It’s great training and exercise for the dogs, but the spectators really enjoy it.”
Wilcox’s major league baseball career spanned 16 years from 1970 to 1986. In 1970, Wilcox was a young pitcher on the Cincinnati Reds team that lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. Wilcox was the losing pitcher in game three against the Orioles that year. In 1983, Wilcox was one out away from a perfect game. In 1984, he won game three of the World Series as a starting pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, who went on to beat the San Diego Padres that year.
“I was just telling my wife that was only 35 years ago,” he said. “It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it was 35 years. I guess I’m getting ancient. I was lucky enough to have a nice long career and pitched in two World Series and two playoffs and won games in both, so I was pretty fortunate.”
While Ultimate Air Dogs and Ultimate Luring consume much of his time these days, Wilcox remains close to the game of baseball.
“I love baseball,” he said. “I love to play, but I don’t necessarily like to watch. I get caught up in it again when the playoffs start, and I definitely watched last night [Tuesday]. It was a great game and it should be a great series.”
As a former pitcher and World Series game-winner, Wilcox said he will focus on the action on the mound as the 2019 World Series unfolds.
“When I watch football, I like to watch the quarterbacks and it’s the same with baseball,” he said. “I like to watch great pitchers and great pitching matchups and this series should have plenty of that. I played most of my career in the American League, so I guess I’m leaning toward the Astros.”
The pet expo is set for this Saturday and Sunday at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center. The show runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The event is family-friendly and pet-friendly and well-behaved pets are welcome as long as they are leashed. There are some other requirements for pets to attend. For more information, visit the event’s website at www.oceanpromotions.info.