Mets: How Willow McNeil became the team’s unofficial mascot in one year

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 26: Jeff McNeil #6 of the New York Mets connects on a third inning three run home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field on July 26, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 26: Jeff McNeil #6 of the New York Mets connects on a third inning three run home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field on July 26, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

Willow McNeil has become the unofficial mascot of the New York Mets.

It all started on July 26, 2019, with a few innocent barks and wags of the tail. The New York Mets hosted a pet adoption event at Citi Field with the North Shore Animal League. A whole herd of puppies was there, and several Mets took advantage of pooch photo ops and some good old fashioned puppy playtime.

For recent All-Star Jeff McNeil, one puppy stood out. That day, he spent some time with an Alaskan Malamute pooch, then just a few weeks old. He and his wife Tatiana quickly decided to adopt the lovable puppy, and named her Willow. A couple of weeks later, after the Mets returned home from their next road trip, Willow was officially part of the McNeil family.

Since then, she has become somewhat of a cult hero among Mets fans. Shortly after she was adopted, Willow started her own Instagram account, which now boasts over 17,000 followers. (well, maybe her mom and dad started it for her…)

She now shares the account with Mac, a cat that the McNeils adopted this past offseason.

Through the account’s posts, which McNeil often shares on his own social media accounts, Mets fans have watched Willow grow up right before their eyes. In a matter of months, she went from a puppy that could easily fit in your arms to, quite simply, a large dog.

For Jeff McNeil and all Mets fans, puppy power is indeed real. The same day he met Willow, but before he officially adopted her, McNeil hit a towering home run in the Mets’ victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“I think hitting a home run after holding a puppy, you know, I think that gives me a little bargaining chip,” McNeil commented after the game. “If my wife wants more homers, we may have to get a puppy.”

At spring training #1 this year, aka “pre-pandemic baseball,” Mets fans in attendance were certainly excited about seeing their favorite players take the field after a long offseason. Many were just as excited about potentially meeting the famous Willow.

Willow even has her own merchandise in the form of this “Puppy Power” t-shirt, proceeds from which go to the North Shore Animal League and the Animal Rescue Foundation.

However, Willow’s influence stretches far beyond the internet and sometimes makes it directly onto the field. On July 25, Steven Matz surrendered a home run to Atlanta Braves right fielder Adam Duvall in the second inning. It sailed into the right field seats, smacking directly into a cardboard cutout of Willow McNeil herself. She was seated cheerfully next to cardboard cutouts of Michael Conforto’s two dogs, Griffey and Kali.

This incident caused quite a stir on Mets twitter, with many fans dubbing the rest of the game “Willow’s revenge.” Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling, and Steve Gelbs also devoted an extended in-game segment to some comically serious reporting on the canine cardboard cutouts.

Before 2020, it would be hard to fathom a situation like this occurring during a major league baseball game, with a team’s broadcast crew dissecting every moment of a dog cardboard cutout being hit by a home run. It’s absurd to even think about. But the Mets are known for indulging in goofy broadcast moments whenever possible, and this dog-centric home run was no exception.

McNeil is not the only Mets player to turn his dog into a social media sensation. Brandon Nimmo’s dog, Jake, also has his own Instagram account, called “Jake the Snake Nimmo.” It has over 2,000 followers of its own and posts plenty of cute pictures.

Still, there’s something about Willow that has an added layer of charm.

“I think why Willow resonates with so many fans is because of the serendipity that comes with how she made her way into the McNeils’ lives, which is often times how so many rescue dogs find their owners,” said Mets fan and “The 7 Line” trivia host Julia Quadrino. “Jeff wasn’t out looking for a dog, he held her in a moment of fulfilling a PR duty but instantly felt this connection of, ‘wow, this is MY dog. This dog needs me and I need her. Let me beg my wife to let me bring her home.'”

Quadrino is also the founder and owner of Quadrino Dog Care, a professional dog sitting and walking business located on Long Island.

“I know of DOZENS of clients that happened upon their dogs in the same way,” Julia added. “They weren’t looking, but the dog found them, and they did whatever they needed to do to make sure they could bring it home. It’s a story that helps us bridge the gap with Jeff from ‘MLB All-Star’ to ‘human being.'”

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Clearly, the McNeils’ kind gesture of adopting a dog in need resonated far and wide with Mets fans and endeared McNeil himself even more to the Flushing Faithful. Let’s hope that Willow’s positive influence leads the Mets to on-field success in 2020, or at the very least, more cute Instagram posts and a reminder to “adopt, not shop” when looking for a new pet pooch.