Giger: Saddle up! Cowboy monkeys a family affair

It’s monkeys riding on dogs! Come on, who wouldn’t want to watch that?

Few things represent minor league baseball hi-jinx more than the Cowboy Monkeys, the awesomely unique show that performed Monday night at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

Yes, the dogs and monkeys do have names. The dogs are Dot, Shot, Bob and Rocker, and the monkeys are Sam, Bubba and Meglynn.

No, the monkeys are not tied onto the dogs, which makes it pretty impressive that they’re able to hang on as they perform their show of herding sheep.

We’ve seen a lot of goofy traveling entertainment acts visit Curve games over the years, and while most are funny, over time, the been there, done that feeling sets in watching them.

But everyone loves dogs. And everyone loves little monkeys.

Talk about a golden idea.

The Cowboy Monkeys performed two brief skits during Monday’s doubleheader, then put on their main show after the games ended – at about 11 p.m.

A good portion of the crowd of 4,117 stuck around to watch the show, including hundreds of kids. A number of Curve players and coaches also stayed in the dugout to watch the show, and the cutest moment occurred when one of the monkeys gave a little kiss to second baseman Jarek Cunningham’s 13-month-old toddler.

Strangely enough, when Cowboy Monkeys owner and on-field narrator Tim Lepard was first approached to perform at a minor league game six years ago, he said no. Now, he’s doing more than 120 shows a year (32 in the minors this year), and one of his NFL stops will be at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh later this year to perform during a Steelers game.

“I had no idea it would be like this,” Lepard said of his show’s incredible popularity.

A&E is filming a documentary about the Cowboy Monkeys that will air later this year. In an industry where furry mascots try to make people laugh at ballgames, all it took was a guy who’s been doing rodeos for 36 years to come up with a refreshing, genuinely unique show.

“I know the animals are very popular, and I take care of my animals,” said Lepard, who makes his home in Pontotoc, Miss., although he’s rarely there because of the demand for his shows. “This is a blessing from God because of what I do out here and the people I see.”

Lepard’s 8-year-old daughter, Lakelynn, travels with him doing shows throughout the summer, and their father-daughter bond is really the best story about the Cowboy Monkeys.

The little girl has a big Southern drawl and is the sweetest child. I was spending a few minutes talking to her dad beyond the right field wall Monday, and out of nowhere she brought me a chair so I could sit down. How many 8-year-olds would do that for a complete stranger?

“She thinks about other people more than she does herself,” Tim said, beaming with pride.

Lakelynn gets to see the country, visiting places like the Grand Canyon, DisneyWorld and Mall of America, but make no mistake, she understands her daddy is working hard traveling so much to bring joy to so many.

“He’s really in pain,” the little girl said, “and it cheers him up and he doesn’t hurt no more when the crowd starts cheering.”

Tim Lepard doesn’t know how much longer he can handle traveling so much and doing so many shows. He’s making good money with the Cowboy Monkeys, you can be sure (popular traveling acts in the minor leagues can command several thousand dollars a night), but his body is sore and he misses not being home much.

His eyes sparkle, though, when talking about getting to spend all this valuable time with his daughter and showing her the country.

“This girl has learned from experience,” Tim said. “In school she got the citizenship award, and only two kids got it. She was on honor roll. She does so well adapting to the people, and it has helped her tremendously being out here on the road. What a learning experience.”

Lakelynn took the field with her dad during Monday’s show, and when given the microphone, she proclaimed that her dream is to grow up and be a veterinarian.

“I never thought that my dad was going to do this,” she said of their show. “It’s really fun. I’m lucky to be me.”

Seeing monkeys riding on dogs is pretty cool. But there’s always more going on behind the scenes than the public gets to see, and in the case of the Cowboy Monkeys, it’s a man who has a tougher personal life than most people realize, but one who’s thankful he has his little girl along for the ride to enjoy it.

Follow Giger on Twitter @CoryGiger.