Fritz the dog, YouTube star, missed his first meatball in Atascadero

Evan Ball of Atascadero with his dog, Fritz, in Times Square.
Evan Ball of Atascadero with his dog, Fritz, in Times Square. Courtesy of Evan Ball

An Atascadero golden retriever with clumsy catching abilities became an Internet sensation this week, gaining more than 3.5 million hits on YouTube since Sunday and appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Friday.

The original video shows Fritz, a nearly 3-year-old rescue dog, trying to catch a host of foods that soar slow-motion through the air toward his open mouth only to have him miss the catch as the snacks bounce off his face.

The treats start out simple — a meatball, a strawberry — and quickly grow more comically elaborate, such as a fully loaded taco, a slab of steak and a chimichanga.

Fritz and his owners, Paso Robles High School social studies teacher Evan Ball and his wife, Stacy, flew to New York City this week to appear on “Good Morning America” to film the pup’s charming antics in Times Square.

“It happened so fast; I’m still pretty shocked. But I think it’s hilarious that Fritz has gotten this much attention,” Ball said from New York in an email to The Tribune before the show.

When Fritz isn’t failing at catching random treats, he’s “really great at being a good friend, cuddling, rough-housing and staying positive,” Ball said. “But I wouldn’t say catching anything is his thing.”

Ball said he was hanging out with his daughters and playing with the slow-motion feature on his phone when they realized how fun it would be to make a video of the dog’s failed attempts to catch.

“We already knew Fritz wasn’t very good at catching, but in slow motion it became much more apparent and entertaining,” Ball said.

The now-viral video contains a compilation of clips that Ball recorded over the last two months. He said he posted it online Sunday night.

By Monday morning, Ball realized more than just his family was watching.

“My inbox started filling up with YouTube subscription and comment notices, and it hasn’t stopped,” he said. “I knew it was global when I got media requests from Japan, Germany, Brazil, and more.”

That same day, staff from “Good Morning America” emailed Ball asking him and Fritz to appear on their show in New York City. The network paid for their flight and hotel.

“I was in disbelief that they were requesting Fritz’s presence in Times Square,” Ball said.

A clip of the show posted on the Internet on Friday showed a happy-looking Fritz decked out in a green bandanna as he tried to seize a donut and a banana in mid-air to no avail.

The pup did, however, successfully catch a piece of bacon during the show’s 6 a.m. rehearsal before the show aired at 8 a.m. EST.

Ball estimates the network spent about 10 minutes filming Fritz inside the studio in Times Square, including rehearsal. He thinks they were on air for about 7 minutes. The show’s video clip online lasts a little more than two minutes.

There was also a shot of the dog posing on the red carpet in Times Square with “Good Morning America” correspondent Cameron Mathison.

“It was pretty incredible having them literally roll out the red carpet for Fritz,” Ball told The Tribune after the show.

“It was a great experience, witnessing how a show of that scale comes together behind the scenes.”

Trip highlights include sightseeing and “hearing a crowd chanting Fritz's name,” Ball said.

They leave Sunday.