Fifth Third Field should be the coziest homefield advantage in minor league baseball, but for the Dayton Dragons it has been anything but.
The confines have been far from friendly and a house of horrors. Dayton lost 11-5 to Lake County on Friday, dropping the first two games to start the second half of the season.
The Dragons home record is now 11-26. The team has exceled on the road, going 17-17. A team playing .500 ball on the road can count on being in contention, but that isn’t the case for Dayton.
The biggest victim is the pitching staff. The team ERA on the road is 4.16, but rises to 5.55 whenever Dayton plays at Fifth Third Field. The staff has given up 16 home runs while traveling, and 37 while it’s the host.
Dayton has played well on the road against the top teams. The Dragons took four out of five games at South Bend last month, the first place team in the Eastern Division. They took two out of three recently at Bowling Green, another league leader with the best pitching staff in the league.
Why the difference? Dayton manager Jose Nieves thinks visiting teams play harder in Dayton. The Dragons have led single-A baseball in attendance for years and hold the longest sell-out streak in professional sports. Visiting players know they will be performing in front of 8,000 to 9,000 fans and trips to Dayton have become something to mark on the calendar.
“I think teams that come to play here in Dayton are so excited, they play even harder,” Nieves said. “That’s my thinking. We have the same guys, same pitching staff and same hitters, but the other teams come here with big intentions and play harder.”
The Dragons are second in the league in fielding, but have had big lapses at times in key situations. It happened again Friday in the fourth, when Lake County’s Erik Gonzalez hit a double and two errors on the play allowed the Captains to score three runs.
Nieves said players may deal with more distractions while at home. If that’s the case, they need to adjust better than they have.
“It’s been the same since day one here in Dayton,” Nieves said. “The kids that come up here behind them will have to deal with it. There might be an issue with having to deal with stuff around home, but you will have to deal with it in the major leagues if you get there.”
Dayton finishes its series against Lake County today at 7 p.m. The Dragons start a series with Lansing on Sunday at 4 p.m.
Lake County at Dayton, 7 p.m.
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