Dragons superfan Mike Belcher stood patiently at the main turnstile waiting for the bellowing horn that allows entrance into Fifth Third Field. He’d received the news on his phone but was more concerned about the cold weather for Friday’s home opener.
First-year Dragons manager Jose Nieves sat in his office, more interested in figuring out Saturday’s potential doubleheader lineup than the team’s potential owners.
And Dragons pitcher Mo Wiley, well, he along with a number of players understandably didn’t know who owned the Dragons in the first place.
Players, coaches and fans had the same general reaction to news that the majority owner of Mandalay Baseball Properties — the parent company of the Dayton Dragons — put its stake on the block. As long as the team stays in Dayton, remains an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds and provides quality entertainment — both on the field and off — then all is good at Fifth Third Field.
They got all of those Friday night as the Dragons celebrated their home opener with an 8-5 win against the Great Lakes Loons. The temperature was 46 degrees at first pitch. But an announced crowd of 9,079 — a 914th consecutive sell-out — gave the Dragons a warm welcome.
“It’s a great organization and they’re doing everything right,” Wiley said. “They’re filling the seats and they’re working to put a great product on the field. … That’s the first I’ve heard of (the sale). We focus on what’s between the lines and that’s playing ball and going hard.”
As for the business off the field, Englewood’s Belcher wasn’t fretting about the Dragons’ future.
“It’s just big business saying let’s go buy something else,” said Belcher, a season ticket holder since 2001. “As long as there’s an entertainment package I don’t think it’ll be an issue.”
On Friday, balloon artists on stilts, face painters, opening ceremonies featuring a dove release and the always popular mid-inning entertainment satisfied the crowd.
The win did the same for Nieves. He said he had been briefed in spring training that Seaport Capital LLC, a New York-based private equity firm, wanted to sell its stake in Mandalay Baseball Properties.
“My main focus as field manager is making sure the players represent the Dragons in the city and help the community like going to schools, attending hospitals and doing clinics,” Nieves said. “Management has been awesome down here. Honestly, players don’t really care too much about (team ownership) at this level. Kids are going to get paid by the Reds regardless of who owns (the Dragons).”
The Dragons, affiliated with the Reds through the 2016 season, earned it Friday. Dragons’ catcher Joe Hudson held onto the ball after absorbing a jarring body blow by the Loons’ Devin Shines to preserve a 3-3 tie in the top of the sixth. Dayton then put it away in the eighth with five runs off three Great Lakes errors and a wild pitch.
Great Lakes Loons at Dayton Dragons, 6 p.m. doubleheader start with 25-minute break between seven-inning games (gates open at 5:30 p.m.) Game 1 on Ch. 7.2, Time Warner 23/372; both games on 980-AM.