It’s been 16 years since the Dayton Dragons began its historic run at Fifth Third Field. In that time, a record-setting string of sold out crowds have watched future stars such as Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns and Joey Votto hone their craft.
Here’s a brief history of Dayton’s beloved team, which plays its first home game of the season against the South Bend Cubs on Sunday, April 12.
Home of the Dayton Dragons: The Class-A Minor League Baseball team affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds plays its home games at Fifth Third Field, 220 N. Patterson Blvd., Dayton, which opened on April 27, 2000.
Getting visual: “In 2003, we installed 240 feet of LED, which was a marketing and entertainment breakthrough that has now been copied by many other sports properties,” executive vice president Eric Deutsch said. “Our new 13HD video board is five times larger than our previous board. It’s a great addition to the stadium and another example that we will not stand pat. We will always look to improve and reinvest in Fifth Third Field and in our region.”
Name game: Before moving to Dayton, the franchise was based in Rockford, Ill., where it was known as the Reds (1999), the Cubbies (1995-98), the Royals (1993-94) and the Expos (1988-92).
Ownership: Palisades Arcadia Baseball purchased the Dragons from Mandalay Baseball Properties, LLC. in July 2014. “The local management team has done an exemplary job with the franchise,” Nick Sakellariadis said on behalf of the new ownership group. “They know the community and they know sports entertainment. We look forward to supporting the management team that has been in place for the past 16 years and assisting with the continuation of the philosophies and practices that have made the organization so successful.”
Current coaching staff: José Nieves begins his third season as Dragons manager. He’s joined by second year hitting coach Luis Bolivar, Reds Hall of Famer Tom Browning, who returns as pitching coach, and former Reds player Corky Miller, beginning his new career as catching coach.
Previous coaches: Freddie Benavides, the Dayton Dragons’ first manager, is now an infield coach for the Reds. Delino DeShields, the Dragons manager in 2011 and 2012, is the current manager with the AAA team in Louisville.
The big leagues: To date, 69 former Dragons have gone to the Major Leagues, including current Reds Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Zack Cozart and Billy Hamilton.
Ringing endorsement: Votto, who played with the Dragons in 2003 and 2004, also did injury rehab stints in Dayton in 2009 and 2012. “Fifth Third Field in Dayton, Ohio is one of the most special places for baseball in all the minor leagues and maybe even all of professional baseball,” Votto has said. “I enjoyed it here back in 2009. I come back here today, and I’ve received nothing but support and appreciation. Dayton has a fantastic fan base.”
Hot ticket: The 1,051 games leading into the new Dragons season have sold out, which is the longest streak in professional sports history. Season tickets are gone but limited single game tickets are available.
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5 famous moments
1. Assault on the record books (2000): Austin Kearns hit a home run in eight consecutive games and reached base in 14 straight plate appearances, driving in 20 runs, scoring 19 times and going 18 for 25 for a .720 batting average.
2. The only no-hitter (2006): Johnny Cueto threw the only no-hitter in Dragons history in a rain-shortened game in Appleton, Wis., on May 13.
3. Season for the ages (2011): Billy Hamilton’s 103 stolen bases for the Dragons was an all-time single-season record for the entire Reds organization until he broke his own record with 155 stolen bases in 2012 while playing for other Minor League teams.
4. Reverse cycle (2011): Donald Lutz is the only Dragon to hit for the cycle. He did it in reverse order on July 21, with a home run in the first inning, a triple in the second, a double in the third and a single in the fifth in a 13-0 win over the Peoria Chiefs.
5. All-time greatest ending (2013): Seth Mejias-Brean provided the most dramatic ending in team history on July 18. With the Dragon’s trailing 6-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning and the bases loaded, he hit a grand slam home run for a 7-6 victory over Beloit.
How to go
What: Dayton Dragons home opener against the South Bend Cubs
Where: Fifth Third Field, 220 N. Patterson Blvd., Dayton
When: 4 p.m. Sunday, April 12
More info: 937-228-BATS (2287) or www.daytondragons.com