Being part of the Dayton Dragons minor-league baseball team is the gift that keeps on giving to Luis Bolivar.
His unprecedented ascent from Dragons player to hitting coach took another upward spin on Thursday when he was named Dragons manager for the upcoming season .
“This is really special for me,” Bolivar said during a press gathering at Fifth Third Field to announce his appointment. “I’m beyond excited of this new opportunity for me. It’s a new challenge and can’t be better than starting my career here with the Dragons. I played here, coached here, I have my family here. Dayton’s been great.”
Bolivar, 35, is the ninth manager in the Dragons’ 17-year run as a Cincinnati Reds minor-league affiliate. He succeeds Dick Schofield, who spent only the 2016 season as the Dragons’ skipper. He’s now the bench coach for Pensacola (AA).
Here are seven things to know about Bolivar and the Dragons:
• Bolivar was a Midwest League All-Star with the Dragons in 2004. He spent nine years in the minors, all with Reds affiliates. He met his wife Kelly while playing for the Dragons. They reside at Vandalia with their four children. He also was an assistant coach at Vandalia-Butler High School for veteran Aviators coach Trent Dues before joining the Reds as a minor-league batting coach in 2013 at Goodyear, Ariz.
“I can’t wait to start the season and bring wins to the organization,” said Bolivar, a native of Aragua, Venezuela. “They want to have the feeling of winning games. I promise I will do my best to help the team bring wins to this organization. “
• Reds’ Senior Director of Player Development Jeff Graupe labeled last season (47-93) as “embarrassing.” No breaking news there; that was the worst season record-wise since the Dragons made their debut in 2000. But it also reflected what has consistently eluded the club — winning. The Dragons have had six winning teams and three were from 2000-02.
Previously, individual development — preparing players for the next level — trumped everything. To help change that, Graupe sent a dozen projected minor leaguers to a 72-hour leadership training camp at West Point.
“Winning and losing here is by far the most difficult challenge of all our full-season affiliates,” he said. “Everywhere else you’ve essentially given a player a year or two to figure out what he is. That’s not an excuse. It has caused us to re-evaluate some of our processes. We’re still working toward the formula.”
• The Dragons coaching staff will expand to four with Kevin Mahar returning to the organization in the newly created position of bench coach. He was the hitting coach at Billings in 2013-14 and at Daytona in ’15 before leaving coaching last year.
Derrin Ebert returns for his second season as pitching coach. Daryle Ward succeeds Bolivar as the hitting coach. The son of two-time major-league All-Star Gary Ward, he began his coaching career as the hitting coach at Goodyear last season.
Corky Miller, anchored mostly with the Dragons the last two seasons, is now a roving catcher instructor.
• The Dragons remain in the Midwest League Eastern Division with the Bowling Green Hot Rods (Rays), Fort Wayne TinCaps (Padres), Great Lakes Loons (Dodgers), Lake County Captains (Indians), Lansing Lugnuts (Blue Jays), South Bend Cubs (Cubs) and West Michigan Whitecaps (Tigers).
There also are eight teams in the Western Division. Like previous years, the season will be split into a first and second half. Two teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs following each half season.
• The Reds have six minor-league teams: Louisville Bats (AAA), Pensacola Blue Wahoos (AA), Daytona Tortugas (Advanced A), Dayton Dragons (A), Billings Mustangs (Rookie) and Goodyear Reds (Rookie).
• The streak remains intact. The Dragons will begin the season with an all-time sports record of 1,177 consecutive sellouts at Fifth Third Field. That’s every Dragons home game that has ever been played. The average home attendance of 8,188 last season easily topped every minor-league level below AAA and ranked No. 7 among AAA franchises.
• Fifth Third Field will be the site of a preseason Reds Futures Game on April 1. The game will feature Reds’ top minor-leaguers — many of whom are former Dragons — against current Reds players. The only other Futures Game was in 2009.
The Dragons open the season at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 6 by hosting Lake County.