Sunday, July 10, 2011

Major minors

Dayton welcomed a minor league baseball team after I no longer lived in the area. My parents may have moved away by then too. So, until last night I'd never been to a game at Fifth Third Field to see the Class A Dayton Dragons. Adding to my reasons for never having attended a game there: the first season sold out before any games were played, and I'd heard they were perpetually sold out. I hadn't heard incorrectly. Apparently they've sold out every game since the team began playing in 2000.

Having read an article about the franchise being on the verge of breaking the North American professional sports record for consecutive sellouts, I decided that the time had come for me to drive over to Dayton to see a game. My great aunt fell and broke her hip recently, so I felt like I needed to go back there to visit her. Going to a ballgame would just be a way of maximizing the trip.

As it turns out, last night's game was the record breaker: #815. I swear I didn't know this. I thought they broke it last weekend. While the team easily exceeded capacity in ticket sales, those like me who just needed one seat could still find scattered spots. I ended up in the first row of the upper deck, which provided the added benefit of as much leg room as I could ask for.

I'd been to the ballpark once before. My dad stopped there and we walked around on the way back to my parents' home from a Reds game. The stadium was under construction at the time, so it was easy enough to walk into what would become the outfield seating area and see what progress had been made. Until last night that was the only time I'd seen the place.

I arrived closer to first pitch than I preferred, and I didn't have a chance to look around the bordering area to see how it's thrived since the team's arrival. Based on some other parts of downtown Dayton that I've seen, this portion has definitely fared a lot better.

When it comes to minor league games, I can't say that I have a vested interest in who wins. The Dragons are a Cincinnati Reds affiliate, but old hometown loyalty was the main factor in my cheering on the team. (Plus, to do otherwise would have been rude.) I was there simply to enjoy a fine night outside watching baseball.

In this respect the Dragons management mount a worthwhile production. Maybe it's being overly familiar with (and mostly bored by) the between innings shenanigans at Reds games and unfamiliar with the Dragons way of doing things, but this minor league team seemed more inspired with how they passed the downtime. Granted, they're not dealing with breaks as long as those in the big leagues. They're also not facing as many restrictions that would prevent an MLB team from having kids race Big Wheels from first to third or putting three toddlers onto a padded racetrack in the third base foul territory. The toddler race might have been the best of the activities because it didn't work. The kids knocked their helmets off and basically refused to perform.

After the end of the fifth, when the game was now official, the announcement came that the Dragons had broken the consecutive sellout record of 814 previously owned by the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers. Balloons were released, and streamers were shot into the stands. The Dragons came onto the field and applauded the fans. At this level the players turn over on the team far more than in the majors. I doubt anyone out there was in Dayton five years ago, let alone when the streak started. That doesn't matter. The message was clear that the organization is grateful for how the community has embraced the team.

I would have loved it if this team had been in place when I was growing up. The Reds are about an hour's drive from my hometown, and they would have still been my primary team. Still, to have a local team that you could seen more frequently and for less money would have been a dream. I imagine as a teenager I would have made a point to go to games as much as possible.

I haven't lived in the Dayton area since 1993, but I want to see it do well. I know it's been hit hard by losses in manufacturing, and parts of town definitely look the worse for wear than what I remember. Going to the ballpark, though, let me take some pride in what used to be home and know that the dedication I feel for my chosen teams seems to be consistent with how people there accept their teams.

I don't need to drive to Dayton to see professional baseball. The Reds, much as they're aggravating me these days, will always be where most of my fanatical baseball energies will be focused. Columbus has a minor league team and a nice new stadium of its own. Who knows when I'll be back to a game in Dayton again. Every now and then, though, it'd be nice to return and see how a sport I love has blossomed where I used to live.

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