By HAL McCOY
It was on a cold winter’s day in the late 1990s, not as cold as today but when is it ever this cold, that a group led by Dayton City Commissioner Tony Capizzi proposed a minor league baseball team for The Gem City.
In my inimitable wisdom, I sat behind my computer in the Dayton Daily News sports department and wrote a column, scoffing at such an absurd, hair-brained, half-cocked idea.
Professional baseball in the Gem City? That would be baseball zircon. It won’t ever fly, won’t get off the ground any higher than the Wright Brothers.
Why would anybody pay to see a minor league Class A team when the Cincinnati Reds are 45 minutes down I-75?
Robert Murphy heard the same stuff as the group spoke at service luncheons all over the area: “Dayton is too dangerous at night. The one-way streets are too confusing, giving a park downtown poor access. Minor league sports don’t succeed in Dayton.”
Well, the Class A Dayton Dragons were formed in 1999, with Murphy as its first president and only president.
And did they get it off the ground? Like a U-2 spy plane.
Heading into its 20th year, the Dragons have drawn more than 11 million fans to Fifth Third Field. The Dragons have been the top-drawing Class A franchise in all of baseball for 19 straight years.
They have been in the Top 10 in attendance for all minor league affiliates — AAA, AA, A — every years of their existence. That covers 160 teams.
And most amazing of all, it has sold out every game ever played at Fifth Third.
Predicting a minor league franchise wouldn’t fly in Dayton was probably the biggest swing-and-a-miss of my 57-year journalism career.
And I was never so happy to be so wrong because of what the Dragons have meant to the City of Dayton, the leader in the revitalization of a thriving downtown.
It all started with some dreams and a large hole in the ground at Monument and South Patters0n Blvd. thanks to people like Capizzi and Murphy and long-time media relations director/broadcaster Tom Nichols.
To celebrate the monumental success on Monument, the Dragons have a special treat planned for fans as a season opener this year, the beginning of the 20th year.
On Saturday, March 30, the Dragons will play what they are calling “The Dayton Dragons 20th Season Celebration Game.”
The game will be played by the 2019 Dragons against an alumni team, mostly players still in the Reds system who played in Dayton — names like outfielder Taylor Trammell, catcher Tyler Stephenson, third baseman Jonathan India, catcher Chris Oakey and outfielder T.J. Friedl.
Those players already have been chosen for the alumni team, with more names to follow.
Also as part of the celebration, the local media has selected the Top 20 Dragons of all-time and that group will be announced piecemeal from Monday up until Opening Day. Some of the names sure to be included are Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto, Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Billy Hamilton, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier and Homer Bailey, just to name a few.
And so the legacy continues and it continues as a partnership with the Cincinnati Reds, the only major league affiliate the Dragons ever had.
Why does it fly? It isn’t only baseball, even though it is good baseball played in a fantastic venue. It is solid family entertainment. I have male friends who love baseball and go to Dragons games and their wives, who hate baseball, want to go because of all the frills and thrills.
Murphy recalled that when Wayne Krivsky was general manager of the Reds, he said his wife had her fill of baseball, but when he planned to come to Dayton she would say, “Oh, I want to go.”
As Murphy said about the special game, “It is a tribute to the incredible memories at Fifth Third Field and to our fans and sponsors as we head into our 20th season. The Dragons’ rich history includes an amazing collection of moments.”
And if they had listened to me, none of this would have happened. Thanks for not listening.