Sunday, August 26, 2001

Dayton Dragons


Making the most of good thing

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        My first clue was a telephone call from my sister-in-law.

        “You've got to see the Dragons,” Ellie said.

        Isn't that a baseball team?

        “Yes, they're just wonderful.

        Ellie wouldn't know a wonderful baseball team unless they appeared on the Home Shopping Network wearing Joan Rivers jewelry.

        “And the food was great. Barbecue from Montgomery Inn.”

        This sounds more like it.

        “You'd love the Dippin' Dots.”

        Dippin' Dots? What's that? Lesbian geezer dancers?

        “No.” A hint of exasperation. “It's space-age ice cream. It's different. Fun.”

        Pretty much like the Dragons themselves.

Hometown team
        Technically, the team belongs to Mandalay Sports Entertainment, and they're the Single-A affiliate for the Cincinnati Reds. But really they belong to Dayton. After a half-century without one, the city was hungry for a baseball team to call its own.

        Last year, the first in the $23.1 million Fifth Third Field, the Dragons drew nearly 600,000 fans. The park has only 7,230 seats, plus a thousand spots on the grass around the field. Lawn seats, which sell for for $4, may still be available for the remaining games at www.daytondragons.com or (937) 228-BATS.

        Season tickets have been sold out both years with a waiting list of 3,500. Luxury suites were gone before the ballpark left the drawing board, snapped up by companies such as Kroger, Cincinnati Bell Wireless, Kahn's, Time Warner Cable.

Kid-friendly
        A friend scored some tickets. Thursday night, the other choice was watching Connie Chung and Gary Condit, and I already knew the outcome of that game.

        We drove up Interstate 75 for about an hour, took the Salem Avenue/First Street exit and went right on First. A few blocks later, we could see the ballpark on the left. Official parking was $5. Nearby parking was $3 and $4.

        As we walked to the front entrance, someone tossed us a foam baseball imprinted with the United Way logo. The tone of the evening began right there on the brick plaza — casual, kid-friendly and an overwhelming sense that Dayton is making the most of a good thing.

        Two little girls sang the National Anthem. “The land of the free-eeeeeee” got a round of applause as they managed to hit the notes. Past openers have included a 79-year-old World War II vet, a sax solo and a barbershop quartet.

        Then there's Heater, the 7-foot, 2-inch green dragon mascot. “Heater has kind of evolved,” says team spokesman Brad Eaton. “He has a lot more attitude than he did at first. He went to mascot training school.”

        Seriously?

        “Sure. Absolutely. In Las Vegas.”

        And you bought that?

        “Well,” Brad says, “he did come back with a few gold chains.”

        The Lansing Lugnuts, a farm team for the Chicago Cubs, beat the home team 6-1. But the fans stayed until the end of the game. And then some. A respectable chunk of the sell-out crowd stayed for a light show and recorded music at RiverScape, Dayton's spectacular new park. Five streams of water shoot 200 feet in the air, and the park is dotted with sculpture touting the city's history.

        The sound system boomed. The water flowed. The lights flashed. “I feel good,” shrieked James Brown.

        And so did I.

       E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

       



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