Dragons’ fan favorite promoted to Double-A Chattanooga

Ruben Ibarra was summoned to manager Vince Harrison Jr.’s office Sunday afternoon and walked in unhappy that the Dragons had just lost. However, the news he received behind the closed door made him happy.

“We opened up the conversation with some signs I missed, but then he started telling me that if I started doing that in Chattanooga we’ll have problems,” Ibarra said. “Kind of baffled my head. We got a two-week road stand. What are you talking about? He’s smiling, and all the time I’m sitting there trying not to break, like you’re lying to me, stop lying. Then he told me to keep working. You’re going to Chatt.”

After parts of three seasons playing first base for the Dayton Dragons and being an instant fan favorite, Ibarra began play Tuesday with the AA Chattanooga Lookouts.

Ibarra, 25, emerged from Harrison’s office with the big smile fans of the Dragons have grown to love. When his teammates heard the news, loud cheers echoed throughout the clubhouse.

“Some of the younger guys that hadn’t been here, he’s had some impact on as far as just keeping the energy up, keeping them focused on what’s important,” Harrison said. “The impact of this change is definitely going to be felt, but that’s part of the deal. That’s why we celebrate.”

Fans celebrated the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Ibarra when he arrived late in the 2022 season and started hitting prodigious home runs. Last year he led the team with 18 homers and 63 RBIs and batted .238 in 98 games. The expectation was that Ibarra would begin this season in Chattanooga. But the Reds sent him back to Dayton.

“Coming back here to start was probably a little tough for him to hear considering he’s been here and had some success,” said Harrison, who is in his first season with the Dragons.

Ibarra, who was drafted in the fourth round in 2021 out of San Jose State, said returning to Dayton created mixed emotions.

“All I want to do is play regardless of where I go, and I felt like I had the best chance here and the best opportunity,” he said. “Thankfully I had some success leading up to this promotion, and hopefully it can continue going to Chatt.”

Ibarra had some good games but struggled to hit consistently for most of the season. His last two weeks in Dayton resembled the Ibarra of 2023. He hit his first two homers last week and leaves with a batting average of .255 that not long ago was below .200.

“In the beginning of the year just too many things were going through my mind, and (Harrison) pulled me aside and we had a real one-on-one talk about staying present and understanding that there’s only so much I really can control regardless of how bad I want it,” Ibarra said. “I can’t control what happens after that. And the only way to have that happen is to make sure that step one is getting getting dealt with first. You can’t go step two, five, and eight. One objective at a time, one mission at a time, one task at a time.”

Ibarra’s play and personality made for the biggest cheers at Day Air Ballpark when he came to bat.

“We love watching you play the fans are telling me,” he said. “That makes it more of I want to give back to the city. I want to give back to this team. I want to get back to the fans. I want to make sure that they understand that I love them just as much as they love me.

“It’s captivating. Today I’m 0-for-3 and at the end of the game I still hear the fans all the way at the top screaming my name, trying to get me to look at them. That’s pretty cool. That’s a feeling I wish everyone could get.”

The nature of Ibarra’s transition is that he was gone before he could thank the fans or wave good bye.

His message to the fans: “Thank you for an amazing two and a half years. I can’t wait to keep the ball rolling in Cincinnati hopefully down the line. I hope to see everyone there.”

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