Dragons push sellout streak to 1,000


South Bend at Dayton, 7 p.m. Monday

WONE-AM (980)

Fourteen years ago, no one really knew how Dayton would embrace its new minor-league baseball franchise, the Dragons.

There had been men’s and women’s professional basketball teams, indoor soccer teams, lots of semipro football teams and twice as many hockey teams. Some had more fanfare than others. All suffered a similar fate; they had come and gone to a locale that could be branded the minor-league capital of the Midwest.

That’s what separates the Dragons from the rest. Dayton has never seen a long-running show like this. Neither has the rest of the nation.

The Dragons snapped the Portland Trail Blazers’ streak for most consecutive sellouts with 815 in 2011. On Saturday night the streak hit 1,000 during a 6-4 defeat of the Fort Wayne TinCaps (Padres).

Every Dragons home game since the team made its debut here in 2000 has been sold out. That’s 14-plus seasons. Corporate sponsors and season-ticket holders have ensured that every game this season already has been sold out, too.

With the exception of University of Dayton men’s basketball, Dayton-area fans have embraced the Dragons like few other sports. The proof is in their consistent, enthusiastic spectator numbers.

“It’s unique in all of pro sports,” Dragons manager Jose Nieves said, shaking his head. “It’s a monster. It’s a blessing to be a part of this.”

Others want a piece of that, too. The Dragons are a hot commodity. Just two weeks ago Baseball America reported that owner Mandalay Baseball had reached a deal to sell the Dragons and two of its other minor-league clubs for $40 million.

That’s nearly double the cost to field the Dragons and Fifth Third Field back in 2000.

“The record over 15 years should compel any potential new owner to take a long hard look of what it is that we’re doing here and not do anything that would change up what we do or how we do it,” Dragons president Bob Murphy said. “This would definitely be a prestige property to own and be a part of. “

The game was interrupted for a brief ceremony after the fifth inning, when the contest was official. All the Dragons players and coaches huddled in front of their dugout and saluted fans. A band played. A new outfield banner that celebrated the 1,000th sellout was unveiled.

It was just what Bev and Richard Cleverly of Beavercreek have come to expect.

“It’s so cool in Dayton, Ohio, to be a part of the Cincinnati Reds,” said Bev, perched under an overhang on the first base side. “So many people enjoy this as a family activity. It’s such an American sport. The fact that it’s outdoors and summer, it’s just cool stuff.”

Centerfielder Nick Benedetto made a sudden impact. Stuck on extended spring training, then jettisoned to Bakersfield (Calif.) for a brief stay, the Venezuelan joined the Dragons on Friday as a replacement for Beau Amaral, who was promoted to Bakersfield.

Benedetto launched a two-run homer on his first swing in the second inning to make a winner of pitcher Nick Travieso (4-1). Benedetto had three hits, four RBIs and three runs.

What was left of a sellout crowd of 9,507 roared in appreciation afterward. They were part of 8.4 million fans who have been here over the years.

For Dayton and the Dragons, there’s no beating that.

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