Austin Kearns is still making a big impact with the Dragons.
The designated standout on Dayton’s minor-league baseball team during its inaugural 2000 season, Kearns’ latest distinction is being the first of “20 Greatest Dragons.”
Released in random order, the top 20 all-time Dragons players will be periodically announced by the Cincinnati Reds Class A affiliate leading up to the Dragons’ “20th Season Celebration Game” exhibition at Fifth Third Field against former Dragons players who are still active in the Reds’ system. Kearns was the first to be announced on Monday.
Kearns is best remembered as a long-ball launching right fielder with the Reds. A Lexington, Ky., native, he was a fan favorite at Cincinnati because of his relatively close upbringing in Reds’ country.
Long before that, Kearns was the first to establish a rapport with Dayton fans who hoped to quickly see Dragons graduate to parent-club Reds. He spent that entire 2000 season with the Dragons and is best remembered for an eight-game, home run hitting streak.
That helped him earn the distinction as the Midwest League’s Co-Prospect of the Year in 2000. He shared that honor with Albert Pujols, then of the Peoria Chiefs (Cardinals).
Kearns played in the majors from 2002-13 for the Reds, Nationals, Indians, Yankees and Marlins, hitting 121 home runs.
The all-time top 20 Dragons were selected on a vote by area TV, newspaper, radio and internet reporters. An additional Dragons all-time greatest lineup will be voted on by fans during the upcoming season.
Reds’ minor-league pitchers and catchers will report to spring training at Goodyear, Ariz., on Thursday, Feb. 28 and the rest of the minor leaguers on Wednesday, March 6. The rosters of all the Reds’ minor-league teams will be announced at the end of spring training.
The Dragons’ season opener is against the Bowling Green Hot Rods (Rays) at Fifth Third Field on Thursday, April 2.