If you followed the Dayton Dragons in their early years, you remember Samone Peters, who hit balls where almost no one else ever has at Fifth Third Field.
You’re going to hear a lot this summer about Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns, Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto, Jay Bruce and Zack Cozart as the Dragons celebrate their 20th season.
All played substantial roles for the Dragons and later for big league teams, mainly the Reds.
But there was a cast of other players, too, some who came within a phone call of reaching the major leagues. Others barely lasted through a season of low Class A with the Dragons.
Sometimes those other guys became the best stories.
Like Peters, who never made it out of Class A ball, but is a member of the Dragons all-time team to date as selected by media members.
The year was 2001, the second season of the Dragons.
The aluminum overhead door that closed the left-centerfield concession stand became pock-marked that summer from batting practice balls launched by Wily Mo Pena, Randy Ruiz, Stephen Smitherman, Mike Calitre and Peters. Third baseman Edwin Encarnacion played in nine games for the Dragons and hit one, not exactly foreshadowing his prodigious future major league collection.
Those guys not only hit home runs, they pounded them. Smitherman once hit a ball on a line over left field, over the Dragons’ Lair, over the stadium walkway, over the tall screen that kept most balls from hitting the street, over Monument Ave., over the sidewalks and through a second-story window in the Requarth Lumber building, although some on that hazy night said the ball bounced first in the street.
Pena was usually good for a bomb over the black batter’s eye screen in center every couple of home stands or so.
Peters outdid them all.
During one batting practice, when then Reds general manager Jim Bowden was in Dayton to see a Ken Griffey Jr. rehab workout and some farm hands, Dragons manager Donnie Scott pointed to Peters and said, “This guy’s got Mark McGwire power.”
“Oh, come on,” Bowden said, standing behind the batting cage.
Two pitches later, Peters launched one over the entire scoreboard, including the Dragons head, the one on the right.
He had Bowden’s attention.
Peters hit 28 home runs that season, still the team record, but the 6-foot-7, 235-pound first baseman didn’t hit much else. His final batting average was .206, and he struck out 158 times – which, by the way, didn’t even lead the team. Pena struck out 177 times on his way to 26 home runs and 113 RBIs.
Peters knocked in 78, including four on a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to beat Beloit on June 10.
I went looking for Peters after that game, but he wasn’t at his locker, in the training or lunch rooms or even in the weight room working off excess energy.
Someone said he was still in the dugout, talking with some fans.
That’s exactly where I found him, and I asked for a minute of his time. He wanted to know why I was interested in him, and I casually and probably caustically mentioned I thought he might have been the guy who won the game with a grand slam.
“Other than a closer striking out the side, this is the best,” Peters told me at the time. “That’s why I play. I want to be the one to win the game. What’s a better situation than that?”
It was certainly a great situation for the Dragons even though he never made it past “high” A ball. He finished his pro career in 2006 with four straight Independent League seasons.
Yet if you saw him in 2001 with the Dragons, you saw something special, especially on a night he hit a home run.
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