Tom Archdeacon: Dayton still special for Reds' Coffey
By Tom Archdeacon

Dayton Daily News

Sunday, April 01, 2007

DAYTON Third baseman Edwin Encarnacion was struck again by the overwhelming embrace of the Dayton fans.

Adam Dunn remembered everything from clubhouse card games to how "we used to wear that building out across the street."

The massive left fielder was talking about how he and his long-ball Dayton teammates peppered Requarth Lumber with batting practice home runs that shattered upper-story windows and drew nightly souvenir hunters into Monument Avenue down below.

But the best memory came from the third Cincinnati Red who once was a Dayton Dragon.

"This was my absolute favorite place to play," reliever Todd Coffey said before the Cincinnati Reds met the Florida Marlins at Fifth Third Field on Saturday for the final game of spring training. "The people sell this place out every night and cheer you, win or lose.

"My wife and I liked it here so much, we called our second daughter Dayton. She's Haley Elizabeth Dayton Coffey."

And if Coffey instead had prepped in Peoria or Burlington?

"Naah, no way I'd have named her after those places," he grinned. "In the minor leagues, Dayton's special."

The rest of the Reds learned that Saturday as they played in front of a sold-out crowd of 8,888 that mostly stayed to the end despite steady rain beforehand, game-long dark skies and a 6-2 Cincy loss.

"They remembered me," beamed Encarnacion, who played here in 2001 and 2002 and got a rousing cheer after an early double.

There was deja vu for Dunn, too. Stepping into the clubhouse, he remembered "the big spades tournament we had here all the guys played." In the training room, he recalled the night he and Dragons third basemen Kevin Baderdeen collided:

"I broke my thumb, busted up my eye and got stitches. He got a concussion and a broken jaw."

Yet no recollections topped those of Coffey, who weighing some 40 pounds more than now played here in 2002 and 2003.

Saturday he was assigned the same locker he'd had his first year here. And before the game, he headed to the stands along the third-base line to sign autographs and chat with clamoring fans.

That prompted Reds publicity man Rob Butcher to teasingly refer to him as "The Mayor of Dayton," a thought echoed by manager Jerry Narron, who called him: "The all-time Dayton Dragon."

And if you listened to Coffey after his session with the crowd, you realized it wasn't exaggeration: "I completely forgot I was wearing a Reds jersey. It felt like old times. I'm comfortable here."

That was evident in the fifth when he ran from the bullpen to the mound to quell a four-run Marlins rally with a quick double play.

"I got out there and saw the green backstop and the Dragons fans beyond it and I knew my wife was sitting in the middle of them just like she used to ... only this time with our two girls."

As for dad's shining moment, Coffey's wife Nikki said the two girls' attention was elsewhere. "All the stuff they have here between innings, they loved it. Everybody recognized us. It was like nothing's changed."

And it's that sense of familiarity that's kept drawing Coffey back here during his past two seasons with the Reds.

"A lot of times when we have an off day and if my wife and kids aren't in town or they're still in school, I drive up and sit and watch a game. So many good memories here, I'll never forget this town."

How can he?

One look at his 3-year-old and he sees Dayton.