Why a Dragons game is the place to be
By Kim Margolis
Friday, April 03, 2009
DAYTON ó The Dayton Dragons were successful even before the team took the field in 2000.
The first season was sold out before a game was even played. Eight years in a row of sell-outs earned them a place among Sports Illustrated's list of hottest tickets in all of sports.
The players on the field are the draw, but it's also the literally thousands of other little ó and not so little (we're talking to you, Heater) ó things that round out a lovely summer night or afternoon at the ballpark.
Here are some key reasons why a Dayton Dragons game is the place to be.
You can take a toddler or a grandparent and still have fun
A Dragons game is a safe, affordable place to take your children, your spouse, a date, your friends or a group from work. Parking is in nearby lots, a parking garage and on the street if you arrive early.
The food and tickets are affordable and the atmosphere is comfortable. The variety of food is traditional with hot dogs, hamburgers, beer and ice cream available. And it's different with churros, chicken fajitas and Mike's Hard Lemonade, too.
People have been known to leave a Dragons game, not remember the score or who even won, but report they had a great time, said Tom Nichols, director of media relations and broadcasting.
"Every business in America has a target market," Nichols said. "Ours is families. We want people to bring their children or grandchildren to games and have a family environment."
Dragons and even ogres work to entertain you
Heater arrived as a rookie with the team in 2000 and eventually was joined by his niece, Gem. They attend every game and mingle with fans and goof around with players. Kids love to have their pictures taken with the mascots, especially one.
"If you ask a kid who is their favorite Dragon, they name Heater," Nichols said.
Wink, the kindly ogre, and Roofman appear at select games. Roofman is elusive, with fans getting only a glimpse of him from the roof where he turns foul balls into presents he tosses to fans.
Dogs will thrill, chickens will go crazy, plus Ken Giraffey
There will be a fireworks show after the home opener Thursday, April 9, and another fireworks show will take place Aug. 22.
The Famous Chicken visits on June 18. The ZOOperstars! featuring characters like Ken Giraffey, Nolan Rhino, Clammy Sosa, you get the idea, will appear July 2. BirdZerk!, another crazy, dressed-up bird-man, will visit July 16. The canine entertainers, Skyy Dogs USA, will appear Aug. 13.
Pop a squat, catch a fly ball
What's easier than grabbing a blanket or towel, taking $7 out of your wallet and seeing a baseball game? That's all there is to sitting in the lawn seats.
"You can bring a beach towel, lie down and watch a game," said Alex Vispoli, media relations administrator. "It's a quaint and somewhat romantic experience."
You're also close to the outfield and have a good chance of getting a foul ball or home run ball, Vispoli said.
Play amateur MLB scout
Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Jay Bruce, Wily Mo Pena, Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto are now Major League Baseball players, but they all started in Dayton.
It's fun to watch them throughout the season and see their skills grow. Or to see that powerful home run swing when a prospect is a mere 20 years old. Getting an autograph or a picture of a future star is possible here.
"You never know which ones will make it," Nichols said. "It's always fun debating what players will get there."
Shed a few happy tears
Again this year, the Dragons will honor service men and women stationed overseas. The dates this year are May 30 and Aug. 22.
At the Hometown Heroes events, a military family stands outside the players' dugouts and watches a videotaped message on the scoreboard from their family member.
"Definitely everyone in the ballpark is very much moved by it," Nichols said.
At one event, the Thigpen family was watching Capt. Jim Thigpen talk to them on the scoreboard, but the video stopped working. The family members and the audience ó which gave out a huge, collective groan ó were disappointed.
But then the man walked out of the dugout toward his wife, Kim, and two sons, Jacob and Caleb.
"There was a five-minute ovation for him," said Chris Hart, Dragons marketing manager.
You never know what will happen next
First, there is the video board. It is Major League Baseball quality, including moving images of the players during their hitting introductions. It features live video of good plays from the game as well.
Then there's the Dragon, who snorts smoke from his nose when a home run is hit by the home team.
"The kids love the Dragon when we hit a home run," Nichols said.
There are skits featuring racing toddlers and singing retirement home residents called the Retirement Village People.
"It's a different show every night," Nichols said. "You're not going to come Monday and see on-field skits and come back a couple nights later and see the exact same ones."
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2216 or kmargolis@DaytonDailyNews.com