On Your Marc: 4/5/16

Look for Dragon stars

By Marc Katz

I could get real misty-eyed here and tell you about the smell of fresh green grass, the pop of a brand new baseball into a catcher’s mitt and the crack of the bat against another batting practice ball. I could tell you about popcorn and peanuts and Cracker Jack. I could sing praises to mascots Heater and Gem and Wink and the Green Team and T-shirts and foam baseballs flying through the air and the great site lines at Fifth Third Field and the giant scoreboard …

And then you’d ask me if the Dayton Dragons are going to win this summer and I’d have to tell you enjoy the smell of the fresh green grass, the sounds of a summer of baseball and especially the popcorn and peanuts and Cracker Jack.

(Actually, the Jalapeno Dragon Sticks are a personal favorite, but that’s another story.)

The Dragons had a winning record last season, although you’d hardly know it. Eight other teams in the 16-team Class A Midwest League made the playoffs.

Dayton is one of the few league teams in the 16 years of its operation that hasn’t ever made it to the championship round of the playoffs.

And you wonder why the parent Cincinnati Reds don’t seem to be very good.

Let’s not dwell on that. Let’s dwell on what you’re going to look for at Fifth Third Field this summer. I think you’re going to be happy with what you see.

You may not know who they are yet, but you’re watching future major league players—some of whom will make it to the top of their profession. Already, 75 players who were part of the Dragons have made the major leagues.

Do you remember when Joey Votto played here in 2003 and 2004? He developed into an All-Star first baseman, winning the National League MVP in 2012.

Pitcher Johnny Cueto, who pitched a complete-game victory for the eventual champion Royals in game two of last fall’s World Series, was with the Dragons in 2006. He recently signed a lucrative deal with San Francisco.

Would you be surprised if I told you neither played for a winning team in Dayton? The good news is that’s trivial material. Now, all these years later, you can tell your children and grandchildren you saw Votto and Cueto close-up—maybe even talked with them and secured an autograph—right here in Dayton, Ohio, at Fifth Third Field.

Do you remember the records of the teams they were on? Of course not.

This is the lead-up to my suggestion. Do as the Reds do. Don’t concentrate on the team as a winning entity. Concentrate on the individual players. At the start, the Reds will tell you who their real prospects are, but then, someone will emerge, someone will begin to play above his projections.

Someone will make it to the major leagues you didn’t expect to see there, yet as you watched game after game after game at Fifth Third Field, you morphed into a scout yourself. You’ll be able to tell if the Reds were right with their prospects, and if anyone emerges out of the lower draft rounds and free-agent signings to make it all the way.

You’ll look over catcher Tyler Stephenson and decide if the Reds made the right choice in making him their No. 1 pick in last summer’s draft. He’s only 19 years old and may not hit .300 or blast 20 home runs, but you’ll be able to tell by his poise and his swing and his throw to second base if he’ll make it.

You’ll look at shortstop Luis Gonzalez, who played with the Dragons last year until he broke his leg, and decide if he’s as good as then Dragons Manager Jose Nieves said, about to become another in a long line of successful shortstops who came through Dayton.

You’ll be able to judge if Outfielder Narcisco Crook (still only 20 years old) improved enough to become a star player or if Ty Boyles can repeat his success in the rookie Pioneer League after a few shaky games with the Dragons at the end of last season.

And somewhere on the field, you’ll spot a Chris Heisey or Adam Rosales or Todd Coffey—guys who were not supposed to make the majors and did—and be able to say you saw them way back when, and knew all along they’d be successful.

A few years from now, you’ll forget if the Dragons won or lost. You’ll forget the errors and the high earned run averages of the pitchers.

You’ll remember, though, that you saw the next Votto or Cueto or Adam Dunn or Homer Bailey or Todd Frazier or Jay Bruce.

And when you see the Reds line up with five or six starters whose names you recognize, it’s because you do. They played in Dayton while you were shooting a selfie with Heater, eating popcorn, peanuts and Cracker Jack, and smelling the fresh, green grass.

Have a wonderful summer, win, or lose.

Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at katzcopsnsports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@daytoncitypaper.com.

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Marc Katz
Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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