Winning feels good

The Dragons keep marching in

By Marc Katz

It was legendary broadcaster Vin Scully—with plenty of others to follow—who said, “Losing feels worse than winning feels good.”

Imagine how the Dayton Dragons felt last season, when they lost 93 out of 140 played.

Imagine how they feel this year, when they’ve already almost matched their total number of wins in only half a season.

“We haven’t had a team like this for a while,” an usher at Fifth Third Field says.

He wasn’t talking about The Green Team, a menagerie of mascots, dancers, and skit machines that never seem to miss, never seem to lose.

On the field, it has been a completely different story. The Dragons have not made the playoffs since 2011, when Billy Hamilton “ran” the show.

What hasn’t changed is the constant march of players from the Dragons, up the minor league system and into big league uniforms.

It’s great that we’ve all had a chance to see Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns and Joey Votto and Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey and on and on.

We want to see them win, too, and not only after they’ve reached the Reds.

Winning is different—and better—for the fans and the players.

To the naked ear, it may seem the same in the Dragons’ clubhouse this season, but it isn’t.

Oh, sure, the same popular music is blasted through someone’s speaker system after victories, and players pass the time before games—and after hearty workouts—playing cards and being best friends.

But this is not the same. It’s so much better.

So many people—including myself—will tell you to latch on to a favorite player who seems destined to make the majors, and not worry about whether the team wins or loses.

That’s fun for a while, but might not sustain you for a full season, especially as the non-playoff seasons begin to multiply.

Fans and players shouldn’t have to put up with this, even though there were plenty of prospects on the 2016 team, some expected to become big stars in the majors.

Winning helps the process.

“It’s just a different feeling,” says second baseman Brantley Bell, who was with the Dragons last season and is having a fine year again. “You see guys get in here [for practices] earlier. From day one, this team had chemistry. We decided to have fun. It’s such a good feeling.”

Bell had a good season last year—improving during the second half—but the team couldn’t win. His numbers this year, when it’s over, will be better than last, but they’ve also been compiled while the team has been winning.

“Winning is a lot more fun than losing,” Bell says. “We spent so much time with these guys [coaches] last year. We bought into the team concept.”

Luis Bolivar, this year’s manager, was the hitting coach for the Dragons last season. Derrin Ebert has been the pitching coach both seasons. Daryle Ward has been added as a hitting coach, and Kevin Mahar as a bench coach.

But there’s something different about the players, too.

“This group is close,” Bolivar says. “The players have confidence, and I have confidence. It doesn’t surprise me how well they’re playing. I saw it in April. I saw it in spring training games.”

At one point last season, the Dragons were on a pace to lose 100 games, but rallied to avert that terrible distinction.

“Baseball is a game where you fail seven of 10 times and you’re a great hitter,” Bell says. “I have to [sometimes] live vicariously through someone else. Hitting is contagious.”

It has been contagious this season. The overall hitting is better. So is the pitching. Mentally, the players are in a different place, right from a rainy opening day.

“We knew we were going to win, and it’s a shock when we don’t,” Bell says. He explained how the mentality has rotated from a personal interest in how to play the game into a team concept. “It’s an organization-type thing. If you focus on yourself, you’ll miss out on half your career. We’re extremely confident in ourselves. It’s been our mindset the whole year. Every game we come home and expect this.”

James Vasquez, the big first baseman, led the Dragons with 14 homers and 66 RBIs last season, numbers he’s a little behind so far this season. But guess which season Vasquez enjoys the most?

“Coming to the field every day, we’re a lot more motivated,” Vasquez says. “It’s a lot more enjoyable to experience. We’re getting better and we see how good we can be. “It’s the chemistry of this year, and a lot of credit goes to Luis Bolivar. He comes into our locker room if we lose and says, ‘We’ll get this team tomorrow.’”

At one point, the Dragons were 30-13, the most above .500 this season. By the time they returned home last week, they were 38-25, which means they went through an 8-12 patch.

Yet even the games they lose are exciting. They’ve made fans stay later at games, even games they’ve fallen behind.

This team may not win it all, but it will win.

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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 Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at

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