Heads held high

A loss is a win

By Marc Katz

Bat bags and used bats, some of them cracked, some of them still useful, littered the floor and corners of the Fifth Third Field home clubhouse.

A cardboard box held worn cleats and sweat-stained caps. Some jerseys hung on wire hangers in otherwise empty dressing stalls.

A few players stayed overnight in the gloom, waiting for redemptive sleep and morning sunshine before they flew or drove home, either short or long distances.

A couple of Mondays ago, the baseball season ended for the Dayton Dragons, who made it to the second of three rounds of Midwest League playoffs.

By now, the clubhouse is clean and ready for the 19th team of Dragons to arrive next year.

It was a sad time, but a time to reflect on the good, too.

Luis Bolivar, in his first year as manager of the team, led the Dragons to the playoffs. It was the first playoff appearance for the Reds’ farm team in six seasons, and when Fort Wayne won the final two games, the fourth time in Dayton’s 18 seasons, the Dragons lost in the second of three rounds.

But this isn’t about losing.

This is about winning, a concept the parent Reds have yet to grasp. As they strive to build their major league team with parts from the minors, they stress the only important place to win is in the majors.

I don’t have to tell you how that’s gone.

I will tell you Bolivar is different. He wants to win.

“We started preaching that in spring training,” Bolivar said when his season finished. “We talked to guys about winning and all about going out there and giving the best effort, and trying to get the win. If they work at trying to win the game, the results could be better for them (personally) as well. If they try to win the game, the results of their numbers will be there.”

That’s multiple references to winning in a few sentences, and it seems to have worked.

The Dragons qualified for the playoffs with a strong second-place finish in the first half, then overcame a mass of call-ups and some injuries to start the second half by winning 16 of their final 21 regular-season games.

Dayton then won two elimination games in the first round of the playoffs against West Michigan, the team with the best record in the league. Unfortunately, they lost the final two games of the Eastern Conference championship to Fort Wayne, which will play Quad Cities in the championship round.

Of the eight teams in the playoffs, only three are not affiliated with a team in a major league playoff hunt—Dayton, West Michigan (Detroit), and Fort Wayne (San Diego). Draw your own conclusions.

You should expect, though, to see plenty of the 2017 Dragons in the major leagues within three to four years, such as Jose Siri, Taylor Trammell, Tyler Stephenson, T.J. Friedl, Taylor Sparks, Tony Santillan, and Scott Moss.

Some of those guys might not make it, and some others will as the game takes its toll on body and will.

Look at it this way. The Reds (and each of 30 major league franchises) operate six minor league teams not counting anything they have in the Dominican and Venezuelan summer leagues.

That means for every major league roster spot, there are at least seven players.

Every spot! All-Star first baseman Joey Votto has a would-be replacement at Class AAA Louisville, Class AA Pensacola, Class A Daytona, Class A Dayton, Rookie Billings, and Rookie Arizona.

And a guy like Bolivar has to work with the farm director, his coaches, and roving instructors to get somebody ready in case Votto goes down, or is traded.

Votto some day will be replaced, but by whom?

“We had a lot of guys with talent out there,” Bolivar says. “We had a rough start to the second half. It was a learning experience for the guys as well; how to deal with adversity. They did well. They finished strong. It was a very special year for us.”

By the end of this month, Bolivar expects to be offered a new contract. His old one has run out.

“I’m pretty sure they’re going to offer me something,” says the only guy who has played with, coached, and managed the Dragons.

He says he has learned much about the game in his time as a coach and manager. He seems to have his communications down.

When his team was eliminated, he gathered his players and “told them I was very proud of them. I don’t want to see them put their heads down. It was a very good year and they accomplished a lot of things. We reached the playoffs. That was huge. There was no reason to put their heads down.”

There was no reason for the Reds not to listen to Bolivar. His message is, “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 KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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