BEST OF DAYTON: Dayton Dragons, winner of Best Attraction and Favorite Sporting Event, continue to make an impact downtown

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

The city of Dayton decided to take a risk 25 years ago by locating its new minor league baseball stadium in one of the worst neighborhoods of downtown. It had been nearly 50 years since the last Dayton minor league team – the Indians – played professional baseball and the city believed it was time to bring it back.

The Dayton Dragons took to the field in their new stadium for the first time on April 27, 2000, and almost immediately began to host sold out crowds.

According to Robert Murphy, president and general manager of the Dragons since its onset, the team is now entertaining three generations of baseball fans.

“Those little kids who first came to the ballpark 25 years ago are now taking their children,” Murphy said. “We believe this is because our core beliefs and philosophies have always been at the forefront.”

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Over the years, the Dragons franchise has made a lot of changes and the Water Street District, as the area surrounding the stadium has come to be known, has changed right along with it.

The Dragons are selling out and the Water Street District is now home to restaurants, hotels and other entertainment offerings.

“We were the first domino in the bunch as things fell into place,” Murphy said.



The others, including RiverScape and the Schuster Performing Arts Center, all came after the stadium — now called Day Air Ballpark — hosted its first game. Murphy calls it a “cultural change,” and a complete transformation of downtown to a safer place to come to enjoy festivals, concerts and comedy shows.

“When we opened, though there was a great amount of excitement about baseball coming to Dayton,” Murphy said. “About 50 percent of the people were for it and the other 50 percent thought it was a terrible idea!”

According to Brandy Guinaugh, vice president and assistant general manager of the Dragons for the past 19 years, the Dragons play 132 games a year with about half of those being at home.

But it’s the fans over the past quarter of a century that have truly made the difference for a team that was only given a 50 percent chance of survival.

“The energy is amazing,” Guinaugh said. “Every game is a vibrant experience.”

Dayton Dragons were named Best Attraction and Favorite Sporting Event in this year’s Best of Dayton contest.

During every regular season, the Dragons host their own events, including a 5K race, beer tasting events and fundraisers, giving nonprofits opportunities to benefit from ticket and concession stand sales. The Dragons MVP program allows local teachers to “incentivize” their students to succeed by offering them a chance to attend a game as an MVP. The “Homerun for Life” program celebrates a youngster who is ill or is in recovery from a serious illness.

And local nonprofit groups take over the ballpark after each season closes with their own fundraising events, like charitable walks.

Murphy said the park is in the process of a $20 million renovation that will improve technology and amenities and update the now 23-year-old stadium.

With help from corporate sponsors, the surrounding community and their dedicated staff, the Dayton Dragons continue to make a tremendous impact, attracting an average of 8,000 fans per game.

“We are very proud that the citizens of the region have voted us the best in these categories,” Murphy said. “It’s a great reflection of what we have built and what we are always striving towards.”

About the Author