Pro Baseball in Dayton
By Jack Carlson, Roland L. Larke, R. Alan Baker,
Margaret E. Peters and Marc Katz
Professional baseball returned to Dayton following nearly a half-century absence when Fifth Third Field swung open its iron gates on April, 27, 2000, inviting fans in to see the Cincinnati Reds-affiliated Dayton Dragons.
With 7,200 seats plus grassed areas and standing room, the team sold out every game it has played at the downtown corner of Monument and Jefferson Streets.
Those crowds have cheered such notable future major league stars as Adam Dunn, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto among more than 90 players who made it to the major leagues in the team’s first 18 seasons.
The team, classified low Class A and affiliated with the nearby Reds, was long in coming to town, but certainly not the first to wear Dayton across its uniforms.
More than a dozen teams have played at an array of parks, starting with Association Park, located on the southwest corner of Brown and Stewart Street. Today, the site is a parking lot across the street from the entrance to the University of Dayton. In 1884, it was home to the Ohio Association’s Gem City’s, considered the first Dayton team to play professionally in an organized league. It won the pennant, went out of business and sold the property to John Patterson, who promptly built NCR building No. 1 there.
In 1951, the Indians played the last season of pro ball in Dayton prior to the Dragons.
Those Indians, plus a nearly decade-run by the Dayton Ducks, are arguably the most memorable teams to play in Dayton, while the Dayton Marcos were charter members of the Negro National League in 1920, dropping out for financial reasons at the end of the season.
The team briefly rejoined the league in 1926, but did not last.
Lest we forget exhibitions – popular at the turn of the 20th century - Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Honus Wagner all stuck their cleats in Dayton dirt for games.
In an interview conducted by then Dayton Daily News sports editor Carl Finke, on October, 25, 1928, at North Dayton Field, Ruth wondered, “Say Finke, can you find out what kind of baseballs they are going to use in today’s game? Over in Columbus they had 50-cent balls that you couldn’t hit hard. And then the fans were disappointed because Lou and myself didn’t hit any home runs. The fans want to see us knock them out of the lot and they are disappointed when we fail. If they use cheap balls today I just won’t play.”
They must have come up with better balls. For that game, Ruth became a member
of the Thompson Yellow Jacket Team, Dayton amateur champions, renamed the “Bustin’ Babes.” Gehrig was a member of McCall’s, the city’s semi-pro champs, the “Larruping Lous.”
Gehrig delighted the fans with four homers and Ruth hit one – a grand slam.
Earlier than that, on June 8, 1902, a formal major league game was played at Fairview Park off North Main between the Cleveland Blue Birds and Baltimore Orioles.
Sunday Blue Laws in Cleveland forced the game to be moved.