MODESTO — A major part of the minor league learning process is teaching players to compete and excel in every imaginable stadium atmosphere. In that factor alone, the Cincinnati Reds have turned a bad situation into a distinct advantage.
The Reds low-A Midwest League team moved to Dayton, Ohio, to open the 1999 season. Since that day, the Dayton Dragons have sold out every home game, filling Fifth Third Field beyond its capacity of 7,230 fans.
The sellout streak has reached 926 games and is the longest streak of sellouts in American professional sports history.
Heres the turn. When players meet their organizational goals in Dayton, they get promoted to (wait for it) Bakersfield.
Yes, Sam Lynn Park - one of the worst minor league parks in the county, one that draws the smallest attendance in the league and hasnt averaged 1,000 fans per game for a season since 2007.
The intent here is not to kick Bakersfield. In fact, the Blaze ownership group (a group of local owners) is about to break ground on a new privately financed ballpark that has a chance to be finished in time for 2014 opening day.
And once Bakersfield gets a new ballpark it would be in position to be the gem of the California League. Bakersfield always has been a great sports town - one willing to back a team making an effort.
But for now, the Reds are sending their young prospects from a sold-out park in Dayton to a stadium in Bakersfield where the moths generally outnumber the fans.
I dont know how to explain it, said Blaze outfielder Kyle Waldrop, who had a rare inside-the-park home run at Thurman Field on Friday night. Dayton is such an amazing place, and we dont get a lot of fans in Bakersfield.
I guess it humbles you and makes you respect the game a little more. It gives you motivation to do better and move up because Pensacola and Louisville also are unbelievable places to play. Fans or no fans, youre still playing baseball.
Waldrop, who hit .284-8-50 for Dayton last season, agrees with what weve always heard from members of the San Francisco Giants - that the players can absorb energy from the stands.
When its the ninth inning of a tie ballgame or maybe youre down a run the crowd is into it and it definitely gets you pumped. Waldrop said.
The Bakersfield players also know that better experiences await the players fortunate enough to move up the Reds ladder. The next step is Pensacola, Fla. and Bayfront Stadium, which opened last season. Awaiting at Triple-A is Louisville Slugger Stadium in Louisville, Ky., a modern stadium that opened in 2000.
But for the 25 players currently in uniform for the Bakersfield Blaze, home right now is Sam Lynn Field and its up to them to make the most of the situation.
We do talk about it, but Bakersfield is getting a new ballpark, Waldrop said. I hope I dont see it, but when the park is done theyll draw more. Theyre doing things right now to make things better for the ballpark, the fans and the players.