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Beyond the Diamond, A Lost Baseball Season Hits Dayton Hard

In 2019, the Dayton Dragons' season attendance was well over a half million, making them one of downtown's biggest draws.
Jason Reynolds
/
WYSO
In 2019, the Dayton Dragons' season attendance was well over a half million, making them one of downtown's biggest draws.

Minor League Baseball has been cancelled for 2020, putting teams like the Toledo Mudhens, Columbus Clippers, and Akron Rubber Ducks in a tough position. And in downtown Dayton, the community is bracing itself. Without Dragons’ baseball, the local economy is about to lose millions of dollars.

Minor league baseball has become a major part of the fabric of downtown Dayton.

Dayton Dragons President Bob Murphy says his team has had an annual economic impact of over $27 million dollars, but “that’s not going to be happening this year.”

He says it’s the domino effect: “When the season gets cancelled, the dominoes start to fall, and you see the negative consequences of us not getting to play baseball.”

And it’s not just about ticket sales and concessions. Murphy is quick to note that the team also works with local charities to raise money for community organizations, like youth sports leagues and veterans groups.

Then there are Dragons’ employees. Murphy won’t say how many full-time workers have been furloughed by the team, but he says on top of regular employees, a cancelled season means that roughly three dozen internships had to be cancelled and over 250 game day employees won’t have their summer jobs at Day Air Ballpark.

That includes “people that are teachers working to supplement their income, and retirees, and college people that are working their way through school.”

Murphy says the team is going to have to rely on its season ticket holders and corporate partners to survive this lost season. He says it’s a lot like when the Dragons were first starting out, back in the year 2000.

The team sold out every game that first year, and they’ve sold out every game since.

“It was so great to create what we have created with the Dayton Dragons,” Murphy says. “And that’s not the front office. It’s this community that has built the Dayton Dragons, and we’re going to need that community to do it again, because this is going to be a rebuild.”

While the Dragons may be able to survive a lost season, without those thousands of fans coming downtown, businesses around the ballpark are struggling.

Brixx Ice Company is a sports bar right across from the stadium. Owner Chris Bhai says his business relies on Dragons fans.

“We’re built to house 388 people on a game day. We sell about 500 meals in that two and half hours, and then we go back down to our mom and pop kind of environment,” Bhai says.

He says last April, Brixx Ice brought in $150,000, but this year they made just $7,000 all month. They've been trying all sorts of things—home delivery, corporate delivery, take out specialty drinks—but for the month of June, they were still down 60% from last year.

Now, there's no baseball for the rest of the summer, and Bhai is worried about how to stay in business when there’s no way to know how long the pandemic will last.

“If someone were to tell me we’re gonna be pretty much back to normal in 2021, then I’ll move heaven and earth. I’ll sell my house, whatever I have to do, to keep it going,” Bhai says. “This has been my livelihood and my family business and my retirement plan. It’s a little bit of everything.”

Major League Baseball now plans to press ahead with a pandemic shortened season, but all 160 minor league teams have seen their seasons cancelled.

Some people are worried about the future of the minor leagues. The big leagues are drafting fewer players this year, which means there may be fewer players assigned to the minor league teams next year.

But back at Day Air Ballpark, Dayton Dragon’s President Bob Murphy says he’s not too worried.

“I don’t really have a doubt we’ll be back in 2021,” Murphy says.