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Friday, Aug 29th

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Fifth Third Field / Dayton Dragons

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Fifth Third Field would fit well within the Class AA Eastern League or even the Class AAA International League: the ballpark is highly comfortable, and the management of the Dayton Dragons throws a great ballgame. There's little to dislike about the Midwest League's flagship. And the fans of Dayton seem to agree: Dragons games are consistently sold out. Fifth Third Field was built in a rundown part of eastern downtown Dayton, so it's surrounded by warehouses and other industrial buildings. With a brick exterior to the grandstand and a wrought-iron fence surrounding the outfield (perfect, by the way, for knotholers who can't get or afford tickets), the ballpark looks and feels like it's been in Dayton for a lot longer than eight years.

FAST FACTS

Year Opened: 2000
Capacity: 7,230
Architect: HNTB
Dimensions: 338L, 381LC, 402C, 371RC, 338R
Website: daytondragons.com
Phone: 937/228-BATS (2287)
League: Midwest League (Class A)
Affiliation: Cincinnati Reds
Parking: Plenty of local lots and street parking surround the ballpark, through you should arrive early to snare street parking close to the ballpark.
Directions: 220 N. Patterson, Dayton. The ballpark is on the eastern side of downtown Dayton. From I-75 in either direction, take the First Street exit and head east until you see the ballpark. From S.R. 35 in either direction, take the the Jefferson/Main Street Exit. Hang a right on Jefferson and go to First, where you'll hang a right.

Class A ballparks vary so much in terms of quality and capabilities. Take the low Class A Midwest League: it seems amazing that the same league would feature both Beloit's Pohlman Field (which is barely a step above a Legion field, though the park and the Snappers franchise do have other charms) and Fifth Third Field, the home of the Dayton Dragons. While Pohlman Field seems barely suited for Class A ball, Fifth Third Field would fit well within the Class AA Eastern League or even the Class AAA International League: the ballpark is highly comfortable, and the Dragons' management throws a great ballgame.

There's little to dislike about the Midwest League's flagship. And the fans of Dayton seem to agree: Dragons games are consistently sold out. Fifth Third Field was built in a rundown part of eastern downtown Dayton, so it's surrounded by warehouses and other industrial buildings. With a brick exterior to the grandstand and a wrought-iron fence surrounding the outfield (perfect, by the way, for knotholers who can't get or afford tickets), the ballpark looks and feels like it's been in Dayton for a lot longer than eight years.

Part of that might have to do with how the ballpark was integrated into the neighborhood. Though there are some new bars and restaurants next to Fifth Third Field, many of the older buildings are still used for storage. In a way, there's really no grand entrance to the ballpark: there's a small center-field gate as well as the larger entrance shown below. In front of this entrance is a 72,000-square-foot plaza used for special events. The lack of a dramatic entrance actually works to the ballpark's advantage when it comes to fitting in a neighborhood full of understated buildings.

Another factor in the timelessness: the asymmetrical nature of the outfield fence. The left-field porch is only 338 feet from home plate, while the deepest part of center field measures 402 feet. The height of the outfield wall varies as well, ranging from eight feet high to over 10 feet high.

The ballpark is built around a concourse ringing the entire playing field. Most of the fixed seating is in the grandstand, which features both box seats and 30 luxury suites on the club level of the ballpark.

The luxury boxes (an exterior is shown in the slide show above) were hot sellers even before the ballpark was completed. but only 28 are sold for the entire season: the Dragons wisely kept two in general circulation and sell them on a game-by-game basis. They're also fully climate controlled, with heating for those chilling April nights and air conditioning for those hot August days.

There aren't too many double-decked ballparks in the Midwest League (most are single-level facilities like Fox Cities Stadium), and the second deck supports a club level in addition to the suites. Fans sitting in this section can have their food served via waiters and waitresses.

Still, you don't need to sit in a luxury or club box to be comfortable. There are no bleachers at Fifth Third Field, as all affixed seats are theater-style seats either 19 inches, 20 inches or 21 inches wide. All seats have cupholders as well. A 306-seat section in left field (shown below) is called the Dragon's Lair, and it's sold mainly to groups. In addition, there are Budweiser Party Decks down each line.

Of course, there's berm seating in right field. This is where you'll find families sprawled out in the grass. You'll also find folks with seats in the grandstand spending some time with neighbors and friends. We toured the ballpark with Eric Deutsch, and the sense of community was incredible, here's an agreeable spaciousness to the ballpark. Dayton is a midsized city and boasts a major university, but there's a definite small-town feel to the ballpark.

And a sense of subtlety as well. Yes, the scoreboard dominates the view from the grandstand, but the rest of the signage at the ballpark is somewhat muted. Last season the Dragons installed two video boards along the outfield fence -- something you see in the majors, but rarely in the minors -- and limited the advertising to a relatively small group. There's a relatively short board in left field and a long one in right field.

We also toured the facilities typically closed off to the public. The Cincinnati Reds made a shrewd deal when it agreed to a minor-league club in its territory (as part of the deal, the Dragons will remain a Red farm team in perpetuity). There aren't many low Class A ballclubs treated as well as the Dragons: players have access to an indoor batting tunnel, while there's a weight room adjoining the clubhouse as well.

If you've read accounts of our other ballpark visits, you know there's one thing we love in a ballpark: the ability for fans to walk around and see the action from many different angles. On this count Fifth Third Field succeeds admirably: as mentioned, there's a concourse ringing the entire ballpark, and there are many spots (especially in the outfield) designed for fans who just want to stand around and watch the game for a spell. This feature is probably the signature feature at Fifth Third Field.

And there are features for fans who don't pay their way into the ballpark. As mentioned, the ballpark is surrounded by a wrought-iron fence, and knotholers can stand on a public sidewalk and see both the game and the highlights on the full-video scoreboard. With Dayton leading the Midwest League in attendance and the team being one of the top draws in all of minor-league baseball, the open nature of the ballpark is a nice gesture to a community that sure loves baseball and the Dayton Dragons.

CONCESSIONS
The offerings are standard ballpark fare: Kahn's hot dogs, burgers and grilled-chicken sandwiches, beer (Bud and Bud Light) and the like.

WHERE TO SIT
There really isn't a bad seat in the ballpark, and since tickets can sometimes be hard to come by, you won't have too much choice most of the time. No matter where you sit, we recommend spending the middle innings just wandering through the outfield concourse and catching the views of the game (as well as views of downtown Dayton) from the outfield.