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Road openers rare for Dragons

Thursday night’s game at West Michigan marked only the fourth time in 14 seasons the Dragons have opened their season on the road. The last time it happened was in 2008.

The Dragons’ longest season-opening trip was the first season in franchise history. The team was scheduled to play the first 19 games on the road as Fifth Third Field was being completed. Five games were postponed and two were rescheuled, making it a 16-day trip.

Banking on baseball: West Michigan’s Fifth Third Ballpark is one of four minor-league stadiums carrying the Fifth Third name. The bank first bought naming right in Dayton for Fifth Third Field. In 2002 Old Kent Park here in Comstock Park was renamed as well as Fifth Third Field in Toledo, the home of the AAA Mudhens.

The Midwest League’s Kane County Cougars renamed their stadium Fifth Third Bank Ballpark last season.

Road to the show: In the previous 13 seasons, the Dragons’ opening-day starting line up has featured at least one player who went on to play major-league baseball. The most in any one year was in 2007. That lineup featured Drew Stubbs, Chris Heisey, Juan Francisco, Justin Turner, Chris Valaika, and Denis Phipps.

Two Dragons opening day starting pitchers have made it to the big leagues. Ramon Ramirez (2005) and Travis Wood (2006.

Familiar territory: Dragons manager Jose Nieves played one season in the Midwest League in 1996 with what was then the Cubs affiliate in Rockford. That franchise eventually became a Reds affiliate and was replaced in the Midwest League by the Dragons when Dayton joined the league in 2000.

Two years after he played in Rockford the Cubs called Nieves up to Chicago. Jose played parts of three seasons with the Cubs and two more with the Angels. He was part of Anaheim’s World Series championship team in 2002.

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