DAYTON -- Eight hundred and fifteen balloons meandered toward the azure sky, green and orange streamers swayed from the backstop fencing, and 8,688 sons and daughters of Southwest Ohio stood cheering an accomplishment 12 seasons in the making.
The fifth inning? Finished. The game? Official. The record? It's here, in Dayton.
The Dayton Dragons, a Class A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, sold out their 815th consecutive game
at an over-capacity Fifth Third Field on July 9 to set a North American professional sports record, eclipsing the previous mark of 814 held by the Portland Trail Blazers (1977-95).
"There's definitely a lot of emotions," team GM Gary Mayse said. "I go back to when we opened the gates in April of 2000, and at that point, you're just trying to get one game under your belt. But to know that 12 years later we've got the all-time sellout streak, it's not only good for the Dayton Dragons -- it's good for the Dayton community."
The Dragons moved to Dayton from Rockford, Ill., in 2000 and sold out their entire first season before the first pitch had been thrown. Attendance has been perfect ever since.
"If it has the word, 'Dayton,' on the front of the jersey," team president Robert Murphy said, "this community is going to support it."
The team's viability, however, wasn't always so certain. Some wondered whether Dayton could support a team that played its home games just 57 miles from Great American Ball Park. But Murphy's motto of "unsurpassed customer service" has had Dayton hooked since day one. Fans come to see baseball, sure. But they come first and foremost for entertainment -- and the Dragons supply plenty of that.
The 90-second gaps between innings feature contests and dance routines, including a toddler race.
"For as scripted as we are with our entertainment, that's one of the best unscripted moments you can possibly have," Murphy said of the tike trot.
The Dragons also offer numerous promotions, including Hometown Hero Night, which honors local military personnel serving overseas, and Home Run for Life, which allows children recovering from injury or illness to run the bases and touch 'em all.
"People are so prideful of this," said Dragons vice president Eric Deutsch. "The Midwest has not had a lot of great things to get rallied around in many years, so this has been a really great thing for our community. This is something they did."
As for the actual game, the Dragons defeated the South Bend Silver Hawks, 4-1, to improve to 47-39, inching closer to their first winning season since 2007. But tonight wasn't about winning or losing. It was about a town and its team.
"I can't imagine Dayton baseball not being a sold-out situation," Murphy said. "The energy here -- whether it's a Friday night, a Saturday night, a Monday or a Tuesday; whether it's April or August -- is the one thing that I think really separates us. The fans are enjoying themselves in that love affair, coming out on a beautiful summer night. It doesn't get any better than that."