Historical averages indicate that about two times each season, a Dragons player will connect on two home runs in the same game at Fifth Third Field. But what are the chances of a player going one step further and slamming three homers in a single game?
In the 983 games played at Fifth Third Field, only once has a Dragons player belted three long balls in one contest. It happened on August 19, 2007 in front of a huge crowd of 9,108. The fans celebrated a hard-fought Dragons victory and every run was important in this see-saw battle with Lansing. On a beautiful night with temperatures in the low 80's, the playoff-bound Dragons pulled out an 8-7 victory. The star of the game was the Midwest League's 2007 home run champion, Dragons third baseman Juan Francisco.
Francisco was an unknown 20-year-old when the 2007 season began with only one previous year of professional experience that saw him connect on just three homers in 54 games. He would match that total on August 19, but by that time, Francisco had already established himself as a Midwest League slugger, batting fourth in a Dragons lineup filled with future big leaguers.
The Dragons opened the 2007 season by winning their first nine games. After 27 contests, the Dayton record stood at an amazing 23-4. Seven of the eight everyday players would one day play in the Major Leagues, including Francisco, outfielders Drew Stubbs, Chris Heisey, and Denis Phipps; shortstop Chris Valaika, second baseman Justin Turner, and catcher Eddy Rodriguez. When Valaika was promoted, he was replaced in the lineup by Zack Cozart.
As Francisco took the field on August 19th, with a little over two weeks left to play in the regular season, he had already connected on 18 home runs for the year and had started at the hot corner in the mid-season Midwest League All-Star Game. He had also gained a reputation for his titanic home run blasts. During batting practice, his home runs routinely left the ballpark, completely clearing Sears Street and reaching the Dayton Supply & Tool building. Four years later, Francisco would gain national attention when he hit a home run completely out of Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, the longest home run hit in the Major Leagues in 2011, and the second longest in the history of the stadium (Click here for the video of this home run).
Notably, Francisco also drew attention for his tremendous opposite field power. He had the ability to hit home runs to any part of the ballpark.
When the Dragons came to bat in the bottom of the first inning on August 19, 2007, they were already in a three-run hole. Francisco came to the plate with two outs and Turner at first and demonstrated his opposite field power, drilling a pitch over the left field fence for a two-run homer to make it 3-2.
Lansing added two runs in the third inning, one in the fifth, and one more in the top of the sixth. As the Dragons came to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning, they trailed by five runs at 7-2. With Turner and Stubbs on base, Francisco stepped into the box and again blasted an opposite field home run to left field to make it 7-5. The Dragons later added another run in the same inning on an RBI double by Rodriguez to draw to within one at 7-6.
In the bottom of the seventh, Stubbs delivered a one-out single to center field to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. You would have to think that Lansing pitchers would be careful with Francisco, who had already deposited two offerings into the seats. Lansing's pitcher was Jeremy Zick, a reliever who had spent the previous season in the Midwest League with Quad Cities before being released by the Cardinals. He had been playing in the independent Golden Baseball League until recently signing with the Toronto Blue Jays organization, and this was only his third game, so he undoubtedly wanted to aggressively go after Francisco. He was too aggressive. This time, Francisco pulled the ball, bombing one over the right-center field fence, a two-run blast, to give the Dragons an 8-7 lead and close out the scoring.
At the end of the night, Francisco was 3 for 4 with three homers and seven runs batted in. He finished the year with 25 home runs to lead the league, a number that still ranks as the fourth highest single-season effort in Dragons history.
Two other times in Dragons history, a Dayton player has belted three home runs in a game, but Francisco is the only player ever to do it in front of the home fans at Fifth Third Field. Wily Mo Pena hit three homers on August 9, 2001 at Cedar Rapids, and Byron Wiley connected on three on July 5, 2009 at West Michigan.
Francisco, now with the Brewers, has hit 32 big league home runs. On April 16, 2013 he hit two homers in one game for the Braves against Kansas City, but drew a walk in his final plate appearance in the eighth inning. Surely, somewhere in the back of his mind, as he walked toward the plate for that last at-bat that day against the Royals, he was flashing back to a warm night at Fifth Third Field in Dayton, Ohio, six years earlier.