"It was the greatest week for a player in Dragons history, and just about as good as you could find in any team's history."
That is the way Dayton Daily News writer Marc Katz remembers the eight days of terror for opposing Midwest League pitchers facing Dragons right fielder Austin Kearns in 2000. Katz covered the Dragons from 2000-'09 and leaves little doubt about the most memorable hitting streak in Dragons history.
Kearns' hitting streak from July 17-24, 2000 did not just include a hit in eight straight games, but it also included home runs in all eight contests. In those eight games, he belted a total of 10 homers, drove in 20 runs, and scored 19. Amazingly, he collected 18 hits in 25 at-bats, batting .720. He also walked 10 times in the eight games. His best games were the middle three. In 14 plate appearances, he went 9 for 9 with five homers, five walks, 10 RBI, and 10 runs scored.
Kearns was batting .269 when the streak began but finished with what still stands as the greatest single-season in Dragons history. He finished the year with a batting average of .306 with 27 home runs, 104 RBI, and 110 runs scored. It all happened in the Dragons first season of existence, and no other Dragons player has ever come close to matching it.
At the end of the 2000 season, Kearns was chosen as the Cincinnati Reds Minor League Player of the Year. He also shared the Midwest League's "Top Prospect" award with a player who went on to a pretty good big league career, Albert Pujols. Now, 11 years later, Kearns is still playing professional baseball, but injuries might have prevented him from becoming the true superstar that many predicted.
Kearns joined the Reds organization as a first round pick in 1998, the seventh overall pick in the draft out of Lafayette High School in Lexington, Kentucky. Following his incredible 2000 season with the Dragons, he missed half of the 2001 season after tearing a ligament in his right thumb, one of several thumb injuries that would haunt Kearns over the course of his career. He started the 2002 season in Double-A with Chattanooga and went on another tear, hitting five home runs over a four-game stretch in April to earn a promotion to the Major Leagues. He made his big league debut with the Reds on April 17 and hit his first career home run just four days later. He finished an excellent rookie year with an average of .313 with 15 home runs in 107 games but missed the last month of the season with a torn hamstring. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Kearns began the 2003 season with the Reds looking like a true star in the making. On May 21, he was batting .309 with 13 homers and 43 RBI in just 44 games when he suffered a shoulder injury in a collision with Atlanta pitcher Ray King. He tried to play through the injury for six weeks but saw his numbers fall off dramatically until his season ended in early July with an average of .263 and 15 homers in 82 games. Kearns was never quite the same again.
In 2004, he suffered a broken forearm in April and then in June, underwent surgery on his thumb. He bounced back in 2005 to hit 18 homers and then was traded to the Washington Nationals in 2006 when he established career highs with 24 home runs and 86 RBI. He has since played with the Indians and Yankees before spending the 2012 season with the Miami Marlins, where he batted .245 with four homers in 87 games, often used as a pinch hitter. Ironically, on July 5, 2010, Kearns tied a major league record when he was hit by a pitch three times in the same game.
Kearns is still only 32 years old and has spent all or parts of 11 seasons in the majors. He has played in 1,106 big league games and belted 121 major league home runs. He will always be remembered in Dayton for an incredible eight-game stretch, and fans will wonder what kind of player Kearns might have become if not for the injuries. He was the fourth Dayton Dragons player to reach the major leagues. Next up: Wily Mo Pena.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.