The Dayton Dragons inaugural season of 2000 was an exciting year for Dragons fans. The team reached the playoffs and featured slugging outfielder Adam Dunn, who would play in the Major Leagues less than a year removed from his final home run at Fifth Third Field, and now ranks as the 39th most prolific home run hitter in baseball history with 440 career homers.
But as the Dragons inaugural season brought the infancy of a sell out streak that would one day eclipse the all-time sports record, Dunn's teammate drew most of the attention on the field by compiling his own streak that has never been approached in this city, and probably not in any other one either. Lexington, Kentucky's Austin Kearns, just 19 years old when the Dragons season began, would enjoy a week for the ages that summer, and after all these years, it is still something to behold.
When the Dragons began play at Fifth Third Field on July 17, about two-thirds of the way through the 140-game season, Kearns was batting .269 with nine home runs while enjoying what could be described as a pretty good year for a teenager in a tough league. A week later, his outlook would look dramatically different.
Innocently enough, Kearns collected two hits that night including his 10th homer of the season. The next night, he would hit number 11, and then follow up with his 12th of the year in game three of the set. His best work was about to begin as the Dragons met Fort Wayne in the finale of the four-game series.
By this time, Kearns had gone 5 for 9 with three homers and six RBI in the series, and Fort Wayne's strategy was to pitch around him. They walked him twice, but in the other two at-bats, he delivered hits including his fourth homer in four games.
One of Kearns' home runs in the Fort Wayne series was particularly unique. On a night when Dragons part-owner and basketball legend Magic Johnson was in attendance, Kearns delivered a long drive to left field that appeared to pressbox observers to easily clear the left field fence, hit a temporary railing, and bounce back onto the field. However, the umpire ruled that the ball was actually in play, and Kearns circled the bases for the first inside-the-park home run in Dragons history.
The next night, Lansing came to town, perhaps unaware of Kearns's recent red-hot performances. In the first game against the Lugnuts, Kearns went 5 for 5 with two more home runs, two doubles, and five RBI. Amazingly, he had now hit home runs in five straight games.
In game two of the Lansing series, Lugnuts pitchers walked Kearns three times, two fewer than they should have. In the two plate appearances in which they pitched to Kearns, he hit two more home runs. He scored five runs in the game. Over his last three games, Kearns was 9 for 9 with five homers and five walks. He was not finished.
In the third game of the Lansing series, Kearns added yet another home run, and in the fourth and final meeting with the Lugnuts, he wrapped up an eight-game stretch by going 3 for 3 with one last homer.
Kearns hit at least one home run in eight straight games from July 17-July 24, 2000, totaling 10 long balls over the streak. He batted .720, going 18 for 25 with 20 RBI. At one point, he reached base in 14 consecutive plate appearances.
Kearns finished the year as the Midwest League's co-Prospect of the Year, sharing the honor with Albert Pujols. His final numbers: a .306 batting average with 27 home runs and 104 RBI. His total of 110 runs scored is still a club record, as is his slugging percentage of .558. But it was an eight-day stretch in July that brought Austin Kearns national attention, a streak whose likeness will probably never be matched in the Midwest League, by this franchise or any other.