Saturday, February 21, 2009

Baseball Place: 15: Durham Athletic Park; and Baseball Place No. 15A: Durham Bulls Athletic Park

The editors at the Greensboro, N.C. newspaper sent me off to lunch with a couple reporters when I interviewed for a job there in 1999.

The reporters were both Northerners like me, and their role was to answer any questions that I might not feel comfortable asking the bosses, and fill me in about living in the area.

"There’s one thing you need to know," one of the reporters said, and did so in a tone that made me think bad news was to follow.

"NASCAR is big here. Like, really big," he said, as the other shook his head in sorrow.


But the bright side is that there are nine minor league teams in the state, and I had a free evening ahead of me once the interviews were over.

The Greensboro Bats were on the road, but the guys told me that just an hour east was Durham, home of the Durham Bulls of "Bull Durham" fame.

Josh Pahigian names The Durham Athletic Park, where the movie was filmed, as spot No. 15 in the 101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.

The tiny park still stands, but the team moved in to a larger stadium downtown in 1995. I didn’t feel comforable enough in the city to find both places, so:

Alternative Place No. 15A: Durham Bulls Athletic Park

The names are similar, but the parks are as different as cane be. The DAP was built in 1939 and sat 5,000, but that must be filling all the grassy areas, because the stands seem pretty small to me.

But the DBAP is a modern facility seating 10,000 for the now Triple-A Bulls. The brick park in intended to blend in with the surrounding American Tobacco Historic District, and a smoke stack with "Lucky Strike" written in white bricks rises beyond the third base stands.

Left field has a 35-foot wall dubbed "the Blue Monster" and atop it sits a larger recreation of the snorting "Hit the Bull, Win a Steak" sign from the movie.

The original is on display on the concourse.

I learned some cool things. The snorting bull was created for the movie — the DAP never had such a thing until then. And like most movie props, it wasn’t built to last.

Given the success of the "Bull Durham," I expected to see a lot of other movie-related items around the park.

Maybe a "Hit the Mascot" ball-tossing area or a "Paint Your Face Like a Mayan Lava Lizard" booth. But there was nothing.

I figured the team shop must have all kinds of things, even Bull Durham candlesticks to give as wedding presents.

But again, there was nothing. The team shop was pretty big, but nothing connected to the film was available.

Reporters are curious, so started asking questions.

"We really don’t do a lot with the movie," a clerk to told me. "It’s rated R. It’s not a family film. We think of ourselves of family entertainment."

Makes sense, and I enjoyed taking a seat in the stands. The Bulls were the Rays’ top farm club, and the Rochester Red Wings were affiliated with the Orioles. Durham won 11-5.

Randy Winn and Jose Guillen both homered for the Bulls, and Ed Galliard pitched. B.J. Ryan made what might have been his first appearance in the Orioles organization, having come over in a trade from the Reds two days prior.

I was a little disappointed I didn’t get over to the DAP, which still stands, and, according to reports, could soon be renovated for use as a training facility, college games and as a tourist site.

Greesnboro was a beautiful place and the people couldn’t have been nicer. I was offered the job, but had another offer that was better for the family. But I’m reminded of that lunch every time I pass the newsroom’s Coke vending machine — and it’s giant picture of late NASCAR diver Dale Earnhardt.


mmosley said...

The original DAP was a great place to go see a game. The stadium was orange and blue, the Bulls' colors. They painted it green for the film. It looked better then but the Bulls had them repaint it orange and blue. I remember going on Spam night. They were giving out free samples of Spam burgers!

The new stadium is beautiful. I can't imagine a better minor league park, but I'll always remember the quaintness of single A baseball in Durham.

dinged corners said...

This is a wonderful series you're doing. Spam night! Ah those were the good old days. PS In the current economy, canned Spam is doing very well, and Greensboro (which is a wonderful town...I went to school there) is failing. You never know.