“Walt Whitman once said, ‘I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.’ You could look it up.” — Annie, Bull Durham
So, I looked it up. Here’s what Whitman actually wrote: “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game — the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”
Close enough, Annie. 🙂
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Now that I have visited eight of the nine minor league stadiums in North Carolina, and with full acknowledgement of my personal biases in the matter, another terrific baseball night in Durham has led me to the conclusion that the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) is the best stadium in the state,* and — because it combines the best of major league and minor league parks all in one setting — possibly in the country. I can see no reason why Tampa Bay, whose attendance some nights barely cracks a few thousand, is the major league parent club, while Durham — which I think I can safely say after this week of games has the most major league-like stadium and atmosphere of all of the ballparks in North Carolina — regularly draws 10,000 or more. That’s a lot lower than most major league teams, but if Tampa Bay’s regular attendance is the standard, I’m not sure that matters. Besides, with the addition of a second layer of seats much like those in Greensboro, Charlotte, and elsewhere across the state, the DPAB probably could draw a crowd to fill up to 15,000 seats a night on a regular basis.
It’s not just the stadium amenities alone that makes the DBAP such a great facility — though there is no doubt that the presence this season of things like an on-site brewery help the DBAP to take minor league baseball to a new level. It’s also the level of fan participation and excitement. When the DBAP scoreboard encourages the fans to make noise, they actually make noise. Couple that with Durham’s us-against-the-world mentality (represented beautifully by a simple t-shirt worn by Bulls fan Tommy that states clearly, “Durham vs. Everybody”) and you have a recipe for baseball gold.
The Bulls have struggled through an uncharacteristically mediocre-to-poor second half of the season after starting off hot, but they entered tonight on an 8-game winning streak and only 6 1/2 games out of first in their division. If they pull off a rally here at the end of the season that is good enough to take them to the post-season, it will not be the first time the Bulls have recovered from a seemingly-impossible deficit, and it will only further the impression of the Durham Bulls as a working-class, never-say-quit, Everyman’s team that somehow finds a way to win.
That attitude pervades the entire stadium, where stories abound. Tonight, that story was manifested in the form of Nortica, who currently works at the Jackie Robinson bar that overlooks right field — one of the most beautiful spots to watch a game in North Carolina. Nortica is a Durham native, a Durham Hillside High School graduate, and an overall focused and aggressively optimistic person. She currently holds down two other jobs in addition to her job at the DBAP, and she also is pursuing a degree in criminal justice at nearby North Carolina Central University. She is the proud mother of a 10-month-old, and did I mention that she also is writing a novel about a hard-working young woman who pulls herself up by her bootstraps? Nortica is the Durham Bulls, Nortica is Durham, and, if you think back over many of my entries to this point, Nortica also is minor league baseball. Good luck to her, and thanks to her, too, for reminding me what true grit looks like.
(*I will gladly recant my statement about the DBAP being the best stadium in the state if the Carolina Mudcats’ Five County Stadium exceeds expectations tomorrow night.)
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By the way, Graham Knight over at BaseballPilgrimages.com has a good article about the snorting bull at the DBAP, for those who are interested.
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Charlotte 5, Durham 2. Disappointing night for the Bulls, who before tonight had scratched out eight straight wins to not only pull themselves above the .500 mark for the first time in many weeks but also draw within sight of escaping the division cellar, though there are only a few regular-season games to go. Charlotte proved to be too much for the Bulls tonight, though, plating 3 in the 3rd and 6th innings, then adding insurance runs in the 8th and 9th to seal the deal. Durham put two on in the bottom of the 9th but couldn’t get any across the plate to continue their winning streak.
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Tonight’s beer: Bull Durham Beer Company‘s kolsch. I am not typically a pale beer drinker, but I had to sample one of the only beers brewed in a North Carolina minor league ballpark. Brewer Garrett and beer-slinger Erik graciously showed me the facilities and auto-poured me a kolsch that was quite dark and flavorful for the style. I enjoyed it at the right field Jackie’s Landing bar where I met Nortica.
I also sampled an Aviator (Fuquay-Varina) Tripel — not the best tripel in the state, but probably the only tripel on tap in a minor league ballpark in North Carolina — certainly worthy of mention — and, at over 9% ABV, a great way to forget that the Bulls played behind for most of the night.