Guest Post: Why I Love the Durham Bulls

It’s time for another “Why I Love” guest post, in which a Minor League fan explains what it is they love about their favorite team, and why. Today’s guest writer is Ken Childs, a proud resident of Durham, North Carolina and, therefore, a proud fan of the Durham Bulls. 

To see other “Why I Love” guest posts, click HERE. And If YOU would like to write a “Why I Love” post, email me at benjamin.hill@mlb.com.

Why I Love the Durham Bulls, by Ken Childs 

(All photos courtesy of Ken Childs)

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Opening Day, 2014

I’ve been a resident of the beautiful city of Durham, North Carolina my entire adult life.  The city has transformed over the last 14 years from what was almost an afterthought of a place into a bustling center for local restaurants, shopping and the arts.  And in the middle of all that growth has been (and always will be) the Durham Bulls.

You’ve probably heard the name: There was a little indie movie made about the Bulls in the 1980s that did okay.  The players who have come through here have shaped the Major League Baseball landscape for quite some time. The Bulls have been a consistent model of how teams should be run, and that has been shown in their continual trips to the Governors’ Cup playoffs. The list of “what’s not to like” about the Bulls, their home of Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) and their organization as a whole wouldn’t be long enough to fill out an index card, let alone this space, so we’ll go with “what there is to like” and ramble on for a while all about it!

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The view atop the “Blue Monster” in left field

Durham Bulls Athletic Park, which opened in 1995, is considered “older” now, at least when compared to the Minor League Baseball building boom that’s come about over the last decade or so. Nonetheless, you likely won’t find a nicer stadium anywhere. On any given summer night, on the corner of Blackwell and Jackie Robinson, you’ll find families, friends, couples and desperately single guys alike settled in the beautiful 10,000 seat stadium to take in not only great baseball, but great entertainment in general. And the building itself is what those new stadiums aim to be. You want your Minor League park to be a smaller version of a Major League stadium, downtown, near lots of restaurants and things to do both before and after the game?  The DBAP has long been that, before most new stadiums were even a glimmer in an architect’s eye.

The DBAP has its own little quirks that make it like no other: There’s the bull (of Hit Bull, Win Steak fame), Jackie’s Landing (the nicest bar in Durham), the Blue Monster, the grass in the outfield entire families sit on to enjoy a game on a weekend evening and no other shortage of things that make it unique.

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For a facility of its caliber, and a team of its caliber, the Durham Bulls are just about as budget-friendly as their mascot, Wool E Bull, is family-friendly (the “E” is short for “Education”…seriously).

Peek-A-Bull

Peek-A-Bull

The Bulls offer dollar hot dog nights, the best fireworks show anywhere (your town’s 4th of July show pales in comparison, I promise) and lots of great coupons and deals to get in on the cheap. And, even if you don’t, the most expensive ticket in the place is $15.  Admit it: in the past, you’ve spent a lot more on a lot less.

Section 114, Row A

Section 114, Row A

So that’s what there is to love, in general, about the Durham Bulls. Now, why do I love them? For starters, they’re my hometown team. At heart I’m a Chicago White Sox fan, and their Triple-A team is down the road in a lesser city in North Carolina playing in the same International League division. But when they come to town, you can only root for one team, and that’s going to be the hometown one (even if the Bulls are an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays).

At heart I’m a “people person” kind of guy, and the Bulls’ entire staff are the same way. From Jatovi (the Bulls on-field announcer and master of ceremonies) to general manager Mike Birling and everyone in between, there’s not a single person who won’t go out of their way to help a fan make his or her experience amazing. I’m not a needy guy, but anytime I’ve ever had any issue with anything, there was someone there in a Bulls shirt to lend a hand.

I’m also a sucker for food and cheeky events, and the Bulls have me covered that department as well. There’s Food Truck Rodeo night, where all of Durham’s best food trucks (and we have many) line up in right field. There’s craft beer night, ’80s night, ’90s night and the always popular Bark in the Park night.  The concessions have everything from traditional ballpark food to taco stands to what is truly some of the best BBQ anywhere. So, whatever you’re in the mood for, DBAP most likely offers it. The on-field action is always great, but sometimes it’s that little extra fun in-between innings that makes the night special.

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Food Truck Rodeo

Bark in the Park

Ken Childs (right) and his dog, Deacon, at Bark in the Park Night

And, of course, there’s the baseball itself. The roster is generally made up of outstanding players who are also outstanding people. Hardly ever do you see a player skip a chance to sign an autograph, grab a picture with a fan or flip an extra ball to a kid in the first few rows. Great players like David Price, Wil Myers, Chris Archer, Craig Albernaz, Desmond Jennings and so many more have spent substantial time here in Durham, and this has led to the knowledge that, at any given ballgame, you’re seeing the future of baseball right before your eyes.

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Wil Myers thrills a young fan

A moment with Craig Albernaz

A moment with Craig Albernaz

The Bulls are always in the hunt for the playoffs, and since moving to Durham in 2001 I’ve seen them win the International League championship four times. Baseball is always a little bit more fun when your team is winning, and that is rarely a problem here in Bull City.

The Governors' Cup, awarded to the IL's championship team

The Governors’ Cup, awarded to the IL’s championship team

In short, there are a lot of baseball teams out there, but none are as great as the Durham Bulls. Candlesticks always make a nice gift, but Bulls tickets might be just a little bit nicer.

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The iconic Lucky Strike tower, towering over DBAP

Thanks to Ken for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my 2011 “On the Road” post detailing my Durham Bulls experience.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

5 Comments

Ken, I was at a Bulls game back in 2010 while on a baseball road trip with my son on the way to Atlanta. I agree with you on all points except one, the fireworks. Maybe they got better in the past four years. At the end of the game, a John Deere lawn tractor pulled a small cart with fireworks best described as roadside sparklers. If you were not in the ballpark you could not have seen them. Probably the worst minor league fireworks I have ever witnessed.

Hey Mike, I’m sure there’s some kind of crazy story here. The Bulls used to have HUGE fireworks displays in the parking lot behind the Bull in LF, but with all of the new construction had to change things up. At one point (2008ish or so?) they moved the party inside to CF. My friends and I were in the OF for what had to be one of the first installments of the new system, and that evening the wind was just right and the angle just wrong enough that the OF crowd ended up ducking for cover. Nothing like heading for the exist whilst literally in the middle of the fireworks.

I’m kinda relieved to hear that they’ve toned it down, if only for that reason.

I loved my experience in Durham back in 2013! This was definitely something to cross off my baseball bucket list. I recently applied for a transfer to Raleigh/Durham, so I may be a regular there if it goes through. Here my experience:
http://minoringinbaseball.com/2013/05/27/2013-baseball-trip-game-5-the-greatest-show-on-dirt/
It was a high-light of a trip filled with great ballparks and fans.
-Mike

Been a little while since I’ve had a chance to get to this, but I can promise you that was a fluke of a night. It’s still pulled out by a tractor, but they’re set off in the middle of center field and go on seemingly forever. It’s a great show, if you’re back in town ever make sure to come find me in 114!

Ken, I didn’t want to sound petty about the fireworks. I loved everything about the experience when I was there including the organist on the concourse that played everything from Broadway show tunes to current pop hits on the organ. Hopefully I will get back to the DBAP soon. I am planning another trip to the Carolinas this spring for a minor league road trip. Unfortunately, the Bulls are on the road that weekend. My plans include visiting the Carolina Mudcats, Charlotte Knights, Greenville Drive, and Richmond Flying Squirrels.

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