On the Road: The Force Awakens in Durham

To see all my posts from my May 7 visit to the Durham Bulls, click HERE. To see all of my posts from my May 2016 Carolinas Road Trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right). 

It’s hard to talk about the Durham Bulls without referencing the 1988 movie Bull Durham, portions of which were filmed at the team’s old home of Durham Athletic Park. The film made the Bulls an internationally recognized name, and the ensuing publicity and increased crowds helped the erstwhile Carolina League team move to a new ballpark (Durham Bulls Athletic Park, in 1995) and level of play (the Triple-A International League, in 1998).

All of this is to say, the current Bulls experience is a long way from that which was immortalized in Bull Durham. A galaxy far, far away, perhaps, given that I visited the team for its annual Star Wars promotion. Can you imagine Crash Davis wearing something like this?

IMG_1169Yet, there are plenty of iconic elements still incorporated into the Bulls’ game experience. As I ventured to the stadium on this beautiful Saturday afternoon, walking through Durham’s Tobacco District, the back end of the “Hit Bull Win Steak” sign served as my North Star.

001En route to the home plate entrance, I saw a bull that clearly hadn’t been fed in a while.

003And then — bam — there it was: the imposing front entrance to Durham Bulls Athletic Park (which will henceforth be referred to as “DBAP”).

004Shortly after arriving, I sat in on a brief promo team meeting overseen by Bulls director of marketing Krista Boyd. Here are a few quotes from this confab that I scribbled down as Krista went over the agenda. (This year’s Star Wars promo was a tribute to Han Solo and mascot Wool E. Bull was dressed up as Han.) It appears that Margot (or is it “Margo”?) had a busy day.

“Margot, you’re with Chewbacca and Leia. Chewbacca’s in seven-inch platform shoes so he walks slowly. His name’s Ryan in real life.”

“Kylo Ren will take Luke into the abyss at the end of the [mascot] race.” 

“Margot, you’ll help get Chewy, Leia and the other characters, all the Storm Troopers, to Jackie’s Landing so they can dance for the Cantina Cam.”

“Wool E. Bull will drive a landspeed racer at the end of the fifth.”

“Margot, you’ll be with Leia and meet Grace at [section] 116 for the Star Wars Kiss Cam. Wool E. will give Leia a kiss. Then get the mini-Kylo Rens ready. There will be five of them. During this time the Diamond Cutters [grounds crew dance team] will be performing….Nico, you coordinate with Grace about having the mini-Kylo Rens go after Wool. E. with the light sabers.” 

There was a lot more than than, but you get the point. Minor League theme nights, done right, take a lot of planning and coordination.

After receiving their briefing from General Boyd, the promo team was ready to go into battle.

005I then was led to a room that had been pressed into service as a changing area for members of the 501st Legion’s Carolina Garrison. The 501st Legion is legion throughout the country, and crucial to the success of Star Wars promotions. Its members appear at the ballpark, gratis, in full movie-quality costumes.

I ended up speaking with Scott “Darth Vader” Wilmoth…

Vader guy…as well as Sandie “Princess Leia” MacLachan.

Leia and cardI wrote an MiLB.com story based around these interviews, which I would encourage you to read. Click HERE.

I should mention that I was guided during these pregame wanderings by Bulls director of communications Matt Sutor, a master of corridor, concourse, staircase and onfield navigation. After bidding adieu to the Star Wars crew, he and I paid a quick visit to the Bull Durham Beer Company. While many Minor League teams have their own team-branded beer, this is something else entirely. The brewery is actually located on the concourse, in what used to be a pop-up team store.

010The Bull Durham Beer Company is an independent operation, and not owned by the Bulls. There are currently four full-time employees, and four beers on tap at every Bulls game. These include 2016’s two additions to the line-up, “Lollygagger Kolsch” and “Water Tower Wheat.” I was told that the the brewery expected to sell somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 pints on this beautiful Star Wars Saturday evening.

Anyhow, it was nice chatting with this group of brew company employees for a few minutes. I apologize to the woman on the left, as the picture I took in which your eyes are open was too blurry for me to use.

012Another current concourse highlight is the tobacco card-themed wall art, painted in conjunction with a season-long exhibit at the Durham History Hub.

013

Meanwhile. out on the concourse, I was able to confirm that it remained a beautiful day in Durham.

015DBAP underwent $19 million in renovations prior to the 2014 season, and one of the most prominent additions was a large social space down the right field line dubbed Jackie’s Landing. Jackie’s Landing — so-named because it runs parallel to Jackie Robinson Drive — includes the 42 Playground and 42 Bar. Here’s the bar, which probably had Bud Light on tap. Just a guess.

016

Videoboard upgrades were also part of the renovations. Though the game was still about an hour from beginning, a Star Wars-themed headshot of Tides’ leadoff hitter L.J. Hoes was already fired up and ready to go.

018

Up in the press box I spoke with PA announcer Tony Riggsbee, a native of Durham who attended his first Bulls game in 1962. My conversation with Tony, an affable and interesting guy, was summarily turned into this MiLB.com article. 

019A brief peek into the owner’s suite — the owner in this case being Jim Goodmon of Capitol Broadcasting — revealed an old-tyme barber shop atmosphere….

021…as well as some old-time video games. Shoutout to Matt Sutor, who earned a blog cameo via his deft mirror positioning.

022This is the “PNC Triangle Club,” whose tables are either circles or squares.

024Meanwhile, outside, Star Wars mania was in full effect. Costumed 501st Legion members were hot photo op commodities.

IMG_1171

IMG_1175Outside and inside of the ballpark, it remained a beautiful day in Durham.

032And this time, when I returned to the field, my new friends were waiting for me.

IMG_1178I hope this post gave you much to Chew over. Right now I’m gonna Leia down and take a nap, but please know that the next installment of this Durham Bulls Star Wars blog trilogy will appear very shortly.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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