Durham Bulls

 

This is an excerpt from my 2014 Baseball Journal: “Tickets: $6.00 – Hot Dogs $18.75”

 

Our 2014 annual baseball trip takes place in late April and culminates in Durham for a late afternoon contest between the Bulls and the visiting Scranton / Wilkes-Barre Railriders, the Yankees AAA affiliate. The Bulls represent the Tampa Bay Rays. We are an audience of six, part of the 10,011 sell-out crowd. I am joined by my baseball buddies, Bill, Don, Geoff, Mike and Geoff’s son-in-law, Paul whose family lives in Durham. We sit along the third base line out toward left field.

 

The ballpark is modern and Geoff explains that they undertook an $18 million renovation after the 2013 season ended. New four and five-story office buildings loom over the left and center field walkways with balcony’s overlooking the field. Paul explains that during weekday early starts, office workers come out to watch the games.

 

Just inside the left-field foul pole is a large painting of a bull. When a Bulls’ player hits a home run, steam comes out of the bull’s nostrils and its eyes turn red. Written on the bull is a sign: “HIT BULL WIN STEAK.” Below the bull on painted grass it reads: “HIT GRASS WIN SALAD.”

 

A Sign in Center field proclaims that this is Goodmon Field. Paul explains that Jim Goodmon is a local media mogul and current owner, but it seems his choice to name the place after himself is not catching on. Newspaper reports of the game call it Durham Bulls Athletic Park or by its initials, DBAP, pronounced D-bap.

 

I take a solo walk around the ballpark during the early innings to observe the view from all fields. Covered stands stretch from just past first base around home to just past third base. This main seating area is a big single deck, that tapers down beyond first and third. Luxury boxes line the wall along the rear of this grandstand. Open stands continue to the right field and left field foul poles. Bleachers line right-center with a grass seating area in center field. The scoreboard covers the left field wall with a an outdoors restaurant above it.

 

Before the game begins, I ask a fellow two rows behind us to take our photo using my phone. He does, but the chap with him asks, “When did you boys play for the Bulls.”

 

“I’m not sure of the year,” I reply, “But they were still flying the Confederate Flag.” After a group of youngsters finish performing the National Anthem, I turn and ask, “When did they change the tune?”

 

At first he looks puzzled then he explodes in laughter.

 

It’s an easy game for the Bulls who take a 5-0 lead into the Ninth on the strength of two home runs. It is only then that I wake-up to the fact that the starting pitcher, Mike Montgomery, has pitched eight innings of no-hit baseball! But he is also at or about the 100 pitch count. Somehow, he avoids his manager, Charles Montoyo, and returns to the mound for the top of the Ninth. But Montgomery throws two straight balls before getting the batter to ground out to first. Without hesitating, Montoyo goes out to the mound and takes the ball from Montgomery. There are some boos, but then, mostly cheers. Montgomery gives his manager the ball without hesitation which leads us to believe wrongly that Montoyo told him he was going to take him out after the first batter. Instead, like a kid being caught with his hand in the cookie jar, Motgomery meekly returns to the dugout. At least he receives the accolades from the fans that he deserves on his way.

 

Brad Boxberger in relief, gets the last two outs. The crowd explodes with cheers as he strikes out the second batter preserving the no-hitter.

 

We eat in a crowded pub in the tobacco warehouse district near the stadium. Paul points out the Lucky Strike smoke stack, now preserved. (I think to myself, few of these people here ever smoked a Lucky Strike or know what their advertizing slogan, L.S.M.F.T. meant*)

 

I make it to the end of the bar attempting to flag down one of the harried bartenders while we wait for a table. When I catch one’s eye, I decisively demand, “One Fat Tire, three Kettle One’s, rocks and two non-alcohol beers.” This command impressing a young couple watching me.

 

“You know what you want,” the boy notes.

 

“At 70 years-old, I should. Pretty soon, I won’t remember what I want.”

 

We have a second round at the bar so when we sit down, we only order food. That’s why, when we split the bill, we are shocked that each of our share is $15.65. “How could we have ever submitted that on an expense account when we were working?”

*(Lucky Strike Means Fine tobacco.)