July 4 - At The Ballpark: Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, NC
You've surely seen the baseball classic Bull Durham. The story of Nuke LaLoosh, Crash Davis and
many others chronicles a summer in the imaginary lives of players for the Durham Bulls. A few small
inaccuracies aside (for instance, the Fayetteville Generals were not in the Carolina League at the
time of the movie), the imaginations of moviegoers were captivated by this film. The ballpark in which
the movie was set has now been replaced by a new facility in a rejuvenated portion of downtown
Durham. Does reality live up to perception? Let's find out.
There are a number of concession choices at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and, according to a press
release from the club, no trans fats are used. Of course, ballpark foods are not normally the first thing
that comes to mind when thinking of one's health, but this is a nice touch. I had a slice of pizza
(Domino's is the pizza provider of choice in Durham Bulls Athletic Park), and despite being $2.50 a
slice, it was a decent size, and quite tasty. I also had the best Diet Pepsi I've ever tasted, even if it
was $4.25 for a 44 ounce souvenir cup. Be prepared for a decent variety, and a higher-than-usual
Between-innings entertainment: C
I was kind of all over the place on the entertainment. The park went from the sublime (the character
Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants) to the ridiculous (Bulls mascot Wool E. Bull driving around the
field in a go-cart firing cups of Goodberry's frozen custard into the crowd). Boston Herald writer Steve
Buckley was also in attendance, and he performed several roles, including serving as guest PA
announcer and counting down the fireworks after the game. Most of the entertainment otherwise was
fairly by-the-book (sumo wrestling, mascot race, mascot dancing and the like). The one interesting
bit was finding out from the on-field emcee (via the video board) what a mud hen was.
Sight lines: A
Despite the fact that there is no concourse ringing the field (this is due to the 32 foot “Blue Monster”
wall in left field – though I heard at the park that they are working on a way to see the field from behind
the wall), there are great views of the field from every seat in the park. There is a newly-added Home
Run Patio in right field, and every seat is an actual seat, save for the berm area in center field. My
actual seat was behind the Bulls' bullpen area down the right field line, and my view of the action was
still quite good. Another interesting wrinkle of the ballpark is the office building behind the right field
line. There are porches in the office building that allow occupants to step outside and view the
game. There is another office building being built behind the wall in left field that will have the same
The aforementioned Buckley and Patrick appearances took place on this night, and Lucky the Wonder
Dog (a dog that does tricks) was in attendance, as well. Lucky, for whatever reason, did not show up
again after the beginning of the game. There were also team pictures given out as fans were leaving
The main draw on the evening, however, was a post-game fireworks display. The display lasted
quite a while, but was somewhat unspectacular, perhaps due to the ballpark's surroundings. The
buildings ringing the ballpark limited the display, and may prevent the ability to have fireworks in the
There are a large amount of parking options surrounding the park, including the most unusual one I
have seen at a ballpark. There is a section outside the park for Saturn parking. Yes, if you drive a
Saturn, you get special parking, and the parking is free, courtesy of a promotion from a local dealer. If
you've chosen any other auto maker, there is the American Tobacco garage directly across the street
from the ballpark, and a number of other garages and lots on the nearby surface streets. I parked in
an abandoned condominium building across the street from a car dealer for $3, which is the same
as any of the other lot and garage parking. The walk was short, and egress was easy.
Quality of baseball: B
If you like hitting, this was your game. Toledo and Durham combined for 20 runs and 33 hits in this
game (won by Toledo 13-7, by the way...a key fourth-down stop kept Durham from scoring the winning
touchdown), and several former big leaguers (Ben Zobrist, Chris Shelton, Timo Perez, Mike
Hessman and Henry Mateo) had big nights at the plate. If you are a fan of pitching, you should be
glad you missed this one. All of Toledo's runs came in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings (six, two and
five, respectively), and Durham missed a couple of chances late to make this an even more
compelling game than it already was. Former big league relievers Seth McClung and Scott Dohmann
pitched well in relief for Durham.
In other developments, Chad Fairchild was the home plate umpire, and I cringed when I heard his
name called before the game. He made an embarrassing strike three call on Brian McCann as a
relief umpire (which eventually led to his performing the record-tying 131st ejection of Bobby Cox)
while one of the big league crews had a vacation opening, and he was every bit as bad here. He
made a pretty terrible strike three call on Bulls second baseman Elliot Johnson, then took off his
mask and got confrontational when Johnson dared question him about it. Fairchild's behavior in
these two incidents is an example of everything that is wrong with modern umpiring. Keep your mask
on, keep your mouth shut, and do your job. I shouldn't even know your name, much less get a
visceral reaction when I find out you're working a game.
Overall grade: A
I had really high expectations coming to Durham, knowing what I know about the market, and having
seen Bull Durham hundreds upon hundreds of times. The park did not disappoint, on the whole;
however, please indulge your humble reporter in making a couple of suggestions.
First of all, I sat in section 122, which is on the very end of the first-base seating bowl. There is only
one way into the seats, as one end of the seats is blocked off by a railing. Therefore, if your seats are
at the blocked end of the aisle, you have two options. You can either hop over everyone sitting in the
aisle, or do what everyone else did, and hop over the top railing, then hop over all the empty seats to
get to your seat. The ground crew sits in an area to the side of section 122, but the club would really
be better-suited to get rid of that railing and allow another entry into 122.
Second, there are large, wide concourses in the ballpark, which are great...except when it's time to
get out. There is only one point of egress from the ballpark, and this point tends to back up as
everyone tries to converge on one set of steps and head out the one exit gate. It's a shame that such
a comfortable ballpark is such a hassle to get out of.
The atmosphere of the park is really great, as the surroundings (the Lucky Strike water tower, the
buildings behind the outfield wall, etc.) provide for a somewhat “enclosed” baseball experience.
There are not a lot of ancillary distractions outside of the ballpark, which is really nice.
Finally, to whomever is running the video board in the wall and the music/effects – PLEASE, for the
love of all that's holy, stop with the deadly combination of playing music to incite the crowd while
telling them on the board how they should respond. People know when to applaud. You don't have to
tell them on the board when to do so. Durham is a beautiful city with a great ballpark and intelligent
fans, and I hate to see cartoonish stuff like this going on in a ballpark.
How to get there:
The stadium is located directly off the Durham Freeway (NC 147) on Blackwell St. The Durham
Freeway connects with interstates 40 and 85 in the Triangle, and the park is accessible via exits 12B
(Mangum/Roxboro Street). The park is visible from the freeway and all of the surface streets in the
area. Directions with a graphic map are available from the team's website, should they be required.
You may also want to see:
--The triangle of academia. North Carolina State (Raleigh), Duke (Durham) and the University of
North Carolina (Chapel Hill) are all within 15 minutes of the ballpark, and they all have esteemed
campuses and successful athletic and academic programs.
--North Carolina Zoo. The zoo is an hour and a half southwest of Raleigh in Asheboro, NC, and
features two separate sections (North America and Africa) with many interactive exhibits and rare
animals. Be sure to budget a lot of time – and a little bit of money. The zoological park is a wonderful
place to take the family, see a number of creatures and get in a lot of walking (seriously, wear
comfortable shoes – you'll need them) at a reasonable price. The park is a bit in the middle of
nowhere, but there is plenty of signage to guide you there once you get off US 220 (which is signed to
become two future interstates).