Bull City

2014 Minor League Season. Gwinett Braves visit Durham Bulls Athletic Park (Durham, North Carolina) for the last home stand of the 2014 season with the Durham Bulls, Triple-A affiliate for the Tampa Bay Rays. This is the last stop before being called to the big leagues. Just days before, outfielder Wil Myers completed his rehab assignment here and was called back to the Tampa Bay Rays. Charlie Montoya was managing The Durham Bulls, for an 8th and final year, as he was promoted the next season, helping to coach the major league team. In 2014 Charlie Montoya also passed Coach Bill Evers as the all-time winningest manager for the Bulls with win 618. He would get 633 before moving to Tampa, Florida. Tampa Bay Rays first expanded in 1997. Charlie Montoya had been working in the organization since then, from managing the rookie league team that year to the winningest manager for the Triple-A affiliate. That streak would come to an end when he accepted the opportunity to be Toronto Blue Jays Manager starting in the 2019 regular season. He is the current skipper of that young team.

In the game, every Durham Bulls player wore high stockings as part of their new look that year. “High socks 4 lyfe” was the slogan. Apparently, all Rays minor leaguers had the same mandate. The Tampa Bay Rays has one of the best (if not the best) player development programs. At every level, players are given the same routines to prepare for competition. When they are finally called to the big leagues, they are surprised by very little as they find themselves doing the things they’ve been doing from the beginning. Historically, Durham Bulls are one of the more successful minor league teams. At the time, they won 7 of the last 8 division titles while going all the way to win the Governor’s Cup 3 times. This prestigious trophy has been awarded to the winner of the International League since 1933. Durham Bulls eventually lost the championship to the Pawtucket Sox in 2014.

It’s been 32 years since the movie “Bull Durham” was first released. There’s a new ball park now. The old one in the movie is still there, its available for rentals, just under a mile north of this one. The Durham Bulls also appeared in a second Baseball movie, “The Rookie” Staring Dennis Quaid. It’s the true story of Jim Moris, a high school teacher who tried out and made it to the Major Leagues late in life to pitch briefly for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, making his Major League Debut at the age of 35. He also played for the Durham Bulls on his way to the big leagues.

Durham Bulls Athletic Park was opened in 1995. Among the retired numbers is (8), worn by the fictional character “Crash Davis,” played by Kevin Costner. The real Crash Davis played for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1940-42. Duke University Blue Devils also play here. The ballpark is located in the midst of office buildings that gives it scale and helps enclosed the stadium. Durham Bulls Athletic Park is a cozy baseball experience while reminding visitors of the greater Raleigh-Durham Research Triangle area. Its an envious position to be in when you work with a view of a game. You will still find the animated-smoking bull beyond the left field foul pole, the bull that would get fans a free steak if it was hit by a home run ball. It all started with overzealous 19th century marketing by the Bull Durham Tobacco Company that convinced folks across America to buy their product over all others.” Bull City” is a testament to that successful campaign.

There may be nicer Triple-A ballparks in the minor leagues. But, the “Bull City” relationship between team and fans is as unique as Chicago Cubs to “Wrigleyville” or Brooklyn Dodgers to “Pig-town.” Trying to repeat it somewhere else is futile. City of Durham is synonymous with the Bulls. It’s impossible to separate the two. For better or for worst, it’s their town and their team. It helps that +50 games are locally televised on Me-Tv, making it easy to watch games from anywhere on the lazy summer day. The 2021 season is set to start May 4th. While in Bull City, it’s the only baseball that matters.

Gwinett Braves @ Durham Bulls

Durham Bulls lose to Gwinett Braves 4-7. Photos taken on Friday August 23, 2014 by Miguel A. Sanchez.

Charlotte Knights

Chicago White Sox @ Charlotte Knights

2015 Spring Exhibition Game at BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte, North Carolina. Chicago White Sox visit Charlotte Knights, of the International League. After the 2021 minor league re-alignment, Charlotte Knights are now in the Triple-A East League. This addition to the schedule was part of an affiliation agreement with the Charlotte Knights, their Triple-A representative. For a Chicago White Sox prospect, Charlotte is usually the final step before a call to the show. It was a genuine opportunity for Charlotte Knights players to collectively show the major league team how much of a mistake they were making to cut them from the roster. Of the current 2021 Chicago White Sox active roster, players listed below have gone through player development with the Charlotte Knights.

  • Dylan Cease – Pitcher
  • Carlos Rodón – Pitcher
  • Aaron Bummer – Pitcher
  • Matt Foster – Pitcher
  • Michael Kopech – Pitcher
  • Zack Collins – Catcher
  • Yermin Mercedes – Catcher
  • Nick Madrigal – Infielder
  • Danny Mendick – Infielder
  • Yoan Moncada – Infielder
  • Leury García – Outfielder
  • Luis Robert – Outfielder

Pitcher Garrett Crochet was signed by the Chicago White Sox in 2020 and is the first from his draftee class to reach the Major Leagues. He did not play with Charlotte Knights. In hind sight, this glorified scrimmage game was a red flag to Manager Robin Ventura and the Chicago White Sox of a struggling season to come. They finished with a less than .500 record of 76-86 in the 2015 regular season. After this game, Chicago White Sox would start on the road, as usual, to Kansas City where they played the defending the American League Champion Kansas City Royals for a 3-game series. Then, they went home to Chicago for their home opener, hosting the Minnesota Twins. A charter bus was waiting outside BB&T Ballpark to start that journey. For the Kansas City Royals, that team still smelled blood from their loss to the San Francisco Giants in the 2014 World Series. Kansas City Royals went on to a repeat appearance in the 2015 World Series and won it all this time vs the New York Mets.

BB&T Ballpark opened in March of 2014. Seating Capacity of 10,200 makes it larger than the average Minor League Park, one of the recent renovations in the Uptown Charlotte area. Across the Street is Romare Bearden Park, a 5.4-acre public park that opened in late August 2013. From here, there are numerous viewpoints to the game. You can get a good enough idea of what’s happening in BB&T Ballpark just from sitting there. People come here with no intention of going in the park; bringing a picnic blanket to do just that. After a merger in 2019, BB&T Ballpark was renamed Truist Field. Without a doubt, this ballpark, in the middle of a thriving community, is the closest venue to MLB standards in the minor leagues. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that a professional baseball team in Charlotte is viable.

Charlotte, North Carolina tends to be in the conversation when talking about MLB future expansion cities. Two additional teams would bring the total of 32 MLB teams, an advantage in scheduling that offers the option of regional play to ease travel as they did in 2020. At approximately 900,000, Charlotte is the most populous city in North Carolina. Charlotte Knights home field is not the only venue in the Uptown area. Bank of America Stadium is home to Carolina Panthers (NFL) and Spectrum Center is home to the Charlotte Hornets (NBA). The NASCAR Hall of Fame is also nearby.

Enos Sarris of “The Athletic” reported on January 25 of this year that Commissioner Rob Manfred discussed possible finalists for MLB expansion. Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, and Nashville in the United States, certainly Montreal, maybe Vancouver, in Canada,’ said Rob Manfred. He also told hosts at an FS1 show, “we think there’s places in Mexico we could go over the long haul.” MLB expansion is long overdue. The last time it happened was 1998. It’s only inevitable, only time will tell the story. Still, those Friday night lights in Uptown Charlotte will call you back for more.

USA Baseball

USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina, develops young talent from around the country. Aside from its role in the Olympics, USA Baseball continues its matrix of developing talent by participating in international competition, around the world, throughout the year, in all age categories. Their mission to is to grow the game through youth programs, player development, as well as safety and education initiatives. This place is the epicenter of those endeavors. The Town of Cary, North Carolina was selected to be to home of USA Baseball in 2002. It opened in 2007. Bill Coleman, the former Town Manager of Cary who helped to bring this complex here, passed away in September of 2014. In his honor, the main diamond was named Coleman Field. Stadium seating was set at 1,754 and 250 for grass seating. Located within the 221 acres of Thomas Brooks Park, it has all the specs. of your normal spring training facility. I visited in the USA Baseball National Training Complex in 2014 & 2015, while working and living in the Carolinas. Aside from Coleman Field, there are (3) other training fields. All four field are maintained at MLB standards.

Visit (1) was during the16U and 17U Tournament which was held August 21-24 of 2014 for the selection of the National Teams. Close to 50 games were played here over the weekend. It’s a launching point for USA Baseball to select players for National Team programs. Throughout the year, this place is host to many other tournaments and invitationals. Although there is currently no MLB team here, this part of the country is a hot-bed of baseball activities with competition in the high school and college ranks. Minor League baseball also thrives here.

Visit (2) was the 4th Annual National High School Invitational held at USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina. San Clemente Tritons (San Clemente, California) met College Park Falcon (Pleasant Hill, California) for the final game on Saturday March 28, 2015. 16 high school baseball teams from 10 states were invited to compete for a national title at the scholastic level. 8 of the 16 teams were ranked in the nationwide pre-season top 25. Some teams are reigning state champions in the respective homes. This new venue allows an opportunity to determine a, “National Champions” and gives high school players added exposure to both collegiate recruitment and MLB prospect lists. Tritons won 8-3 to take the trophy home.

“Our Pastime’s Future” is the USA Baseball slogan. Nothing else can better describe what happens here. The program has served as an institute to player development. It’s had a heavy influence on talent at all levels. Here is a list from USA Baseball of current MLB players who have been a part of USA Baseball.

Arizona Diamondbacks

  • Jon Jay 2005 Collegiate
  • Carson Kelly 2010 16U; 2011 18U
  • Mike Leake 2008 Collegiate
  • Daulton Varsho 2019 Professional
  • Luke Weaver 2013 Collegiate

Atlanta Braves

  • A.J. Minter 2014 Collegiate
  • Drew Smyly 2011 Professional; 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Dansby Swanson 2014 Collegiate
  • Touki Toussaint 2011 16U
  • Kyle Wright 2016 Collegiate

Baltimore Orioles

  • Thomas Eshelman 2014 Collegiate
  • Rio Ruiz 2007, 2004 14 U
  • D.J. Stewart 2014 Collegiate

Boston Red Sox

  • Christian Arroyo 2012 18U
  • Matt Barnes 2010 Collegiate
  • Jackie Bradley Jr. 2010 Collegiate
  • C.J. Chatman 2019 Professional
  • Bobby Dalbec 2015 Collegiate; 2019 Professional
  • Robert Stock 2004, 2005 16U
  • Alex Verdugo 2010 14U

Chicago Cubs

  • Albert Almora 2007, 2008 14U; 2009, 2010 18U; 2015 Professional
  • Kris Bryant 2012 Collegiate
  • Nico Hoerner 2011 14U; 2012 15U
  • Craig Kimbrel 2013 Professional
  • Dillon Maples 2010 18U
  • Kyle Ryan 2009 18U
  • Kyle Schwarber 2013 Collegiate

Chicago White Sox

  • Zach Burdi 2015 Collegiate
  • Gio Gonzalez 2013 Professional (WBC)
  • Yasmani Grandal 2009 Collegiate
  • Nick Madrigal 2011 14U; 2012 15U; 2014 18U; 2017 Collegiate
  • James McCann 2011 Professional
  • Carlos Rondon 2012, 2013 Collegiate
  • Blake Rutherford 2012 15U; 2014, 2015 18U

Cincinnati Reds

  • Trevor Bauer 2009 Collegiate
  • Nick Castellanos 2009 18U
  • Kyle Farmer 2012 Collegiate
  • Sonny Gray 2009, 2010 Collegiate
  • Ryan Hendrix 2015 Collegiate
  • Michael Lorenzen 2008 16U; 2010 18U; 2012 Collegiate
  • Mike Moustakas 2006 18U, 2010 Professional
  • Mark Payton 2019 Profesional
  • Lucas Sims 2010 16U
  • Jesse Winker 2011 18U

Cleveland Indians

  • Francisco Lindor 2009 16U; 2010 18U
  • Tyler Naquin 2011 Collegiate
  • Adam Plutko 2012 Collegiate

Colorado Rockies

  • Nolan Arenado 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Daniel Bard 2011 18U
  • Davis Dahl 2011 18U
  • Mychal Givens 2006 16U; 2007 18U; 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Garrett Hampson 2015 Collegiate
  • Peter Lambert 2014 18U
  • Daniel Murphy 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Dom Nunez 2011 16U; 2012 18U
  • Tony Wolters 2008 16U; 2012 18U

Detroit Tigers

  • Daz Cameron 2014 18U
  • Kyle Funkhouser 2014 Collegiate
  • Grayson Greiner 2013 Collegiate
  • Casey Mize 2017 Collegiate
  • Christian Stewart 2014 Collegiate
  • Troy Stokes Jr. 2010 14U

Houston Astros

  • Alex Bregman 2010 16U; 2011 18U; 2013, 2014 Collegiate; 2017 Professional
  • Chase De Jong 2011 18U
  • Lance Mc Cullers 2010 18U
  • George Springer 2010 Collegiate
  • Kyle Tucker 2012 15U
  • Justin Verlander 2003 Collegiate

Kansas City Royals

  • Danny Duffy 2010 Professional; 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Cam Gallagher 2015 Professional
  • Alex Gordon 2004 Collegiate
  • Matt Harvey 2006 18U
  • Ian Kennedy 2002 18U; 2004, 2005 Collegiate
  • Bubba (Derek) Starling 2010 18U

Los Angeles Angels

  • Jo Adell 2019 Professional
  • Hoby Milner 2011 Collegiate
  • Noe Ramirez 2010 Collegiate
  • Anthony Rendon 2010 Collegiate
  • Max Sassi 2006, 2007 16U; 2008 18U
  • Matt Thaiss 2015 Collegiate
  • Mike Trout 2010 Professional
  • Justin Upton 2004 18U
  • Tayler Ward 2014 Collegiate

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Walker Buehler 2014 Collegiate
  • Joe Kelly 2007 Collegiate
  • Clayton Kershaw 2005 18U
  • Jake McGee 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • A.J. Pollock 2011 Professional
  • David Price 2005, 2006 Collegiate
  • Corey Seager 2010 16U

Miami Marlins

  • Logan Forsythe 2007 Collegiate
  • Sean Rodriguez 2001 16U
  • Ryne Stanek 2011, 2012 Collegiate

Milwaukee Brewers

  • Brett Anderson 2004 16U; 2005 18U; 2008 Professional (Olympics)
  • Ryan Braun 2009, 2013 Professional (WBC)
  • J.P. Feyereisen 2019 Professional
  • Josh Hader 2015 Professional
  • Keston Hiuri 2016 Collegiate
  • Corey Knebel 2011 Collegiate
  • Mark Mathias 2014 Collegiate
  • Corey Ray 2015 Collegiate
  • Bobby Wahl 2012 Collegiate
  • Christian Yelich 2017 Professional (WBC)

Minnesota Twins

  • Tyler Clippard 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Brent Rooker 2019 Professional
  • Caleb Thielbar 2019 Professional

New York Mets

  • Gerrit Cole 2009, 2010 Collegiate
  • Erik Kratz 2010, 2019 Professional
  • Giancarlo Stanton 2013, 2017 Professional (WBC)

Oakland Athletics

  • Skye Bolt 2013 Collegiate
  • Matt Chapman 2013 Collegiate
  • Robbie Grossman 2007 18U
  • Daulton Jefferies 2015 Collegiate
  • James Kaprielian 2014 Collegiate
  • Mike Minor 2007, 2008 Collegiate
  • Sheldon Neuse 2010 16U
  • A.J. Puk 2015 Collegiate
  • JB Wendelken 2015 Professional

Philadelphia Phillies

  • Jake Arrieta 2006 Collegiate; 2008 Professional (Olympics)
  • Alec Bohm 2019 Professional
  • Zach Eflin 2015 Professional
  • Carson Fulmer 2011 18U; 2014 Collegiate
  • Bryce Harper 2008 16U; 2009 18U
  • Adam Haseley 2010 14U; 2013 18U
  • Tommy Hunter 2006 Collegiate
  • Cole Irvin 2011 18U
  • Andrew McCutchen 2004 18U; 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Mickey Moniak 2013 15U; 2015 18U
  • Davis Roberton 2017 Professional

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Anthony Alford 2008 14U
  • Adam Frazier 2012 Collegiate; 2015 Professional
  • Ke’Bryan Hayes 2014 18U
  • Derkl Holland 2013 Professional (WBC)
  • Cody Ponce 2019 Professional
  • Bryan Reynolds 2014 Collegiate
  • Jameson Taillon 2009 18U
  • Cole Tucker 2013 18U
  • Trevor Williams 2012 Collegiate

San Diego Padres

  • Jason Castro 2009 Professional
  • Jake Cronenworth 2019 Professional
  • Zach Davies 2007 14U
  • Trent Grisham 2014 18U
  • Eric Hosmer 2007 18U 2010 Professional; 2013, 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Manny Machado 2009 18U
  • Drew Pomeranz 2009 Collegiate
  • Ryan Weathers 2017 18U

San Francisco Giants

  • Tyler Anderson 2010 Collegiate
  • Tyler Beede 2013 Collegiate
  • Trevor Cahill 2008 Collegiate
  • Brandon Crawford 2006 Collegiate; 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Alex Dickerson 2010 Collegiate
  • Kevin Gausman 2009 18U; 2011 Collegiate
  • Evan Longoria 2007 Professional; 2009 Professional (WBC)
  • Buster Posey 2004 18U; 2017 Professional (WBC)

Seattle Mariners

  • J.P. Crawford 2009 14U
  • Marco Gonzales 2012 Collegiate
  • Tim Lopes 2010 16U
  • Tom Murphy 2011 Collegiate; 2015 Professional
  • Justus Shefield 2012 18U
  • Evan White 2016 Collegiate

St. Louis Cardinals

  • Jack Flaherty 2013 18U
  • Dexter Fowler 2008 Professional (Olympic)
  • Paul Goldschmidt 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Andrew Miller 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Brad Miller 2009, 2010 Collegiate
  • Lane Thomas 2013 Collegiate
  • Matt Wieters 2005 Collegiate
  • Kolten Wong 2009 Collegiate

Tampa Bay Rays

  • Austin Meadows 2011 16U
  • Brett Phillips 2015 Professional

Texas Rangers

  • Koby Allard 2014 18U
  • Derek Dietrich 2008 Collegiate
  • Joey Gallo 2011 18U
  • Kyle Gibson 2008 Collegiate
  • Lance Lynn 2007 Collegiate
  • Jeff Mathis 2005 Professional
  • Jose Trevino 2012 Collegiate

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Cavan Biggio 2012 18U
  • A.J. Cole 2001 16U
  • Randal Grichuk 2007 16U
  • Robbie Ray 2009 18U
  • Tanner Roark 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Matt Shoemaker 2011 Professional

Washington Nationals

  • Sean Doolittle 2013 Collegiate
  • Erick Fedde 2005, 2006 Collegiate
  • Josh Harrison 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Howie Kendrick 2005 Professional
  • Stephen Strasburg 2008 Collegiate; 2008 Professional (Olympic)
  • Kurt Suzuki 2006 Professional
  • Trea Turner 2012, 2013 Collegiate
  • Ryne Zimmerman 2004 Collegiate

The USA Baseball DNA is found throughout the Major Leagues. JP Raineri of Valley News reported 2021 will prove to be another busy year for USA Baseball. Programming will cover opportunities to qualify for the Olympics, compete for world championships. “This year has given us a chance to learn and develop as an organization and we are excited for the opportunities presented to us to get back into action in 2021 and continue developing young athletes both on and off the field.” said Paul Seiler, executive director and CEO of USA Baseball.

Crash Davis was Here

Image of Crash Davis number retired at the New Durham Athletic Park, 15 minutes away. The real Crash Davis played for Duke University nearby, three seasons for the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1940s, and later came back to play for the Durham Bulls.

In North Carolina at the Old Durham Bulls Park, site of the movie “Bull Durham” (1988), starring Kevin Costner as Crash Davis. The actor went door to door looking for someone to pick up the script. At the time, Orion Pictures had two baseball movies in the works, “The Scout” and “Eight Men Out.” So, it was unlikely that “Bull Durham” would be picked up. But, it was. The 1980s were the golden age of sports movies. Even more unlikely was Ron Shelton, screenwriter and director of “Bull Durham.” His story is based in-part on his own experiences as a minor league player. Ironically, he’s never been a fan of sports movies, cringing at the typical underdog stories. For him, life is not always based on happy endings. Shelton credits Hollywood studios with looking past concerns with oversees markets where baseball movies traditionally didn’t sell. The iconic advertising, along the outfield wall, is gone. The animated-smoking bull beyond the left field foul pole, the bull that got fans a free steak if it was hit by a home run ball, is also gone. All that remains is a chain link fence and padding on the top rail to protect players. More importantly, it’s always great to see a preventive maintenance plan for places like this. It’s well kept, used as the home field for North Carolina Central University. As of 1995, The Durham Bulls have been playing in their new park 15 minutes away.

In the film, Crash Davis is a 12 year journeyman who is picked up by the Durham Bulls, of the Carolina League, to help Nuke Laloosh (Tim Robbins), a new pitching prospect, to prepare for a future call-up to the Majors. What Crash sees is a Pitcher with lots of talent and no brains, someone who doesn’t respect himself, to each his own. Crash’s main problem with Nuke is he won’t respect the game. Basically, Nuke represents Crash’s years of frustration from loving a game that does not love him back. His lesson number 1 to Nuke? “Don’t think, just throw!” In the end, his best advice to Nuke is to live in fear and arrogance (not ignorance). Crash believed that success depends on a humble belief in yourself.

The viewer is also left to wonder if Crash Davis will ever break the all time record of 247 career home runs. As in life, there isn’t always a game 7 or some milestone moment in your career. Most of the time, a career or a game ends with a weakly hit grounder. In the case of Crash Davis, he reached his 247th record breaking homerun. Uneventful. The real prize was making it to the “big leagues,” such is life. The Durham Bulls had a great season that year. But, no one knows how they finished the season, “The path is the goal,” said Mahatma Gandhi.

Every character in this classic brings something to the table. Over 30 years later, after countless surveys and polls, it’s the most accurate movie on the subject. Its said to have been a 2-hour commercial about life in the Minor Leagues. Who would have thought that this field, in the midst of this downtown Durham neighborhood, would lead to a renaissance in the Minor Leagues and have such a huge impact on American Culture? It all started here.  At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, it’s the Church of Baseball, according to Annie Savoy (Susan Sorandan), the voice of a woman in a man’s world. She was the focal point to the “menage a troi” with Nuke & Crash, struggling with moral behavior while invoking profound thoughts from poets and philosophers. “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game. The American game will repair our losses and be a blessing to us,” Walt Whitman.

Baseball has evolved into a game based on analytics, mathematicians who can scientifically dissect a prospect to predict his development and performance. But, they are unable to look into a players eyes and see the potential for winning or for being a hall of fame caliber player. The fate of the Minor Leagues is currently on hold. In a normal world, the MiLB and MLB would be meeting to renew their Player Development Contract next year. MLB & MLBPA are busy negotiating (or not) to re-open the 2020 regular season after the pandemic. It’s still unclear which 120 teams remain. Some 40 teams are on the chopping blocks to be unaffiliated with MLB. A minor league team can be the economic engine in small towns across the country, not to mention the crushed dreams of over one thousand players released days before the annual MLB draft. “Full many a flower is born to blossom unseen and waste its sweetness in the desert air,” what Annie Savoy would invoke here from Tomas Grey, or William Cullen Bryant? Maybe its from the “Church of Baseball.”