Gwinett Braves @ Durham Bulls
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.