Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Durham Bulls Athletic Park

All photos of Durham and Durham Bulls Athletic Park available on Flickr.
Photos from Erik's visit to Bull Durham movie sites and DBAP in 2012.
Photos from Peter's previous visit to DBAP in 2005.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I stopped at a couple of ballgames this week on the way home from a wedding in Charlottesville VA, the first of which being a Durham Bulls game.  My friend Josh, who also went to the wedding, lives in the Triangle area of North Carolina and I drove down there with them Sunday afternoon.  We dropped off our bags at his house in Cary and got to Durham about 10 minutes before first pitch.  It was very hot with a threat of rain, so we decided to watch the game from the Tobacco Road restaurant in left field.  It's kind of like TGI-Friday's in Miller Park, but it's more like a restaurant that happens to have a view of the ballpark with gated patio access to the stadium, rather than an actual restaurant inside the park.

I had previously been to this ballpark in 2005 before the blog existed, and in fact at the time it was only the 2nd minor league park I had ever been to.  In 2013, the park was a lot like I remembered it - a very enjoyable retro-style ballpark with a good atmosphere and a fun mascot.  Of course, when most people think Durham baseball, they think of the movie "Bull Durham," which was filmed at the old ballpark and whose main character was based on an actual Bulls player, Crash Davis.  Admittedly, when I went to see the Bulls 8 years ago, back before I was really into minor league baseball, the movie was the only reason I knew there was a team there.  After being etched into popular culture on the silver screen, the Bulls moved up from class A to AAA and built a new park, and have been an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays since the franchise's inception - a franchise whose history of maintaining a very rich farm system is certainly evident in the sustained success of the Bulls.  I didn't actually spend too much time inside the actual park on Sunday, and I honestly don't remember a lot from my previous visit, but from what I can tell it is a very charming park.  The most notable feature of the park is the giant "hit the bull, win a steak" sign that is residual from the old park and now snorts smoke.  My one complaint would be that I don't really like when ballparks have hidden concourses as Durham Bulls Athletic Park has; I like to be able to see the field from most points.  The tradeoff in the case of DBAP is that even though it is separated from the field, the concourse here is very spacious and tall, and there is also a little walk between the 100 and 200 level seating that circles the seating bowl.  If any park is going to go the route of hidden concourse, I think DBAP did it about the best you can.  It certainly helps the park feel more authentic in attaining that "retro" feel.  Another thing they did right is you are able to circumnavigate the field with some sections of actual seating in the outfield, both of which I think every ballpark should have, no matter the size.  We were able to access the outfield concourse from the restaurant after the last pitch and watch directly into the stadium and out the front without any problems.   

Very similarly to my visit to Great American Ballpark the week before, the most remarkable change to the park was not inside, but what has grown around the park.  There are two large buildings in left and right field now that sort of "enclose" the ballpark as at Camden Yards, and the one in left field houses the restaurant I mentioned.  Neither of those were there in 2005.  Outside of the main gate, there is also a row of old tobacco factories that were abandoned on my previous visit and now are a very impressive example of urban renewal and historic preservation.  As you see happening in many urban blighted manufacturing areas of the country, these buildings have new life as shops, restaurants, bars, and outdoor space.  It reminded me a lot of how the Third Ward in Milwaukee has been almost entirely renovated in relatively the same time frame.  The centerpiece of this "Tobacco Row" development is the transformation of what was basically a concrete-lined drainage creek into a scenic riverwalk full of bends, fountains, and waterfalls that looks to me like it is also functional as part of a hydraulic power plant, but I'm not positive.  Josh and Erik have both told me how cool the area was now, but I really had to see it to believe it.  Repurposing old buildings is my favorite kind of architecture and is always one of the #1 signs of an active downtown.

We walked through the Tobacco Row redevelopment after finishing our delicious dinners and watching the Bulls walk-off 5-2 on a homerun by catcher Chris Gimenez.  Never leave a game early, you never know what you're going to see!  With one out, the Bulls tallied three straight baserunners, including Shelley Duncan and Mike Fontenot who are apparently still scrounging around in the minors.  A sac fly by Kevin Kiermaier tied the game, and then Gimenez hit the 3-run bomb, which actually fell not too far from where we were standing at the restaurant, but an usher caught it and kept the ball.  Come on man, your job is to please the fans, give it to a kid at least!  The excitement in the 9th innings overshadowed two pretty good pitching performances.  Journeyman J.D. Martin went 6.2 for the Bulls, and Zach Stewart was in line for the win with his 2-hit gem until Taylor Thompson blew the game for the Knights.

I had a great but brief time in the area and look forward to visiting again next year for the 2014 Doughman Relay.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 7
views from park - 5
view to field - 5 (not the best from the restaurant but good inside)
surrounding area - 9 (Tobacco Row, downtown)
food variety - 5
nachos - n/a
beer - n/a

vendor price - 5
ticket price - 8 ($6 outfield and lawn)
atmosphere - 7
walk to park - 6
parking price/proximity - 8 (3 blocks away in free garage)
concourses - 6 (beautiful but can't see out)
team shop - 9 (sweet retro gear)

best food - (ate at restaurant)
most unique stadium feature - Hit bull, Win steak
best jumbotron feature - (sat above jumbotron)
best between-inning feature - general Wool E. Bull antics

field dimensions - 305/400/325
starters - Zach Stewart (CHA) v. J.D. Martin (DUR)
opponent - Charlotte Knights
time of game - 2:58
attendance - 7,591
score - 5-2 W
Brewers score that day - 2-0 L

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