From my perspective, one of the best things about downtown stadiums is the increased likelihood of staying in a downtown hotel. This means that I can walk to the stadium — a perk that is generally indicative of a team’s proximity to complementary entertainment and historical destinations.
And if you find yourself in downtown Durham and are looking for Durham Bulls Athletic Park — well, just walk toward the bull.
The stadium is located in Durham’s “American Tobacco Historic District,” amidst a flotilla of industrial brick buildings that once served as the base of operations for the city’s tobacco industry. DPAB, built in 1995, has helped to rejuvenate and recontextualize this previously desolate area.
Not sure if it’s the “wrong” side of the tracks, but the Bulls play across them (note the iconic “Roll Your Own” Bull Durham sign on the building).
But what were once factories and warehouses are now office buildings and condos (it reminded of what Lowell has done with its mills). How’s this for a unique place to live?
Say what you will about the actual product, but Lucky Strike remains one of the coolest names and logos ever.
The ballpark fits right in to these brick-laden surroundings.
After a spirited round of dugout interviews with an illustrious group of players — uber-prospect Matt Moore! best-selling author Dirk Hayhurst! All-Star Game MVP Russ Canzler! — then I did what I always do. I commenced to wandering. There is plenty of room to move here, as the latest round of renovations have resulted in a multi-level 360-degree concourse.
Hooters girls were stationed in the outfield, handing out foam hats to all who desired one.
I was not desirous of a foam hat, but a particularly go-getting company representative tracked me down and placed one atop my head. It turned out to be a pretty good look for me, and I haven’t taken it off since.
Such headgear was nowhere to be found at Tobacco Road, a restaurant located along the left field concourse with game-accessible outdoor seating.
There’s also a group seating area located amidst the famous “Snorting Bull” sign. Fans can sit in front of the bull and take in the action…
or hang out in front of his somewhat intimidating visage.
My wandering soon came to an end, as it was time for the next portion of the evening. I had been invited to take part in the innovative Explorer Post 50 program, which gives students ages 14-20 hands-on experience with nearly every aspect of the team’s HD game broadcasts (we’ll overlook the fact that I’m maybe a few years beyond my 20th birthday).
I wrote about the program (and my experience) in much greater detail over at MiLB.com. Please check it out, as I have an existence to justify! But within this particular forum, I’ll concentrate on depicting things pictorially. The six monitors on the left show the live feeds of all six cameras, all of them manned (or wo-manned) by program participants. Executive producer Chase McKinney directs the broadcast, choosing all shots while issuing instructions via wireless headset.
The view through the HD cameras — the larger box displays the picture as seen on an HD broadcast, with the smaller one representing non-HD. The strip of tape denotes where the “Fox Box” will be on the game broadcast — that ubiquitous graphic displaying score, inning and game situation. That area of one’s shot should always be left open.
In the instant replay room, volunteer adviser Ken Bland does his best to make sure things go smoothly.
I spent two innings manning “instant replay B”, a task that I tried my best to explain in the MiLB.com piece. It involved intent game watching combined with synchronized button pushing.
From there I accompanied Bland to the visiting dugout, in order to take over duties on the third base camera.
This was a unique, stressful and very educational experience — I don’t think I’ll ever watch baseball quite the same way again! And what a great program Explorer Post 50 is. While I realize most teams don’t possess this level of technological capability, I’d love to see it emulated in other markets. These kids are obtaining invaluable real-world job skills.
When they’re not selling rubber ducks on the concourse, that is (for a post-season fundraiser).
It was nigh on the eighth inning when I finished my camera duties, and the concession areas were on the verge of shutting down. My frantic run through the concourse in search of the elusive “Bulldog” (bacon and cheese-topped hot dog, wrapped in a pretzel) proved unsuccessful, so after quickly weighing my remaining options I settled for a Doritos-brand “Walking Taco.”
I then said a quick hello to Biz Blog reader Dustin Kilpatrick, who visits North Carolina Minor League ballparks on behalf of the North Carolina Education lottery. Thanks for the shirt!
From there I sat down for the first time all game, taking in a spirited rendition of the YMCA…
a post-game canine victory dash…
and an on-field interview punctuated by multiple rubbings of Ken Tanner’s lucky belly (photos of said rubbing came out unsuccessfully, not that this one is much better).
What it all amounted to was a first-class evening with a first-class team in a first-class facility. My only complaint would be that the team store left a lot to be desired.
Nah, I’m just kiddin.
‘That was actually the “store” at the nearby Marriot where I spent the night. I don’t mean to knock it — I was in dire need of a dress shirt and and a pair of pantyhose, and that place really came through for me.