Sometime in the 90s, my sister and I road-tripped to Durham, North Carolina. We had several motives for this excursion, including the fact that she was (and still is, in fact) a rabid Duke fan...and also the inexorable pull of the baseball heavens, drawing us toward the iconic minor league stadium made famous in the classic movie Bull Durham. It was a long time ago, but I clearly remember that the little gem of a ballpark did not disappoint.
Flash forward: when we visited Chapel Hill on our inaugural relocation reconnaissance mission in December, we witnessed that very same building spiderwebbed with scaffolding over every inch of its surface. A mention of this to Husband's cousin garnered the news that it was being completely renovated before the 2014 season, as it will be the location of the Triple-A All-Star game in July. A few weeks ago when we were last in the area, baseball games had not yet begun--and it was stubbornly COLD, so we weren't even thinking about the Boys of Summer. But on our drive southward today, it suddenly occurred to me that we might actually be able to catch a game this weekend. Husband did a quick check on his phone, and discovered that the Bulls would indeed be hosting a contest...but only for tonight. However, in a sort of baseball-gods-are-watching-over-us way, it turns out that they would be taking on the Norfolk Tides...the Baltimore Orioles AAA affiliate. Did we have to go? HECK, yeah.
Thus we found ourselves meandering toward Durham on a cool-ish Spring evening, to enjoy America's pastime. The first fortuitous event of the night did not take long to transpire: $5 parking. (It's the little things, yeah?) That was before we even got close to the stadium itself--a gorgeous brick building that manages to overflow with an appealing combination of classy charm...and folksy cheesiness. (And yes, I do mean that in a totally complimentary way...) I mean, what's not to love about a stadium that honors a fictional person--I'm talking about catcher Crash Davis, of course--with a prominent plaque on the wall by the entrance? Or that sign perched over left field--you know the one I'm talking about, with the enormous painted bull--dangling the tantalizing incentive: "Hit Bull Win Steak". (In a hilarious modern addition, you can now see in the greenery below the bull's feet: "Hit Grass Win Salad". Oh, those whimsical minor league wits...)
While the place definitely exudes an old-fashioned ambiance, modern amenities abound as well. For example, let's start with the food (naturally). It happened to be dollar-hotdog-and-popcorn night (yaaaayyy, we can afford to feed Derek). But I noticed that "vegan burgers" and (believe it or not) "vegan dogs" also appeared on the menu. However, when the boys and I wandered around to the souvenir shop, we stumbled across a stand that offered the following (not making this up): elk jalapeno (I don't even know what that means...but it terrifies me...); wild boar with cranberries; and pheasant with spinach, mushrooms, and feta. What the WHAT? We gave that one a wiiiidddde berth, let me tell ya. It was all good, though, because there was also a nondescript little table set off to one side that was freely handing out...wine samples. Can I get a whoo hoo! Jeez, who knew the minor leagues were so darn cool?!
Anyway, before we froze our...patooties...off and headed home for the night, we were treated to one final bit of silliness. Like at most stadiums, the Bulls feature a race around the basepaths with oversized, costume-wearing characters. I've seen former presidents leg it out at Nationals Park, sausages sprint at the Brewers' field...but in Durham you have Annie Savoy, Nuke Laloush, and Crash Davis vying to cross the plate first. Absolutely ridiculous...and a total hoot. Yeah, I see us looking into at least a partial season ticket plan when we're down here for a full Summer o' Fun...and maybe I'll even try a vegan dog...especially if there's wine...