Starting with my freshman year at UNC-Chapel Hill five summers ago, I’ve always enjoyed making the short trek up 15-501 into the cozy confines of the home of Bull Durham.
I could always count on some good ol’ fashioned fun at this place. Shelling peanuts and tossing back cold beverages to the distinctive crack of the bat became a comforting rhythm – a sign of the season.
The simplicity of the surroundings was alluring. What you saw was what you got. Nothing too flashy, but a “good time” guarantee. Baseball, beer and friends – what more can you ask for?
But my Sunday stroll into the Durham Bulls Athletic Park was profoundly different this time.
It wasn’t just a game, a pastime. No sir. This was a production. The new and improved speakers were spouting out resounding movie-theatre-quality surround sound. The iconic Star Wars beats were rocking. The enhanced video board was eye-catching. The graphics popped off the screen, including a gigantic Yoda espousing sage advice.
The in-game festivities ran like clockwork. Yes, some of the old character and charm remained. The running of the bases, mascot go-kart racing and grounds crew dancing all lived on. But somehow now, nothing about it seemed thrown together or the least bit random. The lightsaber duel between Wool E. Bull and Darth Vader delighted fans young and old.
The Bulls’ marketing and event-planning team is outdoing itself. I can only imagine how much fun those folks have in their planning meetings these days. Nothing appears off the table! And they’re garnering national attention for their creativity; Sunday’s R2-D2 game jerseys lit up the Twitter universe.
Anybody hungry? Remember the DBAP days when your menu options included hot dogs, popcorn, fries, sodas and beer? Well, now there’s a little something for everybody. Would you like some eastern Carolina BBQ? How about a fried catfish platter? Not feeling a Coors Light? That’s okay. There’s a full liquor bar at your disposal.
Perhaps it was fitting that such a dynamic, revolutionary epic like Star Wars served as the theme on this day. It made a statement to the sold-out crowd in attendance: “the force” is strong with this team.
Gone are the days of minor-league musings. Yes, the Bulls may still technically be a AAA ball club. But there’s no doubt about it – this joint has a big-league feel.
Sunday was sensory overload. But not in a bad way. The sights and sounds were memorable, fun and powerful – just like George Lucas’ box office hit. And it didn’t hurt that the Bulls captured a win, either.
It was like getting reacquainted with an old friend. But this guy had changed a ton. His pace had quickened. His taste had matured and diversified. In short, he’d reached the big-time. And I was happy for him.
So on this Sunday not so long ago in a galaxy not so far away, things changed. The DBAP is all grown up. The old gem is now all shiny. If only Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon could see this place now. So shine on, Durham Bulls! You’re putting on one hell of a show.