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Forty years of smooth ballpark baritone: an evening with ‘the voice of the Bulls’

“Good evening Bulls fans, and welcome to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.”

The smooth baritone belongs to Tony Riggsbee, calling out from the announcer’s box on a recent Thursday night. He has covered the team — first as a sportscaster and later as the Bulls’ announcer — for more than 40 years, always in a steady style that is “very, very different from what’s now the predominant style of PA.”

“That’s the cheerleader style, the carnival-barker style,” he says of the approach he rejects. “In a lot of these ballparks you got guys that are screaming.”

“I do it traditionally. The focus, to me, is on the game.”

Since attending his first Bulls game in 1962 at age nine, Riggsbee has spent much of his life at the ballpark. Riggsbee began covering the Bulls in 1980 as a radio play-by-play announcer for WPTF before transitioning to the Bulls’ TV Broadcast in 1986. In 2006 he started announcing the Bulls’ live games, making this his 19th season in the role.

“I just love it,” he says. “I get paid to pay attention to the game.”

“It’s a lot of fun if you know what you’re doing,” he says with a smile. 

Riggsbee does. In addition to the Bulls, he announces offseason training games for Major League Baseball in the Arizona Fall League and spring Cactus League. The schedule has him announcing baseball almost year-round, with only a few weeks off in December and January. When you tack on his longtime job as a morning sportscaster for the North Carolina News Network, a statewide radio network, Riggsbee spends more time covering baseball than sleeping.

“I try to get two hours in the afternoon,” Riggsbee said of his sleep schedule. “And then if I get to bed by 10 o’clock, I get four hours of sleep. So the two together would be six hours. But sometimes I can’t get three at night.” 

His wife puts up with his schedule, he says.

“It’s a second marriage for me and for her, so she knew what she was getting into.”


By the time the game gets started, Riggsbee has already been at the park for several hours. He follows the same careful routine before each game. He arrives at the park two and a half hours before first pitch, long before the fans. He grabs a Diet Pepsi, his preferred source for the caffeine that he needs, picks up a copy of the day’s lineup and sits down to fill out his scorecard.

As he copies the lineup onto his scorecard, he cross-checks names with a pronunciation guide provided by the opposing team. Tonight, none of the names cause him concern; he has already crossed paths with most players on the list. 

He opens a three-ring binder and begins inserting the advertisements he’ll read at certain points in the game: Special ads for strikeouts, the first run scored, and each home run.

In addition to his scorecard and binder, Riggsbee keeps a personal journal cataloging each game he announces. He documents the date of the game, the opponent and the color of the Bulls uniform, and leaves room for the final score. The notebooks record every game from his broadcasting and announcing career dating back to 1980, he says. 

After a quick ballpark dinner, the “voice of the Bulls” is ready to go.

It’s a beautiful night at the stadium, and fans are piling in to see the Bulls take on the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. About 6,175 people have turned out — not bad for a Thursday night. It’s $1 hotdog night, and parents juggle aluminum-wrapped frankfurters and squirmy preschoolers as player introductions begin.

For Riggsbee, the way he introduces the players is a point of pride: “I introduce the visiting team the same way I introduced the Bulls,” he says. “I play it down the middle.” 

But if Riggsbee seeks to focus fans on the game, he has competition. It’s “Yellowstone Night” at the DBAP, and cowboy-themed activities like “rope the bull” dominate the action between innings. 

Riggsbee remains focused on his duties. With each pitch, he updates his scorecard. He trains his eyes on the batters in the on-deck circle, careful not to miss any player substitutions. The umpires help out, waving from the field whenever a new batter enters. 

Keeping track of changing pitchers is more difficult. Riggsbee pulls out a pair of binoculars to see who is warming up in the bullpen. 

Even while keeping track of all the personnel changes, Riggsbee manages an occasional aside. “He played for us until about a month ago,” he says about Lehigh Valley’s Ruben Cardenas. “He’s a real power hitter.” As if on cue, Cardenas smokes a double off the left field wall, scoring two runs and putting the IronPigs up early. 

Riggsbee has seen a lot of baseball over the years, and a few memories stick out. In 1962, he saw Hall-of-Famer Joe Morgan play for the Bulls. Twenty years later he saw another in Chipper Jones. 

“The home run that sticks out in my memory was many years ago,” he says. “We had a catcher named Pete LaForest, and we were down three runs going in the bottom of the ninth inning against the old Ottawa Lynx. LaForest, with bases loaded, hit one of the longest grand slam home runs I’ve ever seen. The ball just kept going.” 

“And that building wasn’t there,” he says, pointing at the Diamond View II building that now stands behind left field, “so you could see it keep going.”

I ask if he thinks we’ll see something similar tonight. 

“You never know what you’re gonna see,” he says with a smile.


As the game reaches the sixth inning, the Bulls promotions team ask Riggsbee to relay a different tally. Hot dog sales are up to 3,745, a steep climb from the 2,369 of just a few innings ago. 

I ask Riggsbee if he will lead the stadium in singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch, as legendary Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Carey used to do. Riggsbee shakes his head no — that’s not his style. Besides, “I can’t hit any high notes,” he says. 

As the appetite for hotdogs heats up, so do the Bulls hitters. In the bottom of the seventh, Curtis Mead and Ronny Simon hit back-to-back homers to tie the game. Fans in front of the announcer’s box stand up and high-five, but Riggsbee has a job to do. He taps on the glass in front of him to signal the fans to sit down. He needs to see who is coming up to bat.

By the bottom of the ninth, the fans are where Tony has been all along, following each pitch with the utmost intensity. The Bulls are down 5-4. The next out will end the game. 

Mead hits a ground ball, which looks like the final nail in the coffin for the Bulls. But an errant throw from an IronPigs infielder bails him out. Mead races to third base and the stadium erupts. The Bulls have found new life.

Ronny Simon is next up to bat. He draws a quick walk, and the Bulls suddenly have players on first and third base. As Austin Shenton walks to the plate, the buzz of the crowd builds. 

Shenton falls behind in the count quickly, leaving the Bulls one strike away from losing. Shenton opts for a low curveball, making just enough contact to shoot the ball into left field. Mead runs home to tie the game, and Simon dashes to third base. 

With the Bulls and the IronPigs tied 5-5, Riggsbee announces that catcher Logan Driscoll is up to bat. The two of us exchange an anticipatory glance. The stadium is on its feet.

Driscoll smacks a single into right field, and Simon races home to score the winning run. The ballpark explodes. It’s a miraculous win for the Bulls, in a game they seemed destined to lose just minutes before. 

The Bulls players rush the field to celebrate with Driscoll, and the fans break out into cheers, throwing popcorn into the sky in celebration. 

As the crowd roars, Riggsbee quietly closes a window in the press box so he can hear the intercom. The official scorer is relaying the names of the winning and losing pitchers, names Rigsbee will need to announce in a few moments.

Riggsbee announces the pitchers’ names and wishes the fans goodnight. He switches off his mic, makes a final edit to his scorecard, and pulls out his personal notebook. 

On the line that begins “6/27/24, Bulls vs. IronPigs, White Uniforms,” he adds, simply:

 “W, 6-5.”

He turns to me and grins. 

“You never know what you’re gonna see,” he repeats.

Riggsbee gathers his notebook, scorecard, and empty Diet Pepsi bottle and exits the booth. It’s time to get some much-needed rest. 

Tomorrow night, he’ll do it all again. 

Pictured Above: Tony Riggsbee, longtime Durham Bulls announcer, readies for a game. Photo by Travis Swafford — The 9th Street Journal