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Posts tagged as “Durham Bulls”

The Bull Durham house, then and now

From the outside, the Bull Durham house at 911 N. Mangum St. looks pretty much the same as it did in the famous 1988 baseball film. The windows are big and a mix of styles, typical of the home’s Queen Anne architecture. A swing still hangs on the front porch. 

But inside, there is barely a trace of the erratically wallpapered, chaotically cluttered home where Annie Savoy, played with passion and wisdom by Susan Sarandon, seduced a series Bulls players, most notably Ebby “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) and Crash Davis (Kevin Costner). Today, the home is transformed into an embodiment of southern minimalism. 

The garish wallpaper is gone (understandably) and the walls now display a spectrum of muted pastels. Instead of Annie’s large collection of candles, the home is filled with natural light. It is very southern chic, with plenty of open space, simple colors, and vintage-esque furnishings. 

We know these details because the sale of the house is pending (asking price: $1.15 million) and, when it was on the market, it even had its own website, thebulldurhamhouse.com, complete with a virtual tour. Stroll through the house (virtually or in person) and you won’t see many signs of Annie or Crash or Nuke – except for the tub.

“For me, the scene I’ll never forget was the infamous bathtub scene with Annie and Crash,” says Jarin Frederick, the real estate agent selling the home for Urban Durham Realty.

“The clawfoot tub is still in the home today!” says Frederick, referring to the location of one of the most famous moments in the film. The tub scene is all kinds of steamy, with Costner and Sarandon finally consummating their love affair surrounded by dozens of burning candles. They share passionate kisses and the camera pans away as the water splashes out the candles’ flames. 

Is the tub now in a different room? It seemed larger in the film, but maybe that’s an optical illusion.  But if you’ve got $1.15 million, who cares? You can recreate this moment of movie magic, even if you have a bit less space for candles. 

Even before it was on the big screen, the house, built in 1880, carried an air of celebrity. It has been granted historical status both locally and nationally as the “James S. Manning House.” 

Manning was a reputable Durhamite, first as an attorney and judge, later a state senator and eventually as the North Carolina’s attorney general. He remained in the home until 1912 when he resettled in Raleigh. After the Mannings relocated, the house changed families a few times until it eventually became vacant. 

The garish wallpaper is gone and the home is now filled with natural light. Photo by Taylor McDonald, courtesy of Urban Durham Realty

That’s how it stood in 1986, when Ron Shelton, a director, screenwriter, and former minor league infielder, saw the house while scouting locations for the film that would eventually become Bull Durham. Shelton has said in interviews that the filmmakers chose Durham because of its minor league team and its skyline of dilapidated tobacco warehouses, which complement the romantic allusions of the movie. 

But Bull Durham wasn’t entirely shot in Durham. A batting cage scene was filmed in Garner at what is now a mini-golf course; the bar where Nuke and Crash first meet is in Raleigh; and the baseball diamond where LaLoosh is interviewed about pitching in “the show” was in Arlington, Texas.

The Manning house, though, is less than a mile from the Durham Bulls stadium where the team played in the 1980s and where much of the film was made.

What a difference 30 years (and a little decorating) can make. When Annie lived there, the house was decorated with a seemingly endless collection of tchotchkes: buddhas, goddesses in various forms, and baseball memorabilia. Each room had its own statement wallpaper (usually floral) and the whole place was candlelit by night and sunlit by day. 

In a desperate attempt to seduce Nuke during what he thought to be a celibacy-induced winning streak, Annie shouts that she detests cute – she wants to be “exotic and mysterious.” That describes her home, too, a workshop for her new age mysticism.

Today, the home is spacious with four bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms, a front and back porch as well as an office, family room and living room. In the film, the house was painted a fading mint color. Now, it’s a slate gray, the classic mismatched windows accented with a bright red like the stitches of a baseball. It’s so nice it looks like it’s been on the cover of Southern Living.

Frederick says the owners have taken good care of it. “When you walk through the home you are immediately aware of the love and commitment the  homeowners made the last 13 years in preserving this historic Durham treasure,” she says. 

The website highlights a laundry list of restorations and updates since 2007. These range from lighting fixture updates to larger renovations, like the addition of a garage and workspace in the backyard and the refurbishment of the front porch where Crash awaited Annie’s return from the ballpark in the film’s last scene.  

Annie joins him on the porch, and the two sit under cover as rain comes down around them. She rambles about the non-linearity of baseball and Crash kindly tells her to shut up. Eventually the two move inside. Much is left unsaid as they dance in front of Annie’s shrine to the religion of baseball. 

Staff writer Carmela Guaglianone can be reached at carmela.guaglianone@duke.edu

At top, photo of the Bull Durham house by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal

Lacking fans and players, Durham Bulls could not play ball

During a normal Fourth of July week in Durham, thousands of locals and out-of-town guests would stream to Durham Bulls Athletic Park to watch a ballgame and a fireworks show.

This holiday, there will be no game, no sparkles in the sky.

Minor League Baseball on Tuesday cancelled the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decision was widely expected, but the official news was unprecedented in the league’s history.

“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without minor-league baseball played,” MiLB President & CEO Pat O’Conner said in the press release. 

There were many factors that played a role in this decision, a big one being that Major League Baseball announced that big-league teams would not send players to affiliated minor league teams this summer, making play impossible.

The clincher was the fact that minor league teams across the country cannot welcome crowds into their stadiums in the midst of a pandemic. And teams can’t stay afloat without the money fans bring. 

Back on May 19, the Durham Bulls — the Triple A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays —  held a town hall meeting for its season ticket holders, 919 Club members. Team Vice President Mike Birling made it clear then that to have a season, fans were required. 

The MLB makes money from television revenue, but O’Conner estimated that 85 to 90% of revenue for minor league teams depends on what fans spend, from ticket sales to concession sales and parking.

The DBAP holds up to 10,000 fans, but North Carolina — still in Phase 2 of reopening until at least July 17 — does not allow for outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people. 

Last year, the Bulls broke the record for their three-game home series attendance, welcoming 35,052 fans over the June 14-16 weekend. 

The cancellation of the Durham Bulls’ season is a huge loss for many, including local vendors that sell popsicles to hotdogs and beer at the ballpark, and the 400 seasonal workers on the Bulls’ payroll.

This week it was the fans who were loudest in their mourning. “Heartbroken that for the first time in more than two decades, I won’t be spending summer nights in this magical place. See you in 2021, @DurhamBulls,” fan Mike Sundheim posted on Twitter.

Fans took to Twitter Tuesday to voice their sadness that the Durham Bulls, like other Minor League Baseball teams, won’t play this summer.

“It doesn’t even seem like summer if you do not get to sit in the heat and humidity in July for Bulls’ baseball. Better safe than sorry,” Ron Martin tweeted. 

The organization had furloughed 55% of its staff back in April, hoping to bring them back in September or early October. Birling said Wednesday morning that he does not anticipate having to furlough any more employees.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the cancellation of the minor league season has also put more than 5,000 players officially out of work for the season. But at least some Bulls’ players will be on baseball teams this summer because MLB teams were allowed to increase their rosters this summer. 

The MLB is set to start training today, July 1, with games resuming later this month. The Rays’ 60-man roster had 31 former Bulls players, including 23 who were on the 2019 teams here in Durham.  

Players who didn’t make a big-league roster will continue to get paid, said Birling. As of right now, seven teams are committed to paying players through Labor Day, what would have been the end of the minor league season. Birling stated that the Rays are committed to paying through July 31.

“I can’t make decisions for the Rays but I would be surprised if they didn’t continue the trend that some of the other teams are doing,” said Birling, on paying MiLB players through the season. 

The last time the Durham Bulls cancelled play was in 1934-35 due to the Great Depression. Now the team enters a new era in history, with high hopes to be back on the mound as soon as next year.

But during an interview Wednesday, Biring made clear that he doesn’t expect next year’s season will be normal either.

“Do I anticipate having 10,000 people in the ballpark next April? No,” Birling said on a phone call Wednesday morning. “I think the virus will still limit us to some sort of percentage of capacity.”

9th Street Journal reporter Daniela Schneider can be reached at daniela.schneider@duke.edu

At top: Photos of Durham Bulls players will stand in for the real thing at Durham Bulls Athletic Park this summer. Photo by Henry Haggart 

Hopes dim for Durham Bulls games this summer

Officials of the Durham Bulls have been hopeful they could still play games with fans this summer. But it’s looking increasingly unlikely the stars can align to make that possible.

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel was blunt about it Wednesday when he told faculty and staff at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, “We’re not going to have a minor league baseball season.”

He later clarified his comments in a text message to The 9th Street Journal: “I probably should have been more explicit. I think it is possible that there will be games with essentially no crowds. They are still waiting to hear from Major League Baseball. But I am pessimistic about even that.”

While other professional leagues across the country are starting to make a comeback, the 2020 baseball season remains on hold while Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association continue slow negotiations about a return to action. Owners and the union are trying to strike a deal on the number of games and how much players should earn, but they are still far apart. 

The league’s second offer came on Monday, and, per ESPN, included a 76-game regular season ending by Sept. 27, an expansion of eight teams per league for the 2020 postseason. Players would receive 75% of their prorated salaries, contingent on the completion of the postseason. 

The players association responded on Tuesday proposing an 89-game regular season, eight teams per league in the postseason for 2020 and 2021, and players get their full prorated salaries. 

AAA teams such as the Bulls are dependent on that agreement to spell out the details of their seasons and Bulls officials have said they need games with fans for the team to be profitable.

In the meantime, another Triangle-area team owned by Capitol Broadcasting, which also owns the Bulls, is calling it quits. 

The Holly Springs Salamanders released a statement Wednesday canceling the 2020 season. The team informed the Coastal Plain League that it would not be playing ball this summer due to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Wake County, and the uncertainty of how many fans might be allowed to attend games. 

“We appreciate the work the Coastal Plain League has done during this difficult time, but we felt this was the best decision for the health and safety of our fans, players, and staff,” Salamander’s General Manager Chip Hutchinson wrote in the statement.

Bulls Vice President Mike Birling said he was not aware of the comment made by Schewel. The team continues to wait for the outcome of the MLB-union negotiations. 

In photo above: It’s looking increasingly unlikely that players will be able to hit the bull and win a steak. Photo by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal 

While his team waits, Wool E. Bull has been busy

Kitchen fires smoldered. Meals needed to be delivered. Local businesses needed support. It was time to call a local superhero: Wool E. Bull. 

Since March, the Durham Bulls mascot has been the face of several efforts by the minor league team to help the community in a time of need. The Bulls can’t play until Major League Baseball figures out if there will be games for minor league teams. So in the meantime, the team has been doing some community-minded public relations. 

Bulls’ Marketing and Fan Engagement Coordinator Emily Almond said the team is “always looking for other ways to help out our community” and that Wool E. Bull was perfect for the job.

With schools closing across the city, the Durham Public Schools Foundation rushed to make sure that children were still getting meals. About 1,000 people volunteered to distribute meals across Durham, including Wool E. Bull and several members of the team’s front office. 

Riding in the recognizable blue Wool E. Wagon, the Bulls’ mascot made his way around town delivering food to kids. Alyzia McAlmon, equity and youth empowerment manager at the foundation said having the furry mascot deliver meals to kids was the “perfect situation.” 

“You’re delivering food, but you’re also getting kids excited,” she said. “We got a lot of feedback from parents of how their kids were so ecstatic to open the front door and see Wool. E Bull was delivering their food.”

He was also the face of several other campaigns, including the “Wash Your Horns” campaign with the United Way of the Triangle (to encourage people to stay home and use good hygiene), and one with the Durham Fire Department to warn about kitchen fires. 

As of late April, the campaign sold over 1,000 “Wash Your Horns” t-shirts, and raised over $16,000 for the Triangle, according to a report from the Capitol Broadcasting Company. 

And the furry mascot had unique credibility to warn people about kitchen fires. Carol Reardon, the department’s fire education captain, said Durham had seen an 88% increase in kitchen fires since the stay-at-home orders were put in place. So Wool E. Bull starred in a kitchen fire safety video to help raise awareness of how to stay safe while cooking at home. 

The video featured team’s on-field announcer, Jatovi McDuffie, popping out from trash cans and behind doors to give kitchen fire safety tips like he was announcing the entertainment between innings at a game, with members of the fire department and, of course, Wool E. Bull, as the audience. 

“Having Wool E. support what we’re doing is huge,” said Reardon, “better than any money we can spend on advertising.”

The Bulls also teamed up with two of their local partners, Pie Pushers and LocoPops, to provide meals for healthcare workers. The Pizza and Pops campaign allowed locals ordering from either restaurant to donate money or purchase a LocoPop or pizza for a healthcare worker in the community. In one month they were able to donate 50 pizzas and 400 LocoPops.

“Large sports organizations tend to partner with large other organizations,” said LocoPops founder and owner Summer Bicknell. “The Bulls have always made it a priority to partner locally. I just love that they called me and said, ‘How can we help sell your product in this time?’, as opposed to partnering with some national brand.”

The Bulls also donated over 20,000 masks and gloves they found in the stadium to healthcare workers in the community.

With the season still uncertain, the Bulls are trying to maintain fan interest through their often-irreverent social media platforms, and they are finding new revenue sources,  like allowing fans to rent their field this weekend for $250 an hour.

“I think it’s just a really great feeling to give back to the community because of how much they’ve done for us and rallied around the Bulls and made us,” said Emily Almond. “We wouldn’t be who we are without Durham.”

Above, the Durham Fire Department enlisted help from Wool E. Bull for a video about preventing kitchen fires. Screenshot from Durham Fire Department Video

Bulls players getting stipend as they await decision on season

The Durham Bulls are waiting to see if they’ll get to play baseball this season, but their players will still receive a $400 weekly stipend for the next month. 

The Tampa Bay Rays, the parent club for the Bulls, notified their minor league teams on Thursday that players will continue to be paid through the end of June.

“They will be paid at least through the end of June,” Tampa Bay Rays Vice President of Communications Dave Haller said in an email Thursday afternoon, adding that the team “will reevaluate when the time gets closer.” 

The Bulls are faring better than some other teams. The decision comes just two days after the Oakland Athletics notified its minor league teams that they will no longer be paid this season. 

Tampa Bay Times reporter Marc Topkin, who first broke the news Thursday, also confirmed that The Rays did release a few players from the roster, although these players would have likely been part of the “standard end-of-spring cuts that didn’t happen then due to the shutdown,” he tweeted.

The Bulls are hoping for a decision from Major League Baseball and the player’s association about the future of the season in the next week. 

Photo above: The team is hoping the bull will be lighting up and blowing smoke again soon. Photo by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal

Durham Bulls still hoping for games with fans (and a half-full stadium)

The Durham Bulls are in limbo, awaiting a decision by Major League Baseball about starting a shortened season this summer. But the vice president of the Bulls said Tuesday night that he’s hopeful the team can resume games with fans in July, although social distancing will require the stadium be kept at no more than 50% of its capacity.

“If you’ve been following in the news, Major League Baseball is looking at a condensed season,” Mike Birling, the minor league club’s vice president for baseball operations, told fans in a Zoom call. “They’re negotiating right now with the Players’ Association, so really until that gets figured out, we’re kind of stuck.”

Birling said that although major league teams could survive without fans in the stands, minor league teams depend on revenue from fans. 

“We have made it very clear to Major League Baseball that in no way do we want to have a season if there are no fans in the stands. It just doesn’t work,” he said. “At the major league level it works because you have hundreds of millions of dollars in TV revenue. The amount of money we are losing already, and then if you throw in team travel and everything else, no team would be able survive that.”

The Bulls held the town hall meeting Tuesday night for 919 Club Members, fans that buy season tickets or other ticket packages. The meeting gave fans a chance to ask questions about everything from merchandise to what mascot Wool E. Bull is doing to pass the time. 

Birling said the Bulls are preparing for all scenarios. 

If there is a season, Birling said there is a possibility of games resuming in early July and stretching into late September or early October, rather than ending in late August. It’s unclear if there will be minor league playoffs because league officials may decide playing more games is preferable to crowning a champion.

If there are games, fans should also be prepared for a new normal at the ballpark, including social distancing in the stands. 

Durham Bulls Athletic Park can seat up to 10,000 fans, but Birling said that the capacity would be maxed at 50% – and that he would be shocked if they were allowed to have even 5,000 people in the stadium.  

Fans would be spread out throughout the stadium, but families and people that have purchased tickets together would not be required to social-distance. 

“If you had four season tickets, we’d skip a couple seats, and skip the row behind you,” he said

Birling and other team employees in the meeting said the Bulls are doing as much as they can to assure season ticket holders that if they are assigned new seats, they will be as close to their original seats as possible. 

Birling said fans will not be required to wear masks in the ballpark (although the Bulls just began selling masks with the team logo). 

“We will require our staff [to wear masks], but we will not require fans to do it.”

There also will be extra precautions with food and drink sales. The Bulls are looking to expand their use of FanFood, a mobile app that provides a contactless and cashless way to order food in the ballpark.

If the MLB decides to return to play, there are several challenges unique to the minor leagues that will need to be sorted out. 

Compared with other leagues with nearby opponents, the Durham Bulls would need to face teams from Toledo to Buffalo, which brings up the challenge of traveling. 

“The difficult part from our perspective is how spread out our league is. In a lot of these leagues, you’re kind of closer – it’s only a few states. But in Triple-A baseball, obviously, we’re everywhere” Birling said. “We got to go to Toledo, we got to go to Buffalo. So each one of those situations is different, and that’s the challenge we have at Triple-A baseball and that’s something we’re all trying to figure out.”

Birling thanked Durham fans for their support and said team officials are still hopeful they will be allowed to play this summer.

“You can’t get a better opportunity if you’re Major League Baseball, to put aside your differences and figure out how to play for the good of the game, for the good of the country.”

In photo at top, the “HIT BULL, WIN STEAK” bull overlooks the empty stadium. Photo by Bill Adair | The 9th Street Journal