On an overcast Memorial Day, Dawn Cocker and Matt DeMargel sat in the sound booth of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Matt is the director of park operations for the Bulls and a veteran of two other minor league teams. Dawn, an N.C. State junior, was hired on as his assistant for the summer. The stadium's sound booth has the best view in the house, with big windows that stare straight down the batter's box to the mound. At an adjoining desk, the technician in charge of the LED displays was going through his pre-game repertoire of advertisements and, for this holiday game, patriotic images. Dawn sat in front of a laptop computer that, together with a soundboard, controls the music for the entire stadium.
Minor league baseball pays a licensing fee for the right to play music during games and, like virtually all teams the Durham Bulls employ, specific songs to guide the emotions and activities of the fans. Using a mouse, Dawn can point and click her way through files on the screen that are helpfully grouped into categories like "Rally Music" and "Rain Delay." There is a special file for players' music; about five players on the Bulls' roster have picked out songs they like to hear when they come up to bat. (Chris Truby feels inspired by "Mary Mary"; George Lombard takes the plate to "Walk This Way.") Only rarely does anybody get a whole song. Usually the music lasts 15 to 20 seconds, until the pitcher takes the mound and the batter prepares his swing.
The songs on the Bulls' playlist come--mostly--and occasionally go, but a few evergreens have become as essential a part of the game as the seventh inning stretch. DeMargel reports being astonished at the power that "YMCA"--played every game in the middle of the eighth inning--has for baseball lovers in the Triangle. Fans at the ballpark have been known to boo if the song gets cut off because the players return to the field before its audience-participation finale. Despite the popularity of the Village People, DeMargel is wary of expanding his disco repertoire. "Ever since the Disco Demolition ... " he says, shaking his head, referring to the riot that broke out in 1979 at a Chicago White Sox double-header after a misguided promotion featured the destruction of a dumpster full of disco albums.
The crowd is peaceful this Memorial Day, and quiets respectfully as a captain from the Air Force strides to home plate armed with a microphone to deliver a polished rendition of the national anthem. In the sound booth, everyone rises except Dawn, who has to be alert to the next action on the field. When the color guard clears the field, she looks at DeMargel, who nods. AC/DC bleed in on the PA. "You shook me," they sing, "all night long." It's time to play ball.