by Mike Potter
DURHAM ATHLETIC PARK/DURHAM The old yard may not be back to absolute mint condition, but it sure looks better than it likely has at any point in my lifetime.
Durham Athletic Park, where the Bulls played their home games for - in a "conservative" assessment - well over five decades and the site of the iconic sports movie "Bull Durham," is open for business and looking awfully good.
The park, constructed in 1939 for about $30,000 with heavy funding from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration after the original 1926 wooden grandstand burned to the ground, had its grand re-opening on Saturday after a $5.5 Million renovation.
About a thousand people were on hand for the festivities, which included free hot dogs, popcorn peanuts and soft beverages; a church picnic-style softball game that included former Bulls Matt West and David Clay along with ex-Major Leaguers Paul Shuey and Scott Pose; a performance from the "Durham Divas" senior cheerleading squad; and appearances from numerous costumed mascots from around the area.
The event had a sort of family reunion feel to it, as the folks who used to frequent the place in its most recent heyday from 1980-1994 before it fell into such bad disrepair were on hand to celebrate and reminisce.
with natural turf that was in near-perfect condition for the festivities, will be the home field for baseball teams from N.C. Central University, Durham School of the Arts and American Legion Post 7. For the rest of the 365 days it will serve as an auxiliary headquarters of sorts for Minor League Baseball, with events such as groundskeeper, umpire and player skills clinics on the program.
"This is a great facility and it's been done in a first-class manner," Durham mayor Bill Bell said of the refurbished park. "I think the citizens of Durham were very wise in approving the bond referendum. We're really pleased that Minor League Baseball is going to operate and manage it, and this will be a great home for North Carolina Central's team."
Pat O'Conner, the President of Minor League Baseball, said it's great the park in shape because of its importance to Minor League Baseball as a whole.
"There are a couple of facilities in the country that embody the essence of Minor League Baseball, and The DAP is certainly one of them," O'Connor said. "The public will find a lot of interest here, and we will get a lot of use out of it. For example, when the Bull Durham Blues Festival is here, groundskeepers from other cities might come in and learn how to get the field ready for baseball again after they hold similar events."
West, who pitched, coached and managed the Bulls all at DBAP between 1982 and '94, said he was very impressed with the condition of the playing surface itself.
"It's unbelievable," West said. "There aren't many places in the big leagues where the field is better than this."
NCCU coach Henry White said the move to a new park that's all the Eagles' own is yet another boost for his fledgling program.
"The Bulls have been great about sharing their park with us, and Jill (Rusinko, the facility manager) and the Minor League people have been great, too," White said. "They said we can fix up our locker room any way we want. We're going to have a lot of teams from the North and Midwest wanting to come here to play us, so we're not going to have to be on the road as much. We might want to play the Duke game at (Durham Bulls Athletic Park), but we're very happy to have this as a home field."