by Adam Sobsey
DBAP/ DURHAM---Standing right under the snorting Bull just beyond the DBAP's Blue Monster, a.k.a. the left-field wall, grand poobah Jim Goodmon surveyed the crowd gathered at yesterday's press conference and led off with, "This is another really great thing that's coming to downtown Durham."
The thing in question is a three-year agreement between the Durham Bulls and the Duke University baseball team. Beginning in February of 2010, a new partnership will see the Blue Devils play several series at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park each season for the next three years. The 2010 schedule, which will be released next week, includes games against UNC, Clemson, Miami, Florida State and Virginia, plus a couple of non-conference games TBA. Duke baseball coach Sean McNally and catcher Ryan McCurdy, who both attended yesterday, expressed unalloyed excitement and said all the right things, and why wouldn't they? The DBAP is a beautifully maintained, gleaming ballpark that holds well over 10,000 fans (the Blue Devils hope to draw at least 2,000 per game); and although there's nothing wrong with Duke's own park, this is an upgrade of major proportions. For the next three seasons---more if things go well---there will be ACC baseball at the DBAP to keep up with.
But make no mistake: although baseball is the motor driving this partnership, the ship in question is downtown Durham itself, which is currently experiencing an astonishing renaissance that just got an extra push. Jim Goodmon was quick to point out that 3,500 people work in the American Tobacco complex's 900,000 square feet, and they'll now have an additional entertainment option from February-May, right across the street. "We're rolling," Goodmon boasted---he wasn't talking about the cameras, kids---and then quipped that "Carolina asked first, and I said absolutely not."
That drew laughs from all, especially Duke University President Richard Brodhead---and it reveals much about the import of the Duke/DBAP marriage that Brodhead and Goodmon both attended the nuptials (Durham Mayor Bill Bell was scheduled to appear, but didn't). Brodhead, ever the academic, told us that there is in fact a long history shared by the Durham pro and college ballclubs. Way back in 1902, he said, a new squad called the Durham Tobacconists played their very first ballgame against the nine from Trinity College (the ur-Duke) at Duke's Haynes Field. They split a doubleheader---or, given that they were called the Tobacconists back then, should that be "spit"? In any case, Brodhead said that the Bulls' invitation was a long overdue reciprocation. "This is a very, very happy day for Duke."
The idea came from Duke's Director of Athletics, Kevin White, who hatched the plan while watching a Durham Bulls game back in 2008. He pitched it to Goodmon, but Goodmon thought at the time that it would be too difficult to pull off, especially for groundskeeper Scott Strickland. Goodmon declined, but Duke was persistent, and Strickland and his crew are already well into prepping the field, which gleamed greenly yesterday, for Devils' feet.
Financially, the partnership is a strict box office split for Duke and the Durham Bulls, said Bulls General Manager Mike Birling. He added that the Bulls had been looking to expand their onfield events for some time now. Although the ACC Tournament, USA Baseball and a handful of musical and other events take place at the DBAP, more is needed---especially with downtown Durham's boom. "It can't just be about [the Bulls'] 72 games," Birling said. So here are 17 more.
More baseball at the DBAP? Baseball in February? More stuff to do in downtown Durham? That's enough to forgive even the tooth-curdling ping of aluminum bats. Look for Triangle Offense coverage all season long. We'll certainly be the first to find out whether Duke hires Bulls' left fielder Jon Weber to teach the Duke outfielders how to play caroms off the Blue Monster.
By the by, Duke isn't the only local school to play its games in a townie park. The North Carolina Central Eagles can be found at the old Durham Athletic Park in 2010.