DBAP/Durham—I arrived in downtown Durham tonight around 6:15 p.m. for the 7:05 first pitch to be thrown by the Bulls’ ace right-hander Alex Cobb, against the Charlotte Knights in game two of a three-game series.
I parked near the intersection of W. Morgan St. and the Downtown Loop in one of the curb spots that are free with unlimited after 6 p.m. There are closer places to park for a game, but it was 70 degrees and sunny and I wanted the fifteen-minute stroll. It’s not easy to stroll around the Downtown Loop (there are no sidewalks), so I hugged the parallel-parked cars along the curb for maybe a quarter of a mile, and then I took a right and walked down Blackwell St.
I made it all the way to the DBAP when I realized I’d left my Media Pass in the car. By then it was about 6:30 and I did not want to miss Cobb’s first pitch. There was still plenty of time (I can walk faster than a stroll) but I can’t afford any more mistakes. Rather than go back to the intersection of the Downtown Loop and Blackwell St. and take a left, returning the way I came, I save some time by cutting a diagonal path up and over the mound of three sets of railroad tracks running parallel in between the Downtown Loop and W. Pettigrew St. Walking along the tracks closest to the Downtown Loop, I noticed that they were no long in use — weeds were grown up over them, whereas the other two tracks are used regularly by Amtrak and other rail lines (you can see and hear them from your seat in the DBAP during every game). As I approached the point where I needed to leave the tracks and hoof it toward my car, I realized that these abandoned tracks disappeared into a small jungle of urban vegetation. I never noticed that. The Downtown Loop is one-way in the opposite direction and because the railroad bed is raised well above the roads on both sides of the tracks, there would be no way to see that site unless you were walking westward down the tracks. I’d never had a reason to do that, until tonight.
The first pitch was two minutes late due to the trotting out of a military flag regiment for the national anthem (most of the time we salute the flags flying beyond the outfield wall on permanent poles).
The game lasted two hours and forty-six minutes. Afterward, Bulls’ manager Charlie Montoyo told the media that his son Tyson, who joined him for his routine post-game comments, had joked that little brother Alex had fallen asleep during the game because it was so boring.
The Bulls’ offense was indeed nothing to write home about.
They went three-up, three-down in four of the first six innings against Charlotte Knights’ left-handed starter Eric Stults. In the other two innings, first two batters reached base and then Stults retired the next three batters in order each time, including striking out the side in the fifth. Stults line finish at 6 innings pitched, 2 hits, and 3 walks. He threw 95 pitches.
Alex Cobb actually pitched a better game overall. His line was 7 innings, 4 hits, 1 walk, and only 85 pitches.
The difference was that the Knights put together back-to-back crushed doubles by 3B Dallas McPherson and RF Conor Jackson in the third inning and scored two runs (the second one came on a wild pitch by Cobb to advance Jackson to third and a RBI groundout by DH Dan Johnson).
The Bulls loaded the bases in the seventh and couldn’t score (all three outs were K’s). The three runs the Knights scored in the 8th and 9th innings felt like needless tack-on runs.
“That’s baseball,” Montoyo said post-game and of course he’s right. There’s nothing much else you can say. It’s too early in the season for any substantial narratives about the Bulls’ inability to hit Stults or the Knights’ relievers.
By the middle innings I began to ponder the contrasting professional situations of Stults and Cobb, and their duel tonight. Stults is a lefty and his fastball peaked at 90 MPH tonight; Cobb is a righty whose fastball peaked at 90, too, maybe 91.
Cobb is 24 years old. Last year he started nine games for the playoff bound Tampa Bay Rays, his first stint in MLB. He finished 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in 52.2 innings, an impressive beginning. There’s every reason to believe Cobb will be back in MLB at some point soon, and he’s shown enough promise to believe he can stick around. If he didn’t play in an organization with a loaded started rotation at the MLB level, he’d probably be in MLB now.
Meanwhile, Stults is 32 years old. This is his eleventh professional season, during which he’s pitched 157 innings in MLB, just 12 since 2009.
Two pitchers experiencing different trajectories of their respective careers dueling in Durham on a cool, beautiful night in April 2012, it’s what makes AAA baseball such a wonderful enigma.
I sat behind home plate in the section with the scouts, around eight or ten of them tonight. They all know each other and seem to enjoy seeing each other. You can hear some of them catching up sometimes. Unless they are working together, they usually sit a seat apart from each other, with their clipboards and radar guns. I often look at them with a bit of envy.
Tonight, in one section, the same seat number was vacant in three consecutive rows of scouts. In the fourth row going down, that seat number was taken a 30-ish man drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon cylinders with his girlfriend. At one point, in the middle of an inning, the man stood up, turned around, and then crawled and clamored over the three vacant seats behind him and two railings, to make it to the concourse so he could get more beer. When he was near the top, one of the scouts asked, incredulously, “Why not just use the aisle?” The guy answered, “I didn’t want to disturb you guys; busy doing your work.”
A few minutes later the guy returned with two more PBR cylinders. This time he used the aisle.
Another word on Eric Stults: When I Googled his name on my iPhone at the game I was asked, “Did you mean Eric Stoltz?” who is of course the actor. I equate Stoltz with the 1980s John Hughes movie Some Kind of Wonderful, certainly because I went to high school in the 1980s. When VCR’s and VHS tapes were invented in the late 1980s (at least in my hometown that’s when they became mainstream), it seemed impossible to avoid that movie. Eric Stults wasn’t born until 1979, so he wouldn’t have been a teenager until the 1990s. It’s doubtful he had to endure any Eric Stoltz jokes.
The Bulls finish their series with the Knights tomorrow at 11:05 a.m. Brunch and coffee at DBAP.