Just a step away

Aug. 21, 2013 @ 08:31 AM

Most people in Durham, baseball fans or not, would probably agree the Durham Bulls and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park have made tremendous contributions to the city’s brand and to our quality of life.

More than 20 years after it was first shown, “Bull Durham” continues to ensure us a prime spot on the nation’s baseball map.

And the ballpark, once a pioneering contribution to a downtown revival that when it opened was far from assured, is still one of the prime attractions bringing visitors downtown.

The DPAB is all the things that make minor-league baseball an attraction – relatively low prices, for tickets and for food and drink; a family-friendly atmosphere with plenty for children to do besides just watch a ballgame; great sightlines and seats that give fans an intimate relationship with the field.

And as a story in The Herald-Sun Tuesday and an event at the DBAP Tuesday night reminded us, the excitement is heightened by the chance to see folks play here that may well soon be major-league stars.

Tuesday night was Chipper Jones Night at the park, honoring the player who went on to many years of stardom with the Atlanta Braves, whose farm team the Bulls were as Jones came up through the minors. He remains one of the most prominent major-league players to emerge from Durham.

These days, we often see young players solidifying their careers on the last step before the big leagues.  Steve Wiseman talked in Baltimore Monday, before the Tampa Bay Rays took on the Orioles, with Wil Myers. Just a few weeks ago, we watched him play in downtown Durham. Now, he’s batting clean-up and helping the Rays close in on the top of the American League East standings.

The Rays’ lineup is peppered with folks who have passed through Durham – folks like pitcher Chris Archer and outfielder Jason Bourgeois. Evan Longoria, who bats just ahead of Myers, played with the Bulls in 2007-2008.

The road to the major leagues is far from a certain one, of course, and many players who get as far as the top of the minors still don’t make it. Watching that quest, a player’s struggle with himself to be just a little bit better, enhances the more evident struggle between two teams on the field.

Myers had some rough points during his time with the Bulls – and overcoming that was part of becoming a big-leaguer.

“He knew he was good enough and he stayed true to himself,” Archer said.  “He continued to swing the bat, continued to work, continued to prepare and two months later, he’s one of the top candidates for Rookie of the Year in the big leagues. It was actually cool to see him struggle and get through it.”

And it’s cool for us to have a chance to watch that, part of what makes the Bulls and baseball such an endearing part of our city.