I have never heard a man laying on his death bed with seconds to live mumbling how he just didn't spend enough time in the office. What's wrong with us Dad's? Why do we keep telling ourselves that this year is going to be different? This year I will lose 20 pounds. This year I will read my Bible cover to cover. This year I will be a better father! Well, this year I will be a better father.

When you close your eyes and vision that perfect childhood memory, what do you see? For me, it was the smell of Wrigley Field (for better or worse). It was the sound of the organ, the roar of the crowd, and the electric energy that follows the game that I loved best...Baseball! I wanted those same memories for my kids. We live just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina which puts us right in the middle of some of the best minor league baseball in the country. I figure I have a good 12 years left with my kids in the house and time is flying by. I cancelled a few meetings and took them to our local ballpark.

I have 3 kids ages 6, 12, & 14. They are great kids and I love every minute that I get to spend with them. I want to start creating a legacy of memories that continue for many generations. Baseball will live long past me and will continue to provide those memories in my absence. The purpose of this blog is to not only document the moments I get to spend with my kids, but analyze every minor league ballpark in the United States. My kids will be doing the analysis as well as many of the blog posts. What ballparks are family friendly? What parks give your family the most for their money? What do the players have to say about their team and the park they play in? Who has the coolest uniforms? Right from the mouth (or fingers) of babes. That's 240 teams in 12 years, an average of 20 games per year. We might not reach our goal...but man is it going to be fun trying!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Durham Bulls

Durham Bulls - 7

      From Joe Morgan to Chipper Jones, the Durham Bulls have been host to a lush history of baseball folklore.  The kids and I were excited to take our first trip a few miles up the road to this historic franchise.  Somewhere in the back of my head I was expecting to see Ebby Calvin LaLoosh hurling the ball like Fernando Venezuela and the lava lizards of the Galapagos Islands.  Or maybe see Crash Davis arguing with the umpire behind the plate.  We had big hopes for this ballpark and couldn't get there soon enough.
    The Bulls are a AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays and have produced a lot of talent with the most recent being All Star pitcher Chris Archer.  Compared to the Durham Tobacconists of 1902, the Durham Bulls of the today have shot into the modern world of commercial baseball.   This is not your grandfather's park.  Buckle up and get ready as we head to Durham and go see the Bulls.      
     We had been looking forward to the Bulls game all week. We even bought a Papa Johns pizza to take advantage of the $10 ticket discount at the gate.  It does't get much better than a Sunday at an old fashion, historic ballpark for only $10 a ticket.  We left our house hoping to get there about 45 minutes early and take in all of the majestic ambiance.  The ballpark is located in downtown Durham in the tobacco district.  For parking you can either brave the downtown or park in the parking deck for $5.  Put your hiking shoes on and head to the stadium.  You will need to make your way through the mall and another building in order to pop yourself out on the street right by the entrance.  By now my 6 year old is already asking me to carry him and we have gone to the bathroom twice.  My 6 year old personally gave the parking at the Durham Bulls a 5 on the Family Friendly Scale (FFS).

     The hike to the park did have one advantage, we were able to see how a city plans a community around a park.  I could easily tell that Durham had a well planned strategy to not only draw business to the Bulls but to also keep them downtown before and after the game.  Great job!  We easily gave the Out of Park Experience a 9 FFS.
     The old fashion ballpark that we thought we were going to see must have picked up and left town.  We were greeted by what we thought was the entrance to a local museum.  Fountains, sculptures, and modern architectural design.  The entrance to the field was beautiful!  We stopped for a quick pic and to pay homage to Crash Davis, Chipper Jones, Joe Morgan, Bill Evers, and Jackie Robinson before we made our way to the ticket booth.
    The excitement of learning that tonight was Lego Night could only be deflated by one more Papa Johns tickets.  I do not know the exact number, but I am guessing that arriving 45 minutes early to nobody in line means that there were probably only 2 Papa Johns tickets to begin with.  If you are banking on that promotion, get there EARLY!   I sprang for the Diamond Seats because the boys really wanted to sit in home run alley.  We purchased our tickets in section 128 for $15 a piece not really knowing what to expect but more on that later.  On the FFS the ticket prices scored an 8.  Papa John tickets would have been nice, but the prices are still very good for this quality of baseball.
      I would highly recommend entering the stadium at the home plate entrance.  Not only can you get a quick photo opt at the fountains, but the team store (Corner Store) is on the lower level right when you walk in.  Using the native language of a 6 year old, "This is epic man!"  There was a lot of clever merchandise.  I didn't see just the usual t-shirt, sweatshirt, hat arrangement.  Many shirt were on sale and not just the flesh colored size extra small.  The hat selection was epic (now he's got me doing it).  If you are a hat connoisseur like myself, you will love this selection.  The Bulls are great with their brand and know how to market it on a cap.  I decided to go with the Veteran's Day special blue with desert camo.  You can see a picture of the hat below in the family photo at the park.  I paid $20 for the hat.  Did you hear me?  20 bucks for a New Era cap.  Now that's a great deal.  After getting my little man's tiny wooden bat for $6, we headed into the park.  The store was a little tiny, but made up for the size by the quality of goods and the price.  We gave it a Family Friendly Score of 8.
     As mentioned above, the Bulls logo is one of the most recognizable logos in baseball mostly due to the popularity of the movie and the fabled history of the characters that played at the park.  The Bulls were wearing their white uniforms with a dark cap.  Not too flashy, but with a logo like that...who needs to be.  The boys gave the logo and uniforms a 8 on the FFS.
     I don't know how we did it, but we made it all the way to section 128 without stopping for any food.  Let me spend a few minutes on Section 128 and the Diamond Section in general.  Let me put it this way, if  Superman gets his power from the sun then this is the section that you would find him in.  Wear your sunscreen!  The other issue that we had specifically with this section is its proximity to the multi-level bar and party patio.  There was a lot of action going on and much of it was not family friendly.  It is like a grassy hill for adults.  So much fun and nobody is watching the game and also making it difficult for anyone else to watch the game as well.  The bar section continues in front of the main viewing area for the Diamond Section making every intoxicating idiot on full display for everyone to enjoy.  For future games we will most likely go to the Field Box or theTerrace Reserved sections.  Not only do those seats provide shade but they also provide a better chance to sit by people that are actually interested in watching baseball.  With all that said, the boys felt a 5 FFS was appropriate.
     My 6 year old was faced with a very difficult decision.  "Should I eat or should I go to the playground?"  In the end the playground won.  This attraction followed the tradition that nothing is free.  You pay $1 per ticket and the average cost per play set is 3 tickets.  His first choice was the massive structure that you see in the photo to the right.  After exploring every sticky square inch of that playset he decided that he was brave enough to go up the "tower".  A twenty foot monstrosity made of bands and netting that appeared to be filled with every child that was visiting the park for that day...a piñata of flesh.  I am 40 and you could not pay me enough to go into that thing.  My little man made it to the 4th level when a rather large 10 year old captured his face between the surface of the floor and his butt cheek.  His love for playgrounds quickly ended that day.  After that traumatic experience, he was ready for some food.  Despite that life changing event, the kids still gave the Ballpark Bling an 6 out of 10 FFS.  There is a lot to do for kids.  There is also a lot to do for adults that do not necessarily set the best example for kids, and the Bulls do not really have a good delineation in areas for each to enjoy the game separately.
     Food is one thing that you will not find a shortage of in this ballpark.  The Durham Bulls have everything that you can imagine.  Your average American baseball park usually has two main concession stands with a few small cart vendors.  Athletic Park will give you the choice of their common concession stand, Moe's, Chick-Fil-A, BBQ, and much much more.  I love a Chick-Fil-A sandwich so that was the first stop on our food tour.  I was excited when I got there because there appeared to be no line.  My excitement quickly left me when I remembered that today was Sunday.  It felt like Christmas morning with no presents.  We went next door and got a cheeseburger and fries for $10 and probably what is the best deal in the park, the souvenir soda cup for $8.  You can take this cup anywhere in the park and fill it up for free.  1 cup for a family of 3...not bad.  We also stopped by Moe's for some chips and queso to finish our meal.  We headed back to the party section to eat and watch the game.  The burger and fries were really good and well Moe's was Moe's.  I will always remember almost eating Chick-Fil-A at the Durham ballpark.  We gave the food experience at the Bulls park a 9 on the FFS.
     Like we do after consuming mass amounts of soda, we headed for a quick stop at the washroom.  Nothing to fancy here, but I will say that the one we visited was clean and did not smell that bad.  Compared to Wrigley Field this was the Four Seasons.  The boys decided that a FFS of a 6 was deserving.
     The Bulls were playing the Columbus Clippers who are a AAA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.  We really got a kick out of how the organization incorporated Lego Night into the entire experience.  You can see to the left the scoreboard on the Blue Monster in which every batter was featured as a lego player.  The Bulls dominated the evening at the park.  Their pitching was superior to the Clipper bats.  We also enjoyed seeing our first "Bull" home run.  Every time a Durham Bull hits a home run at home the bull sign in left field starts snorting, waves his tail, and blows smoke out of his mouth.  I love tradition and this is one of them that I am glad has stood the test of time.  A big part of every game is the mascot and the hypeman.  They provide the "fantainment" during all of the downtime of a 9 inning game.  Wool E. Bull was a lot of fun and did a good job at entertaining my kids.  They usually don't go for many mascots, but they enjoyed this one.  The sad thing is we really can't remember the hypeman for this game.  I don't have any pictures of him and nothing stood out a memorable.  I will take some fault in this, but if I or my children can't remember is that a good thing?   I remember PEANUT MAN more than anything.  This is a guy that when he shouts PEANUTS you can hear him in Tampa.  Very funny!  We gave the overall hype experience a 6 on the FFS.

     Our review of the Durham Bulls Athletic Field is a mixed one.  On one hand, we loved the overall atmosphere and vibe of the ballpark.  The stadium was absolutely beautiful.  The food was spectacular and there was plenty of things for big and little "kids" to do.  On the other hand, the same reasons that we liked the park are the focus of the issues we have against it.  Why can't we just go to watch a great baseball game?  Do we live in a society in which we now have to be entertained while we are being entertained?  My oldest son had the comment of the night.  "The Durham Bulls is a cool place to go if you don't care about watching a game."  Overall we scored the Durham Bull experience as a 7 on the FFS.  This is not a bad score at all and in our eyes easily changed by putting less focus on partying and more on family baseball.   We are really looking forward to heading back next different seats.
     Regarding the philosophies of Crash Davis, I am not sure that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone but I do believe there should be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter.  I also believe that the things that made baseball great is slowly going away.  I would love to get some opinions in the comments below.  Has baseball become too commercial?  Are we too focused on getting people into our seats that have no desire to watch baseball?  What happened to the games of a 1 to 1 pitchers battle with an occasional home run?  Oh well, my boys and I will let you decide for yourself. So until next time Meat, don't let fungus grow on your shower shoes.  See you in the batter's box!

Family Friendly Score
Category Score
Parking 5
Out of Park EXP 9
Ticket Price 8
Team Store 8
Team Hat/Logo 8
Ballpark Bling 6
Seating 5
Food 9
Bathrooms 6
Hype Man 6
Total: 7

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