Baseball Is Back! Part II

Way back in February I posted "Baseball Is Back!" and alluded that my next post would be Part II of my anthem to America's Game and how the sport has been such a wonderful part of my family's life. Well, finally.

Our return to My Town from Silicon Valley in the mid '80s coincided with a resurgence in the popularity of Minor League Baseball all across the nation. In large part fans came back due to the movie Bull Durham, a rollicking baseball and love story centered around the Durham Bulls minor league team. Selling beer at the park (finally) didn't hurt any, either.

Shot in Durham using the team's aging Durham Athletic Park and the city's environs, the movie created a new cache around town for the Bulls and "The DAP." The venerable ballpark certainly became the hot ticket for the 30-something hip locals looking for the next new thing. And the young newbies that were continually moving into the area thanks to the Research Triangle Park and the universities just had to come out, too.

"The DAP" was cool for a hot date or a place to show off your babies. It was a Preppie and a New Age hipster hangout. And the die hard baseball fans, hourly wagers, good ol' country boys--many of whom could play the game as good as any on the field--along with the old timers who had followed the team for years continued to show up like always. Like all of Durham, the ballpark was a social melting pot and everybody got along. Perhaps all was chill because the Preppies and the New Agers tended to congregate in the left field bleachers to drink beer and talk to all the people they came with as a group. And to show off their babies in the cute little Bulls hats.
Die hards only on the right field bleachers. If you went over there don't be yammering about how your MBA courses were messing with your head. Hush up about your start up in the Park. Curb your baby; there's no crying in baseball. And don't complain if the dude in front of you lights up a cig. You just don't complain to certain folks when they break the rules.

Neither group had to contend with the Raleigh interlopers--they bought reserved seats under the cantilevered roof. Until those Raleighites who were Inside The Beltline types figured out they should be out in left field with the party crowd.

The old DAP
BC, (before children) I have fond memories of the left field bleachers, hoisting six or even eight beers up the rickety steps when it was our turn to buy. There was great conversation. And much fun. So great and so fun that we missed a no hitter in progress right before our eyes one Sunday afternoon. But I did watch enough baseball to get the old love back for the game by watching Chipper Jones, Steve Avery, John Rocker, Andrue Jones and many others come through Durham.

AD, (after delivery) we showed off our baby, too. And for both boys, who are three years apart, their first adventures were at "The DAP." They loved it, as did their mother and me. After a while, we moved under the cantilevered roof as we were now a self contained party. The oldest boy and I wore our San Francisco hats. The youngest donned his Pirates hat because his first game while still tethered to mother's milk was Pirates vs. Mudcats in an exhibition game. Barry Bonds played two innings and then signed autographs for a couple more innings.

One of my fondest memories of times at "The DAP" revolve around me and the boys always wearing white bucks to the park when they were little. I would tell them to get their little bucks with the red soles and they would squeal with delight; "It's a baseball day!" they would exclaim. We would always get smiles from other fans because of those bucks. And because of the multi-colored smiles of the boys, thanks to the rainbow ice they always wanted.
1993 at The DAP
I cherish memories of the boys taking turns sitting on my lap during the game. Between sips of beer I would whisper play-by-play into little ears. I'd call the game straight but would use funny and odd names for the visiting team. They loved that, and learned what a "can of corn" is, about the 5-4-3 double play, why sometimes a player would bunt, what tagging up means, the significance of the bases being "full o' Bulls", and taking off their ball caps for the National Anthem. Over time they learned the game's nuances and subtleties. And when they were older, they learned how to make ten bucks last nine innings worth of hot dogs, Cokes and popcorn.
4th visit to see The Chicken
Early on we took the boys and their cousins to see The San Diego Chicken, who back then came to town once a year. It was like Christmas for the children. They were mesmerized by his antics. We bought the dolls, a video, t-shirts--the works. By season's end the boys had memorized all the video antics, had amassed rubber chicken feet, chicken masks and various other costume bits. They would dress up, turn on that tape and act out the whole thing. It was hilarious then and a joy to think about today. Over the years going to "The Chicken game" became a tradition within the tradition of going to the games.

The boys and I enjoyed sending off baseball cards hoping for autographs--and we received some great one. It was always exciting to them when one of our SASEs arrived in the mailbox. They knew not to open till Dad came home, and as soon as I arrived home they would tear into that envelope with great glee. I was as excited as them.

And, of course there was much time spent in the yard, the three of us throwing to each other, although neither boy had the concentration "stamina" to play ball together almost all day like I did as a kid during the summer, mixing grounders, high flies and long toss along with taking turns being the pitcher in make believe games.

When our oldest was six the brand new Durham Bulls Athletic Park (which is called "D-BAP" as its nickname) opened and we continued our pilgrimages to watch baseball, now with good season tickets.

As both boys grew, we watched them play the game in T Ball league, what's left of a little league program, and a year of junior high baseball. One was a right fielder while the other had the toughness, moxie and determination to catch; he loved the armor.

At The DBAP the boys learned to score a baseball game at young ages, thanks to me bribing them with a nickle for a hit, a dime for a double, twenty-five cents for a triple and a buck for a homer while scoring. Amazing how that worked even though they seldom got the money for our mutual forgetfulness. The oldest son is a walking stat machine and can remember more about baseball than I've ever known. His brother is a more casual student of baseball's past, yet the long continuous history of baseball that we all embrace is something he appreciates fully. First year at DBAP
Our family also appreciates the pace of the game. Few do. But their Mom and I have found there can be a lot said between pitches and between innings--about the game and more important topics like how a certain class is going or what's new with the girlfriend and other topics that don't sound so invasive when asked at the game.

Now, suddenly we've had our season tickets at DBAP fifteen years. The boys are growing up. Or, as they would want me to say, they have grown up. The four of us don't make it together to the Bulls as often now, yet the love of the game and the harmonious times together we enjoyed and remember fondly remain as links to one another.

So I was heartened the other day when the boys came in to the kitchen where I was preparing hamburgers to grill and they asked "when are we all going to a Bulls game, Dad?"

Music to my ears. "Take me out to the ballgame..." Oh, if I could whisper play-by-play into little ears just one more time.


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