I finally took my first trip to Durham Bulls Athletic Park to see the Bulls take on Pawtucket tonight in a AAA International League match-up. Here are some random observations from the wacky world of minor league baseball:
--It’s a beautiful stadium modeled after Camden Yards and its ilk, with a “Blue Monster” wall in left and a grassy lawn in center looking out on the meager Durham
It’s also about the only sector of downtown Durham
that isn’t an eyesore—yet more proof that the pastoral oasis of a baseball stadium really can outshine urban decrepitude (or the crumbling red brick remains of the Tobacco empire).
--AAA baseball is fun to watch because each team always has a handful of recognizable players who made their brief mark in the big leagues and then disappeared into obscurity. Durham is particularly rich in that department due to parent organization Tampa Bay’s continuous obsession with collecting washed-up veterans (to give the Devil Fishies that extra spark) who inevitably end up sucking their way back to the minors (Durham has only three players younger than 26). Familiar faces included Reggie Taylor, from whom I tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to coax a baseball in-between innings, Joe Beimel, Tim Laker, and Eric Munson, who for some reason is toiling in obscurity while Travis Lee dinks the occasional single in a Tampa uniform. Pawtucket featured Dave Berg, perennially suffering exile Roberto Petagine, and former-Brave farmhand George Lombard, who apparently is alive and well.
--Cla Meredith, who logged 2.1 forgettable innings with Boston earlier this year, entered the game in the eighth inning with the bases loaded and his team up by one run. He left with his team down two after three walks, two of them with the bases full. Meredith has a funky side-arm delivery which we won’t be seeing back in Boston any time soon.
--B.J. Upton is still only 20 years old. For most of the game, he provided the only offense Durham could muster. He sparked the three-run rally in the eighth with a base-hit. He also provided the highlight of the game with a first-inning homerun, thereby setting off the mechanical bull perched above the left field scoreboard which snorts smoke and glares flashing red eyes after each Durham homer. He finished 2-3 with a walk and a stolen base. He clearly outclassed the older, more experienced competition. Does anyone really think Julio Lugo is a good enough reason to keep this guy in the minors?
--John Olerud played what proved to be his last game with Pawtucket, as he was immediately called up by the Red Sox after the game to join the team in time for the Yankees series, where he should give the ineffective Kevin Millar a much-needed reprieve. It was nice to see such an accomplished major-leaguer in a AAA game. Olerud, in typical patient fashion, walked and scored in three at-bats.
--Thanks to Upton’s heroics and Meredith’s utter wildness, the Bulls won 6-4—and I got to see the big bull smoke and seethe his red-eyed fury one last time. And, frankly, is there any sound in sports more intimidating than the furious grunting of a charging bull?