The Durham Bulls hit the road following a 9-2 loss to Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon, signaling the end of a six-game homestand but the beginning of a much longer stretch for the Bulls staff. Just how long? According to Bulls Vice President Mike Birling, the Bulls are in the midst of a 17-day, 50-game marathon.
No, the team is not playing around the clock; it only feels that way. Instead, Durham is playing host to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament beginning today, with 15 games scheduled over the next six days. This coincides with the National Club Baseball Association D1 World Series the team is hosting at their newly acquired Coastal Plain League franchise located in nearby Holly Springs. Combine those two events with the just-completed Bulls homestand, last weekend’s Division III Regional tournament in Holly Springs, and the upcoming Bulls homestand, and the number of games adds up to 50.
“We’re running around with our head cut off and spending a lot of money on the 540 tollway [between Durham and Holly Springs],” Birling said. “Once the final kid ran the bases last night, we went into full ACC mode.”
The Bulls, in fact, operate three ballparks in the region, including their renovated original home at the Durham Athletic Park which hosts N.C. Central games and other local events. Located just a few blocks from Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the DAP will remain dark during this stretch and will be used as a practice facility for ACC teams.
Birling said the Holly Springs operation remains a work in progress, with three full-time staff on hand and Bulls groundskeepers jumping in to assist as necessary. It will be all hands on deck in Durham for the ACC tournament.
Preparation for the ACC tournament began late Sunday night and early Monday morning. Before games begin today, the team had to convert their club area into an extended press room. Picnic areas had to be adjusted to accommodate radio crews. Signage throughout the ballpark had to be changed and new logos were to be painted on the field. Birling spent his Monday morning in Holly Springs then went to Durham to help oversee the transformation.
“I’m heading home now for about an hour,” Birling said at the end of the day, “then I have to be back for a VIP reception that the ACC puts on at 6:30. Then hopefully we’ll be able to get the tarp off the field tonight and then get ready for bright and early tomorrow morning.” [Editor’s note: It rained last night. A lot.]
The Bulls should get a boost at the gate due to the success of the area teams this season. North Carolina (No. 5), N.C. State (No. 10) and Duke (No. 17) rank among college baseball’s top 25 teams and qualified for the tournament, which should help attract local fans to the DBAP. In 2013, the top-seeded Tar Heels edged rival N.C. State in the tournament semifinals before 11,392 fans, a state record crowd for a collegiate baseball game.
“This is what we wanted. Our case to the ACC [for hosting the tournament] was that we wanted to be the Omaha of the ACC tournament,” Birling said, whose team beat out Charlotte and Greensboro for the right to host the event. Their agreement with the ACC expires after next year. “We wanted [the ACC] to feel that there is nowhere else that they would want to have it. Is the attendance at all the games what we would hope for? No. But I think what we have done is we’ve helped build college baseball in the Triangle.”
Likewise, Birling sees this busy stretch as part of the Bulls’ commitment to the community, which he believes goes beyond hosting ballgames at the DBAP.
“We don’t really look at ourselves as just the Durham Bulls, we try to look at ourselves and ask what can we do to help the community, what can we do to help the quality of life for people in the Triangle [region]?” Birling said. “We’re very fortunate that we control multiple venues . . . We kind of look at it, in terms of the Triangle Region, as what can we do to constantly bring different events to the stadiums that we control? And yes, that’s a lot of events.”
Back to School
Durham is not the only team to host college conference tournaments. In fact eight teams will be busy with college baseball later this week. They include: