By Christina Nifong
N&O STAFF WRITER
DURHAM — Ahh. If only life were like a Durham Bulls game. Here, outside tall, iron gates, you wait eagerly to get in. Up in the stands, there’s not a bad seat in the house. It’s hot, to be sure, but someone else is doing the real sweating. Your hardest decision: Will it be hot dogs, burritos or barbecue? Lest you get bored, the ballpark even supplies games within the game for spectators: a race around the bases or a two-man ball whack or a dash for a foam biscuit. And in case these small contests seem too dog-eat-dog for your taste, here’s a secret: No one ever really loses.
Sure, most parent/child teams don’t knock their ball out of the park. But even the “losers” go home with T-shirts, a Durham Bulls baseball and a story to tell for years to come. Prizes for all participants! It’s a concept increasingly rare in our winner-take-all grind.
But this kinder, gentler world does play by a few of real life’s rules. Rules like: The early bird catches the worm. You see, if you want to play in an inter-innings game, you must first be chosen. And the choosing happens between 6 and 6:45 p.m. The pickers this night look high and low for the cute and conquering. Soon, they’ve spotted father-and-son team Gary and Lance Carrier, from Wake Forest.
Lance, 10, is dressed tip to toe in Bulls garb. His royal blue hat he takes off only to show designated hitter Ozzie Timmons’ autograph scribbled on the underside of its bill.
“We’d love to do that,” Gary Carrier says to Mary Kay Benton, after she describes the game. Dad will hit first, off a T-ball stand. Then Lance will try to pop the ball over the wall behind second base. “Hit it good, Dad,” Lance says excitedly. Then there’s this rule: Ask and ye shall receive. Ken and Yolanda Hare from Apex trot 5-year-old Blake up to the fan assistance booth. Blake wants to race mascot Wool E. Bull, they explain. Benton pencils Blake in and tells him he’ll hit the field after the third inning.
Which leads to: Know your competition. Blake flies from first to second to third, arms pumping, teeth gnawing lips. Just in the nick of time, he beats Wool E. to home plate. (As does everyone.) But it’s a sweet reward for Blake, who has been practicing in his back yard. He had a strategy going in: slow at first and then faster and faster. “This is serious business to him,” Yolanda Hare explains.
The final rule? Whatever you do, give it your all. Beyond second base, Gary eyes the ball on the T and practice swings twice before he hauls off and hits it, within feet of his destination. Lance tips the ball off the T at first, nervous from all the excitement. Then he recovers and gives it a solid smack. It sails over the wall. Lance runs off the field, his arms raised victorious.
The Bulls knock out the competition this night as well. Which is all a reminder of how nice it would be if life could be lived in the Durham Bulls ballpark, where everybody always wins.
Reprinted from the final August 9th edition of the News and Observer Day Section, Page E1. Copyright 2000 by The News & Observer Publishing Company.