Full of Memories, Always Adapting DBAP Set to Turn 20

Durham Bulls Athletic Park

The Durham Bulls Athletic Park (photo courtesy of Will Bratton).

The Durham Bulls built it two decades ago. Today, they are still coming.

On Thursday, April 15, 2015, the Bulls will begin their 20th season of play at the famed Durham Bulls Athletic Park, a venue that has provided many memorable moments on the field and has helped revitalized the Tobacco District.

The Bulls will commemorate the anniversary all season with dozens of events, promotions and more. The players will also be involved on a daily basis as they will sport a DBAP-20 patch on their sleeves.

“The game presentation will have a distinctive DPAP-20 look,” Bulls General Manager Mike Birling said. “The club will also being doing a lot with social media to have fans look back at the greatest memories over the last 20 years.”

In February of 1988, a new baseball stadium in Durham was merely a vision in the eyes of then-Bulls owner Mike Wolff. He met with Durham city officials with the intention of hosting Triple-A baseball in the city. To that point, the Bulls had only maintained footing at the lower Class-A level.

Wolff then sold the Bulls to Capitol Broadcasting Company president Jim Goodmon in 1990. Goodmon extended Wolff’s vision and proposed that a new stadium be built near Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Eventually, the Bulls decided on the ballpark’s current location on the corner of Jackie Robinson Drive and Blackwell Street in Durham. The goal was to have the park ready for the 1994 season.

However, the project was halted by delays, including construction bids that came in $4 million over budget.

On April 6, 1995, the $16-million DBAP opened and welcomed 10,866 fans to its first game. Since then, DBAP has hosted millions of fans, with the venue’s largest single-game attendance record coming on the Fourth of July, 2013. On that date, 11,754 fans watched the Bulls knock off the Norfolk Tides – their opponent for this year’s home opener.

The stadium was designed by HOK Sport, who was also the architect for other famed venues including Camden Yards in Baltimore and Progressive Field in Cleveland.

The facility took some of its cues from other historic venues, as the 32-foot high Blue Monster and manual scoreboard in left field serves as an ode to Boston’s Fenway Park.

The Bulls added their own touch by incorporating the iconic snorting bull from the movie “Bull Durham” above the left-field wall to celebrate home runs and victories.

Even with DBAP’s reputation as one of the best facilities in all of baseball, the Bulls front office still strives to find ways to improve and give fans the best experience possible.

Durham Bulls Athletic Park

The Durham Bulls Athletic Park (photo courtesy of Will Bratton).

In 1998, the Bulls ended a 45-year association with the Class-A Carolina League and made the jump to the Triple-A International League as an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. As a result of the promotion, the Bulls expanded DBAP’s capacity to 10,000 seats.

It was also in 1998 that DBAP began to take on an even more Camden Yards-like atmosphere with the construction of the Diamond View building behind right field.

The Diamond View II building was added in left field in 2008, followed by Diamond View III in 2013.

Last year was a landmark one for DBAP as almost $20 million worth of renovations were completed during the offseason.

Fans were treated to new features that included a 28-foot by 62-foot video display board on the Blue Monster as well as new seats, expanded concessions, and a picnic area in the outfield. Also added was the PNC Triangle Club behind home plate for premium ticket holders and a new bar and concession stands in Jackie’s Landing along the first-base line.

Players got a brand-new playing surface on Goodman Field under new state-of-the-art GreenCluster halogen light fixtures.

“We feel that as great as the renovations were before last season, there were still some things we needed to complete the renovations in our minds,” Birling said.

And so fans will get even more treats this year – literally.

Bulls fans with a sweet tooth will want to visit the main concourse, where Rise Biscuits and Donuts will have a special kiosk with a sampling of their specialties regularly served from their shop on Renaissance Parkway in Durham.

Bull City Hospitality, the team’s newly owned food and beverage venture, will be fully staffed and have recruited the services of Durham Catering Company to serve fans in the PNC Triangle Club and in the DBAP’s suites as well as cater special events held at the stadium.

“It’s a perfect illustration of what we’re doing to make the fan experience better,” Bulls Director of Marketing Scott Carter said. “The timing is excellent with the anniversary, seeing that our previous concessionaire had run things since the park’s opening.”

DBAP’s anniversary celebration officially began over the winter with Bulls fans being asked to vote on the team’s Facebook page for the All-DBAP Team. For weeks, fans made their case for their favorite players to have graced the grass over the last 20 years on Goodman Field.

The relief pitcher slot was filled on March 27, with Lee Gardner earning the honor. He was joined by catcher Toby Hall, first baseman Chris Richard, second baseman Brooks Badeaux, third baseman Evan Longoria, shortstop Ben Zobrist and starting pitcher J.D. Martin in the infield. The All-DBAP outfield consisted of Carl Crawford, John Weber and Justin Ruggiano.

Charlie Montoyo, the fanchise’s all-time winningest manager who recently accepted a promotion with the Tampa Bay Rays was named the manager for the 20th Anniversary team. With Montoyo making the jump, the 15th will mark the home debut for new Bulls manager Jared Sandberg.

In recent years, DBAP has also witnessed the return of some Bulls legends. Hall of Famer Joe Morgan returned to Durham in August 2002 to have his number 18 retired by the Bulls. The Bulls retired Chipper Jones’ number 10 on Aug. 20, 2013.

“We’ll do everything we can to get the guys who have retired back here, but that’s obviously very tough to schedule,” Carter said. “It’ll be something we announce mid-season if we can feasibly make it happen.”

ESPN was welcomed to the DBAP in August 2005 for a live airing of SportsCenter that included guests such as Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.

In 2008, the star of “Bull Durham,” Kevin Costner, came to DBAP to mark the 20th anniversary of the film. Not only did he perform with his band Modern West, he saw the Bulls retire his character Crash Davis’ number 8.

DBAP has also become a fan and player favorite for college baseball and is set to host the Atlantic Coast Conference Baseball Championship through 2018.

During the 2013 ACC Championship, the stadium hosted the largest college baseball crowd in state history as 11,392 fans watched North Carolina knock off NC State in 18 innings to advance to the championship game.

On July 16, 2014, DBAP shined in the national spotlight as it hosted the 2014 Triple-A All-Star Game. The International League knocked off the Pacific Coast League 10-7. When the 2014 regular season concluded, the Bulls saw their single-season attendance record broken with 533,033 fans coming to DBAP.

Since the stadium’s opening, the Bulls have claimed 12 South Division titles, including last season’s first-place finish, and have hoisted four Governors Cups as league champions.

With a new era of Bulls baseball beginning under Sandberg in April, and the ACC Baseball Championship taking center stage in May, 2015 looks to be the start of another memorable 20 years at DBAP.

Thanks to 99.9 The Fan’s Michael Shelton & WRAL.com’s Aaron Schoonmaker for this capcom story & to Will Bratton for these capcom photos.

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