Chris Ivy initially thought he would apply to become an usher for the Durham Bulls while attending a job fair in 2008.
Ivy was surprised to learn the Tampa Bay Rays’ AAA affiliate needed a manual scoreboard operator.
“I saw [the scoreboard operator] job was open, and I said, ‘Wow, this is going to be a lot more interesting than being an usher,’ and I got it.
“I teased the guy got that [hired me], I used to say … ‘Did anyone else apply?’ He never would answer the question.”
The 74-year-old scoreboard keeper is now in his 16th season with the team.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Ivy said of his experience.
Ivy is one of three manual scoreboard operators in the history of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP), which has served as the home of the Durham Bulls since April 1995. The Bulls’ previous home – Durham Athletic Park – had an electronic scoreboard.
The DBAP is an homage to several major league stadiums, and its manually operated scoreboard is no exception.
The manual scoreboard is now situated in left-centerfield after being in left field for years. The Blue Monster in left field pays homage to Fenway Park’s Green Monster in Boston. Fenway and Chicago’s Wrigley Field are the only two manually operated scoreboards left in Major League Baseball.
Also, the buildings surrounding the DBAP that overlook right field are reminiscent of Baltimore’s Camden Yards. HOK Sports + Venue + Event designed the DBAP. Also, it served as the architect of Camden Yards, Jacobs Field [now Progressive Field] in Cleveland, Coors Field in Colorado along with many other new stadiums [that have] opened in the past 10 years.
“It gets me in the ballpark,” Ivy said of his scorekeeping role. “It gets me close to the action, and I actually do have a part of the action, and now I do it in front of 10,000 people.”
Ivy’s experience as a scorekeeper dates back to when he was a kid. He said he wasn’t much [of] an athlete though.
“When I was like 8 years or 9 years old, I wasn’t really that great with sports,” Ivy said. “They would have a basketball league at lunchtime, and they needed somebody … they had one of those old flip scoreboards like they had at the Smith Center in the corner.”
Ivy is a native of upstate New York. He had a 35-year career holding various positions for the Durham County Government. He finished as a social work supervisor in adult services. For the final five years of Ivy’s tenure, he also served as the scoreboard operator at the DBAP.
“I do have a substitute and [Bulls public address announcer] Tony Rigsbee will tell me, ‘Oh, I know when you’re not back there,” Ivy said.
Upside down 8s, other tales from behind the Blue Monster
Ivy explained his biggest blunder as a scorekeeper.
“When I first started, I didn’t have a phone [or] a smartphone. This was 2008,” Ivy said.
Ivy said he got a message from his earpiece.
“It says, ‘Chris, is there a reason why you have the 8s upside down?’” Ivy said. “The 8s are not the same if they’re upside down.
“I didn’t realize that I was putting them on upside down.“
Ivy said it’s tough when there is a hit and an error on the same play.
“I try not to get any texts from the pressbox,” Ivy said.
Ivy has his phone, a stool, a fan and a monitor to keep track of the action.
While a baseball has never made it through the scoreboard, he has had scoreboard numbers shattered.
“If I lose the ball off of the bat and I see the fielders coming this way, I get out of that window because I don’t want to get hit because when it hits the wall, it sounds like a shotgun blast,” Ivy said.
On June 13, 2023, in a game against the Charlotte Knights, right fielder Niko Hulsizer had a base hit that Ivy remembers fondly.
“[Hulsizer] hit the thing, [it] knocked the window out [and] knocked my frame out,” Ivy said.
Ivy said he quickly repaired the broken No. 4, for the four runs the Knights scored in the first inning of the game.
“The next day, I said, ‘I shouldn’t have fixed it,’ because it was iconic to have it broken,” Ivy said. “I should have left it like that for the whole game.”
Ivy’s digits go up to 12 and he says he’s seen an 11-run inning. He’s gotten strategic when the games go into extra innings, slipping single-digit numbers in front of one another to keep fans informed.
Alsi, Ivy said he is strategic when he uses the bathroom mid-game. He said he’ll go either between innings or when there’s a pitching change.
“I don’t drink any carbonated beverages a few hours before game time,” Ivy said.
Showing visitors behind the Blue Monster, best baseball players he’s watched
On Sunday, Ivy gave a tour to a U11 baseball team from Washington state. He said the team played in a tournament at the USA Baseball National Training Complex at Thomas Brooks Park in Cary.
“One kid said something, he goes, ‘Boring!’” Ivy said. “I just came from his perspective. He’s a player at 11 [years old].
“He said, ‘You want to watch this stuff?’ He said, ‘This is boring.’ So, I had to work that out for a few minutes [on Sunday].”
Perhaps no tour was more special for Ivy than giving his 5-year-old granddaughter Georgia a tour for the first time.
“She had her [stuffed] Wool E. Bull and you see, we’ve had some action on the scoreboard here, Ivy said. “That little window, she was putting that little [stuffed] Wool E. Bull in the window here. I got a picture of that.”
Ivy has a collection of old pennants from the ACC Baseball Tournament down through the years. He sometimes has a collection of baseballs too.
“It’s like a little museum here,” Ivy said. “I sort of collect what I can, but because of the rain, I’m limited in what I can keep back here.”
Ivy recalls seeing several Bulls players that went on to have MLB success, including shortstop Wander Franco, pitcher Chris Archer and Blake Snell, who won the 2018 American League Cy Young Award.
In June 2019, Yankees star players Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge played a game on a rehab assignment. It happened to be Ivy’s birthday.
“Stanton hit a home run that went about three stories high on this building over here,” Ivy said.
In 2012, the Rays signed outfielder Hideki Matsui in the final year of his MLB career. In May of that year, Matsui faced heralded pitcher Daisuke “Dice K” Matsuzaka, who was pitching for the Pawtucket Red Sox.
“They had never faced each other before, and the Japanese press, they didn’t have enough room for them,” Ivy said. “We had press conferences on the field every night after the game.
“It was like the Japanese ESPN did the games.”
Legacy of the Durham Bulls and the DBAP
Earlier this month, it marked 35 years since the movie release of “Bull Durham,” starring Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.
“It’s made the Bulls the most recognizable minor league team on any level, I think, but then … this is AAA and the level of baseball that we get to see is pretty amazing,” Ivy said of the movie.
Ivy said he feels like he’s a part of history.
“Just never really being much of a participant in sports, just to be here and to have this involvement with this level of baseball is just … it’s sort of like my Little League,” Ivy said.
Thanks to WRAL-TV’s Mark Bergin & WRAL-TV’s Louis Fernandez for this Capcom story & for these Capcom photos.