DBAP/ DURHAM—Yesterday I was wondering whether the Durham Bulls had guts. Let me direct you to the top of the ninth inning of the Bulls' exciting 4-3 win over the Gwinnett Braves last night, a huge step toward getting Durham into the post-season.
There was one out and the score was 4-3, Durham. The out was secured by left fielder Russ Canzler, who was named league MVP earlier in the day, drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth with a clutch two-out single—after striking out in his three previous at-bats—and had just raced to the retaining wall in foul territory and caught Wilkin Castillo's foul fly ball. Not a great play, by any means, but a good one, especially for a guy who takes flak for his fielding.
The next batter was the Braves' other Wilkin, the one named Ramirez. He goes around singing to himself, "With the thoughts I'd be thilkin' / I could be another Wilkin." Ramirez singled to left field off of Rob Delaney.
I am psychic. I've said it before and will have cause to say it again. This is not a boast. We are all psychic, but our minds are over-cluttered with stimuli and so we can't hear the messages that the future sends us. What I like about watching baseball games is that their deep but thrumming quiet, and their extraordinary, head-clearing equilibrium, push out all of the mental obstructions and allow you to see the future.
I thought to myself: Someone is going to make a diving catch to decide this game.
DBAP/ DURHAM—Lost in the general happiness of the Durham Bulls' Sunday doubleheader sweep of the Charlotte Knights was this nagging problem: The Bulls haven't been scoring runs. They came into last night's game against Gwinnett having scored 51 of them over their last 13 games, an average of less than four per game, which is a lower rate than Rochester's league-worst 4.01.
It got lower in last night's 2-1 loss to the Gwinnett Braves. The Bulls' lone run scored on a passed ball. The Braves pulled to within 2 1/2 games of the Bulls for the IL South Division lead with a week left in the regular season.
The evening put a damper on the Bulls' promising three-game winning streak, literally: rain fell from the middle innings through to the end of the game, which not only made it a soggy affair but probably reduced the potential crowd—10,000 strong on Sunday—to just 4,000 or so Monday night.
The rain also reduced the Bulls again, shrinking their production to just six singles. They had no hits, or even a hard-hit out, after the sixth inning, and none with runners in scoring position all night. They stranded 10 baserunners overall.
There was another ambient effect after the game. The media assembled in Durham manager Charlie Montoyo's office, as usual, for the customary five minutes of interview time, and in its midst all the power went out for a few seconds.
Hey, fans: Tonight's game is not only the last one the Bulls will play against arch-rival Gwinnett, it's the LAST HOME GAME OF THE REGULAR SEASON! If you're out-clicking here, before the jump, let that gut-kicking fact serve as an invitation to get yourself and about 10,000 of your friends out to the DBAP. The torpid Toros could use some very loud cheering, straight from the gut.
DBAP/ DURHAM—The Durham Bulls pulled off a doubleheader sweep of the Charlotte Knights yesterday, beating them 4-3 and then again, 3-0. The two victories gave them a five-game series win over Charlotte, three games to two; more importantly, the Bulls won three straight games in less than 24 hours, nearly setting the Bulls upright after an ugly four-game slump that had slowed their march toward the playoffs to a crawl.
Two wins, so Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo said it twice: "Great day, man. Great day."
Most importantly, the Bulls nudged their IL South Division lead over the Gwinnett Braves (who beat Norfolk again) to 3 1/2 games with eight left to play, reducing their so-called "magic number" to clinch the division to an almost-comfortable five games.
What an insulting phrase, "magic number." Yes, it of course refers to the "magic" that awaits teams that make the post-season—if magic is really what it is (ask the 1960 Yankees, the 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers, or best of all the 1919 White Sox). But A) you get there by playing the fiendishly hard, unforgiving, body-grinding game of baseball just about every single sweaty mundane day for five months; and B) the number itself is calculated by a very unmagical process known as math: Any combination of Bulls wins and Gwinnett losses totaling five gives the Bulls the division title.
This is not to take the romance out of it, but only to honor what Class AAA ballplayers do 144 times in a season, with a grand total of 10 days off. Yesterday's doubleheader was an especially strong reminder of the repetitive nature of the season: the Bulls and Knights played a game of baseball, took a 30-minute break to change uniforms while the grounds crew freshened up the field, and then came right back out and played another one.
Watching two games in a row helped dispel the hocus-pocus that the term "magic number" implies. The game of baseball itself is magical—methinks its very repetition is what makes it magical, along with its precision and its relentless dailiness. Wins and losses are not magic. They are the cumulative evidence of how much magic your hard work, your discipline and your patience with failure have created. If the Bulls make the playoffs—which they probably should, given the circumstances—they will have gotten there not by sleight of hand but by handwork; not by trickery, but by uprightness.
DBAP/ DURHAM—Last night, the Durham Bulls edged the Charlotte Knights, 3-2, to end a worrisome four-game losing streak. Raleigh-born Chris Archer, making his Class AAA debut, threw six solid innings of three-hit baseball to earn the win. The Gwinnett Braves beat Norfolk, so the Bulls retained their three-game division lead with 10 left to play.
I'm sure this etymology has been widely broadcast, or perhaps you already knew that the name "Irene" comes from that of a Greek goddess. Irene was the goddess of peace, and there's an adjective, irenic—"promoting peace; peaceful; pacific," as my dictionary defines it—correlated to the name. Or maybe vice versa.
Plenty of commentators must have noted that it was
irenic ironic that a destructive force majeure would bear such a name. Irene battered North Carolina yesterday, causing several deaths, copious floods and damage, and widespread power outages. Weather remains one of the only hazards human beings have not yet learned to control or ward off. There is nothing you can do but absorb the damage, lament the losses, and then recover.
DBAP/ DURHAM—During his post-game interview last night, after Charlotte clobbered the Bulls again, 10-4, Knights manager Joe McEwing said: "One thing I won't ever forget is how hard this game is."
He said that last time I interviewed him, too, way back on April 20, in virtually the exact same words: "One thing I'll never forget is how hard this game is."
I ran with that in April, and even though it's clearly a line McEwing feeds the media, I'm running with it again four months later. That's partly because I got home from the ballgame, gathered round the old Twitter, and was confronted with this tweet from the great Neko Case:
Music is too hard. Other people make it look so F-ing easy.
McEwing and Case affirmed what I'd been thinking while I watched the Bulls lose their fourth straight game: Right now, everything about the game of baseball looks really hard for them, and they compound the difficulty by making it harder on themselves.
Nine games in eight days, the Bull City Summer pilot project, or test run, is complete, capped yesterday by “the most important win of the season,” everyone agreed including manager Charlie Montoyo, Bulls’ radio broadcaster Neil Solondz, and Bull City Summer’s Adam Sobsey. Yesterday also included announcements that Bulls’ outfielder Russ Canzler won MVP of the International League and that the DBAP would host the AAA National Championship game in September 2012. Good news all around.
If/when the Bulls have playoff games this year, there will be new work by Adam and perhaps by photographers Frank Hunter and Leah Sobsey. But I’ll be in New York and photographer Kate Joyce returned to Chicago today. The 5-person team that gathered at DBAP for these nine games won’t gather again until spring 2012, either at spring training in Florida or, more likely for all of us, here.
A project I began as part of this test run, but won’t finish until next year, is a profile of Charlie Montoyo.
If you've attended a Bulls game over the last four seasons, you've seen Herman Reeder. If you are a regular at Bulls games, you might find the lean, sinewy, bearded figure of Herman Reeder as recognizable as any of the players. He is a cotton candy vendor, working one end of the stadium to the other, walking up and down the stairs of each section, carrying a pole with bags of cotton candy attached. I've been chatting with Reeder at games for the past few weeks and last night I caught up with him in between games of the double-header.
Stephenson: Where and when were you born?
Reeder: I was born in 1964 in Baltimore, Maryland, to Herman and Bertha Reeder. I'm Herman Jr.
How long have you lived down here?
Four years. I moved here with my son, his wife, and my grandchildren. My son got a job down here so we all moved. Soon after we moved I got this job. This is my fourth season doing this.
Have you worked in concessions before?
No, but in Baltimore I worked pressure washing Camden Yards after Orioles games and I also was an usher for the Baltimore Ravens, so I've been involved in sports for a long time.
Who were your favorite players for the Orioles?
Oh, man, there are so many…Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, you know, all those guys.
Yesterday, I posted this interview with Bulls head groundskeeper Scott Strickland. After last night's rain delay I interviewed Strickland again and he offered an interesting anecdote that may provide a subtle indication of the stress and uncertainty on the Bulls' pitching staff right now. Here's what he had to say:
Normally, toward the end of a rain delay, when we are pulling the tarp off, we go to the pitching coaches and we ask them how long they need to get relievers ready, or if they are keeping their starter in the game, how long the starter needs to get ready again.
Today, we were forty minutes into a rain delay. At 8:42 (pm), our pitching coach (Neil Allen) comes up to me, and usually it’s the other way around - I usually go to him, and he says, ‘What time can we get going?’ I knew that meant he had some reason behind it. So I said, ‘What time do you want to get going?’ He said he wanted to keep Sonny (starter Andy Sonnanstine) in the game to go at least two more innings, and he needed to start back up by 8:55 or else the delay would be too long for Sonny to be down and back up again. So, we had to crank it out in a hurry to get the tarp off completely. If the game is going to resume at 8:55 the field needs to be clear by 8:52 or :53 so they can have a few warm-up pitches and be ready to go by :55. We had to bust it there for a few minutes.
The hole punches by the Aerifyer that I told you about last night helped us drain the water quicker than it normally would have. It can make a big difference for the rest of the weekend if we can keep a starter in the game an inning or two longer and save bullpen arms. You could easily say that punching those holes with the Aerifyer last night saved our bullpen some pitches tonight. It’s connected, it’s absolutely connected, the groundscrew and the play on the field. Most people don’t understand that.
That’s the first time in my eight years with the Bulls that the pitching coach has initiated the conversation with a preferred time to start back the game.
Possibly more to come from Scott Strickland as the rainy weekend progresses and the Bulls need every fresh pitch they can muster to maintain their division lead.
In the fourth inning of last night’s Bulls’ 12-7 loss to the Charlotte Knights, I sat down near the right field foul pole with the DBAP’s head groundskeeper, Scott Strickland, to ask him some questions about preparations for Hurricane Irene. Strickland is only twenty-eight years old but he’s already been with the Bulls for eight years. I’ve noticed that the Bulls’ bullpen pitchers often chant “Scot-tee” when they see him walking through the seating concourse near the bullpen at the beginning of a game. After questioning Strickland about the hurricane and preparing for heavy rain I asked him about his background and aspirations.
What will you do to prepare for the storm?
Scott Strickland: The only thing we can control right now is our irrigation plan. We’ve planned our irrigation cycle for the expected rain. We won’t water the field on Friday in expectation of rains on Saturday.
Obviously we’ll tarp the field after the game Friday night and another thing we’ll do post-game Friday night is fire up our Aerifyer and punch some holes in shallow right field. The water that accumulates on top of the tarp has got to go somewhere and that’s where we’ll dump rain that accumulates on the tarp. The Aerifyer punches holes in the soil about half an inch in diameter and three inches deep, so the water will drain faster than normal. It speeds up the drying process. The hole punching allows the water to get through the sand zone faster and get to the drain lines that are eleven or twelve inches below the surface.
No matter how much it rains, we can pretty much play a game within an hour after the rain stops. The field is designed to handle a huge amount of water.
For the past 13-plus years I've been studying a nondescript five-floor brick and wood-plank walk-up in New York City's wholesale flower district that was an after-hours jazz haunt in the 1950s and '60s. The work became known as The Jazz Loft Project at the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS). Over the years we documented more than 600 people that hiked the steep, dank stairwell of the loft building. The true number was probably twice that. In my old office at CDS we maintained a dry-mounted map of the United States with pins for the birthplaces of people we documented in the loft. The pins were all over the map, including the edges to indicate international locations, and they represented all kinds of family and cultural backgrounds. The community in that loft included icons, underground figures, and ordinary people alike. Pretty soon we realized that this wasn't really a jazz story, and it wasn't just a New York story, either. There was something universal about it. The story had a full range of human activity, a literary range, framed by one building. It just so happened there was jazz there, and a feverish master photographer who documented it all.
Flash to the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 7, 2009. Labor Day. I was sitting down the left field foul line at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP). The place was packed. Kids were everywhere.