Even though you probably have to go back to something like June of 2009 to find the last time the Bulls were more than two games out of first place, it's unwise to read too much into the team's current position. It's early in the season, a three-game deficit is basically nothing, Triple-A rosters change dramatically over the course of the year, and keep in mind the guiding principle of rooting for a minor-league baseball team: You must practice non-attachment, you must root for effort not outcome. This is Buddhist advice. Take it. Follow the nine-man path to minor-league enlightenment.
Bulls fans are a spoiled bunch, having watched their team make the playoffs for four straight seasons, and that is largely due to the perspicacity of the Tampa Bay Rays' front office, which keeps the farm system well stocked with talent. A glance at the 2010 opening-day roster was a virtual guarantee that the Bulls would be playing past Labor Day. Not necessarily so with this year's edition. It's still a good team, with very good pitching. But read on a little bit and discover some soft spots. Discover, too, why it's dangerous to draw conclusions from road games, and a partial explanation for why Triangle Offense isn't covering them this year.
However, Downs has also spent over 30 years in the television broadcast industry as an executive with ABC Sports and Univision. In 2009, he was tapped as the Executive Director of the USA Bid Committee and its ultimately unsuccessful bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
On April 4, Downs was named the first commissioner of the North American Soccer League (NASL), the second division U.S. soccer league in which the Carolina RailHawks currently compete.
Triangle Offense caught up with Downs last week during his visit to WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, prior to the RailHawks match against FC Edmonton. An affable, polished executive, Downs is equally at ease discussing the evolution of the flat back four defense in the U.S. as he is dissecting ownership and market growth potentials.
Downs spoke on a variety of topics, including his qualifications for NASL commissioner, the role of second division U.S. soccer, and promotion/relegation (a subject he brought up, not us).
DBAP/DURHAM Sometimes it does rain at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and the Bulls are going to have to wait out a very long drizzle before the finale of their four-game series against the Charlotte Knights.
The Bulls have won five of eight games on the homestand, and are looking for a good sendoff for their 11-game road trip.
Brian Baker (0-0, 3.86) will make the spot start for the Bulls tonight while the Knights will counter with Freddy Dolsi (1-1, 6.52).
After a rain delay of two hours, four minutes, the Bulls escape with a 6-5 win to end up with a tie in the four-game series.
The current series with the Charlotte Knights is tied at a win apiece after Charlotte rolled 8-3 on Wednesday afternoon to break its six-game losing streak.
A good pitchers’ duel should be looming, as lefty Alex Torres (1-0, 0.00), who was IL pitcher of the week last week, takes the hill for the Bulls against Jeff Marquez (1-1, 0.82).
The Bulls come in leading the South Division by half a game over the Gwinnett Braves.
For the second time in a row it isn’t the Bulls’ night, as the Knights take the early lead and win 6-4.
The driver—we'll call him the technician, for today's purposes—uttered an oath, by which I mean that he screamed out a curse word, and you can probably guess which one, for all the world to hear. The task he was engaged in looked simple but surely wasn't; there were numerous working parts involved in a rather intricate but evidently precarious arrangement of supplies. The technician's had-it-up-to-here reaction to the whole thing going totally wrong was a loud and forceful reminder that the things we attempt to do in the world are very often just like this: prudent systems, smartly arranged but hard to get right, that nonetheless make us crazy with frustration when they inevitably fail, usually via our own mistakes, and force us to pick up the pieces that we ourselves have assembled.
"One thing I'll never forget," said new Charlotte Knights manager Joe McEwing after his team downed the Durham Bulls, 8-3, on Wednesday afternoon, "is how hard this game is."
Carolina’s relative match dominance is tempered by the fact that FC Edmonton was on the tail end of a three-week road trip spent camped out in the southeast U.S., while the RailHawks were finishing a season-opening three-match home stand.
FC Edmonton displayed tremendous ability at building up through their midfield and maintaining possession - RailHawks’ manager Martin Rennie said Edmonton is one of the best possession teams he’s ever coached against. However, the RailHawks clearly benefited from the chance to review game footage of Edmonton’s previous matches, enabling Carolina to exploit their opponent’s weaknesses, notably a lack of quickness along their back line and deficits in size and strength compared to the stouter RailHawks.
The field was christened thus in 2007, in honor of Jim Goodmon, the President & CEO of Capital Broadcasting Company, which operates the Durham Bulls—although, through some business arrangement too complicated for a simple wage-earning book critic like me to understand (it probably involves Panama and George Soros), CBC doesn't actually own the Bulls. But that's for another post.
I bring up this name-within-a-name because one is seldom reminded of it: It's the DBAP, to all intents and purposes. Oh, there's a big lit-up sign way, way out there that says GOODMON FIELD, but it's on the brick wall that rises above the berm perhaps 30 or 40 feet beyond the outfield wall, roughly 450 feet from home plate. There's really no reason ever to look there and spot the sign, despite its size, unless you're bored or tracking the flight of an errant hawk.
Well, so, last night there was a reason to look there, and it was provided to us by Justin Ruggiano. In the bottom of the second inning, Ruggiano stepped to the plate with Durham already leading, 2-0, against the timid, shaky and ultimately overwhelmed Charlotte starter, Gaby Hernandez, who had walked Ruggiano the inning prior. This time up, Ruggiano looked at the first pitch Hernandez threw him, deemed it acceptable, and hit it to the Goodmon Field sign. Not to the grass berm in front of the Goodmon Field sign. Not underneath the words GOODMON FIELD. Off the brick wall. Next to the N in Goodmon. Which is above the word "FIELD." Like this:
A prodigious blast, even more so than the one he hit onto the second rooftop of Tobacco Road Cafe on Monday.
Three innings later, Ruggiano hit another homer, this one maybe a measly 400 feet.
For fun, he added two singles after that.
Alex Cobb fought some control issues to push through five effective innings, and Maulin Roodge and the Bulls put the Charlotte Knights through the mouli (if this were an away game, they'd have been run through the Fort Mill, ha ha), winning 9-1.
After a season of firsts for the Hurricanes franchise this season, Jeff Skinner may yet add another: rookie of the year.
The Calder winner will be announced during the 2011 NHL Awards ceremony at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas on June 22. No Carolina Hurricane has even won the award.
None of the three nominees is a prohibitive favorite, but Skinner appears to have a slight edge over Couture, who was the popular preseason pick by the hockey media. Skinner led all rookies in points with 63, had the second-most assists with 32, and third-most goals with 31. He became the youngest All-Star in league history when he was named to the game's roster before the January festivities in Raleigh. Skinner also became the seventh-youngest player ever to notch a 30-goal season when he beat Detroit's Jimmy Howard with a wraparound goal on April 6.
Couture was second in rookie scoring (32g, 24a, 56p) with Grabner third in points but first in goals (34g, 18a, 52p).
The first home run was a long, third-inning solo blast off of Braves starter Mike Minor, which landed on the second terrace of Tobacco Road Cafe. A total bomb. That homer should have been enough to give Dirk Hayhurst, the Bulls' starter, a 1-0 shutout win, on which he collaborated—over the game's regulation nine innings—with two relievers. Hayhurst had a perfect game going through 5 1/3 innings (!), earning a well-deserved round of applause when a double by the Braves' Shawn Bowman broke it up with one out in the sixth. Hayhurst got Wilkin Castillo to fly out for the second out of the inning, with Bowman advancing to third, and then induced an easy ground ball to second base by Jordan Schaefer. Omar Luna gobbled it up—and then made a terrible, terrible, cover-your-eyes, Little-League, 30-foot throw to first base. It seemed as if the ball had gotten stuck in his hand as he tried to release it. It went almost straight down, it seemed, bounced at Leslie Anderson's feet at first base and Anderson couldn't handle it. Bowman scored to make it 1-1.
It stayed that way until Ruggiano's three-run game-ender, about two hours later, off of Gwinnett reliever Anthony Varvaro.
Every baseball game—every pitch, every pause of every baseball game—is complicated. There's positioning, guesswork, foxing and outfoxing, plans and foiled plans, luck and chance. And yet there are games, like Monday's, when all the ambient noise is quieted by individual, irreproachable excellence. Dirk Hayhurst was superb, and the three relievers that followed him were nearly as good. The Durham lineup kept threatening and failing—another dismal day with runners in scoring position—but the Roodge succeeded heroically, decisively, sweepingly. It seemed just about right that, half an our after the game ended, he still hadn't emerged from the clubhouse to be interviewed. What did he need to tell us that his bat hadn't?
Nothing—but I've got plenty to say anyway, as usual, after the jump.
In response, the Durham Bulls are announcing this morning that, for every new Facebook fan they tally between now and the end of the current homestand—that is, through Friday—they'll donate a dollar to the Red Cross disaster relief fund for North Carolina. If you're reading this and you're on Facebook, you should probably already be a Durham Bulls Facebook fan. But if you're not, go here. If you are, get someone you know to do it. This is an easy one, the equivalent of a ball placed on a tee. It won't cost you anything to help except the few seconds it takes to click a mouse a few times.
Last night's game, as it happens, was a disaster for the locals, too. What had the makings of a typically tense, close affair between the Bulls and the Gwinnett Braves, which seesawed in the fourth and fifth innings, turned into devastation by the Braves in a single inning against reliever Paul Phillips. Phillips allowed the first 10 batters he faced to reach base in a catastrophic inning, and every single one of them scored. A 6-5 Bulls lead became a 15-6 Gwinnett lead, and by the eighth inning, Durham catcher Craig Albernaz moved to the other side of the battery, pitching the last six outs to conserve an already overtaxed bullpen. The final score was 18-7. The Bulls had allowed 17 runs in the previous eight games combined.
Details after the jump.