DBAP/Durham—Before I report on last night’s game between the Durham Bulls and the Louisville Bats, I want to mention that two days ago, on May 2, the AAA Bulls drew 9356 fans to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park while their parent, the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that has won more games than any team in MLB since 2008 and is off to a strong start in 2012, drew a mere 9837 fans to Tropicana Field for a game versus the Seattle Mariners.
The impressive utility man, Will Rhymes, called up from Durham to the MLB squad on Tuesday, could have played for the same number of fans had he stayed in Durham for Wednesday’s game. But, of course, his salary and per diem would have paled.
Granted, there is a big difference in ticket prices (not to mention sprawling traffic around Tampa/St. Pete compared to Raleigh-Durham). I looked at the two team’s websites for games tonight/Friday in the respective ballparks. Here is what it costs to see these two teams play:
One box seat at Tropicana Field will cost you $255 for tonight’s game against the Oakland A’s. In Durham tonight, a similar seat will cost you $23.99. The lowest priced ticket at the Trop is $12. In Durham it’s $6.99.
Enough of that. Enough of my thought that the Rays should switch places with Bulls and the Bulls should become the MLB team while the Rays be the AAA team playing out of Port Charlotte.
Well, one last note of this type, indicating how fortunate Raleigh-Durham baseball fans are to have this relatively inexpensive and well-run AAA product here: Last October, 21 of the 25 players on the Rays playoff roster played in Durham on non-rehab assignments, the most of any team in the MLB playoffs. In other words, the product in Durham during manager Charlie Montoyo’s 5-year tenure with 5 division titles has been one of the most unique opportunities for fans in the sport of baseball: You could watch an MLB powerhouse materialize before your eyes in Durham.
The consensus among close followers of the Durham Bulls is that the 2012 version doesn't have the talent of the last four seasons. The pitching staff, which has been showing signs of life in the last week, has a chance to measure up. But the batting lineup, loaded with a slanted vault of lefty slash hitters, will remain a question mark.
At the end of 3 innings tonight the score was 3-3. It stayed there for eight innings until Neftali Soto hit a bomb to make it 4-3 in the 11th. That score stood.
Yesterday, Adam Sobsey documented the connection between Bulls manager Montoyo and Bats player Soto.
Tonight, after Soto won the game for the Bats, Bulls' manager Montoyo joked that he might call Soto's father and give him some grief about his son beating the Bulls with his bomb in the 11th.
In baseball, the greatest teams win 3 and lose 2. It's what makes the sport unique. The Bulls are beginning to show signs of playing on that level.
There are four months remaining in the season. It's not impossible the Bulls can turn it around and make the playoffs again. The potentially successful model has been on display at the DBAP the last four games. It's a model that depends on pitching, defense, and togetherness.
Montoyo mentioned it after the game: "Our pitching has given us a chance to win every game this week. Our players are playing as hard as they can. I can't ask for anything more than that. When your pitching gives you a chance to win every night, baseball is fun."
The young RHP Chris Archer started the game for the Bulls. He hit 97 mph with his fastball several times, and 96 mph several more times, all of which, I counted, out of the stretch. From his wind-up he was hitting 93-95 mph. Maybe it was a fluke, but these numbers make me think he could be a MLB closer, instead of a starter.
In the first inning, the new Bull Cole Figueroa, just promoted from AA Montgomery, made a beautiful bare-handed play on a swinging bunt to throw out Neftali Soto at first base. In the second inning he sliced a double down the right-field foul line.
A final impression I'm left with from this series with Louisville is the Bats catcher Corky Miller, who has logged 504 MLB at-bats in 199 games over 10 seasons. Today at age 36 he's playing out his career for the AAA Bats. He knows he's something of a cartoon and he's making the most of it. He's got a heavy mustached that bends like an upside-down U over his mouth. He's got long dark hair. He's got the shapeless fitness of a lifelong catcher, or a biker or a roadie for Metallica or the Drive-By Truckers. He mopes around. He broke his bat against an Archer fastball in the 3rd and took his time plodding to the dugout to get a new bat and back to the plate. Meanwhile the young Archer was playfully toss the ball up and down on the mound like a kid waiting while his father talks to a neighborhood passerby. In the 7th Miller laid down an almost perfect sacrifice bunt down the third base line that felt like the last bunt single of his career until he went foul by a few inches near the bag. By the time foul was called by the home plate ump, Miller was 120 feet down the first base line, 30 feet beyond the bag (and this takes a while, two nights before Miller was thrown out by 20 feet trying to stretch a single off the Blue Monster into a double). He walked as slowly as possible back to home. Miller is soaking up his final days in baseball. A fan yelled, "Take your time, Corky!" When Miller jumps up from his catcher's crouch and fakes throws to the bags he holds the ball over his head in a pose something like the Karate Kid's leg-and-arms-in-the-air pose before his climactic leg-kick to win a match. It's something to see. You don't see this in other levels of baseball.
The Bulls play the Bats one more time Friday night at 7:05pm. Check out RHP Alex Cobb while you can. He's worth the price of admission.