Friday night at the ballpark, Durham Bulls edition

August 25, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 25, 2015

On Friday night, I went to a ballgame for the first time in about two years. I ended up getting quite a show.

By happenstance, I bought tickets for myself and my friend D— that placed us in section 120 of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. I’d never sat in that part of the stadium, but it turns out to be right behind the Bulls bullpen. D— and I sat three rows behind the Durham relievers. We could see them stretch, start to warm up and chat with fans.

Durham Bulls relievers Kirby Yates and Parker Markel

Durham Bulls relievers Kirby Yates and Parker Markel sit in the home team’s bullpen at Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) during an extra-innings Minor League Baseball game on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, against the Toledo Mud Hens in Durham, N.C.

A very cute little girl, perhaps 5, was sitting immediately beside one end of the bullpen bench, which for the home team is mostly surrounded by a small concrete enclosure. (The visitors’ dugout is just a bench or two.) This girl talked regularly with the players. One of the pitchers had fun surreptitiously switching hats with a little boy who was sitting just behind the dugout.

A man sitting a row or two behind me wound up moving his seat next to a boy, maybe 10 years old, who wanted to learn how to keep score. I heard this fellow say that he worked for ESPN.

A couple with another boy, perhaps 12, sat directly behind D— and I. The kid was badly embarrassed by his mother when she started complaining about two women who had apparently been standing up and blocking her view of home plate repeatedly.

Later in the game — much later — the two were discussing the home team’s mascot, Wool E. Bull. This amused me because the boy kept on saying the mascot’s first name as “Willy” and the mom kept on correcting him, but he didn’t catch on to the distinction between the two names.

(Yes, I’m easily amused.)

The weather was perfect that evening. It was hot enough at first pitch that I had been sweating when I walked in the sun, but the temperature was otherwise comfortable. And as the innings passed, it cooled down just a touch — enough so that I felt great, not enough that I wished I’d brought a sweatshirt with me.

Oh, yeah — there was a game, too!

In fact, there were nearly two games. But I’ll get to that.

In the bottom of the first inning, leadoff batter Boog Powell singled. After a groundout by Mikie Mahtook, Taylor Motter walked. Powell and Motter each advanced a base thanks to a balk by Toledo’s starting pitcher, Luis Cessa.

With the home squad nicely set up for a big inning, first baseman Richie Shaffer opened the scoring with a two-run double. Left-fielder Joey Butler, batting from the five-hole, then socked a home run over the right-field fence to give the Bulls a 4-0 lead.

The Mud Hens got one back in the top of the second when third-baseman Jefry Marte led off with a double. Catcher Manny Pina singled him home two batters later, leaving the Bulls with a 4-1 advantage.

That’s where things stood until the home fifth, when Shaffer — who would go 3-6 on the night with three runs batted in and three runs scored — homered to center. With the Bulls leading the Mud Hens, 5-1, things seemed to be well in hand for the local nine.

That didn’t turn out to be case, however. Starter Scott Diamond faltered, allowing a walk and two hits. Marte and Pina each knocked home two runs with base hits, which left the score tied, 5-5. Diamond was pulled one batter later, after eliciting an outfield fly ball for the second out, and reliever Andrew Bellatti got a strikeout to finish the inning.

The Mud Hens took the lead the following inning. An Alexi Casillas single followed by a Steven Moya double put Toledo ahead, 6-5.

After going five innings with just one hit — Shaffer’s solo dinger in the fifth frame — the Bulls finally broke through in the eighth inning. With one out, Shaffer doubled against Toledo reliever Joe Mantiply. The Hens inserted Rafael Dolis, but Butler greeted him rudely by singling, which put men at the corners. Shortstop Nick Franklin then tied the game with a sacrifice fly to center.


Durham Bulls reliever and spectators don their rally caps.

A Durham Bulls relief pitcher and two spectators in Section 120 don their rally caps during an extra-innings Minor League Baseball game against the Toledo Mud Hens at Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, in Durham, N.C.

The next few frames were all one-two-three affairs for visiting and home team alike, although there was one base runner. With one out in the 10th inning, Motter walked. But the rally was quashed by a strike-’im-out/throw-’im-out double play: As reliever Warwick Saupold struck out Shaffer, Pina connected with second baseman Josh Wilson to thwart Motter’s stolen-base attempt.

The game ground on without a serious scoring threat, but things got heated in the 13th. Pina singled and was replaced by a pinch runner, Trayvon Robinson, who moved to second on a bunt. Wilson then hit a fly ball to right field. Mahtook caught it and made a great throw to third baseman Jake Elmore to retire Robinson on an extremely rare 9, 9-5 double play.

Scoreboard in the 13th inning of a game at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP)

The left-field scoreboard in the middle of the 13th inning at Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) during a Minor League Baseball game between the Toledo Mud Hens and the Durham Bulls on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015.

In the bottom half, the Bulls loaded the bases on a Franklin double and consecutive walks by Elmore and catcher Luke Maile. But with two outs, Powell hit a weak grounder that third baseman Marte relayed to substitute catcher Miguel Gonzalez in time to retire Franklin at the plate. We went to the 14th inning with the score still knotted, 6-6.

First-year Bulls manager Jared Sandberg, who at 37 is the youngest manager in Triple-A baseball, made some moves to alleviate the stress on his depleted bullpen. (Each manager used six pitchers.) Elmore moved from third base to the mound; Motter, from second to third; and Ryan Brett was substituted for the designated hitter in order to man second base. The moves worked like a charm, and Elmore retired the Mud Hens in order.

Jeff Ferrell came on in relief for Toledo but allowed a Mahtook double to left. Ferrell elicited two outfield fly balls, but Franklin knocked Mahtook home with a game-ended double that secured a 7-6 win for Durham.

Durham Bulls players celebrate a 14-inning victory at DBAP!

Durham Bulls players celebrate in the outfield after securing a 7-6 victory over the Toledo Mud Hens in a 14-inning Minor League Baseball game at the Durham Balls Athletic Park (DBAP) in Durham, N.C., on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015.


Durham Bulls players celebrate a 14-inning victory at DBAP!

Durham Bulls players celebrate after securing a 7-6 victory over the Toledo Mud Hens in a 14-inning Minor League Baseball game at the Durham Balls Athletic Park (DBAP) in Durham, N.C., on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015.

About 10 minutes later, around 11:40 p.m., the fireworks show began.

After that, I snagged a couple of discounted shirts in the ballpark store. With the $5 voucher that automatically came with my ticket, I paid less than 20 bucks, tax included.

All in all, it was quite a nice evening.

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