Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A Clubbie's Spirit

One year ago Monday our forty-two year old Clubhouse Manager Colin Saunders passed away. He had been very ill, seemed to be improving, then suddenly, he was gone.

Despite fourteen years of greeting one another in the office and catacombs of the ballpark, Colin and I weren’t close. I did not post about this last March. There were no stories or insights to share. (That photo does suggest a shared bad taste in argyle vest sweaters.)

I especially regret that disconnect because a profound sadness among my coworkers settled over the ballpark. Colin was beloved by our staff and within the Rays organization. Confessor to some. Motivator to others. And chamberlain to the players and coaches. I use that archaic term to confer dignity on the Clubbie’s responsibilities and work. He pretty much lived at the ballpark. Steward to the ball players. Friend to all.

Looking back twelve months, the 2017 season had a gloomy beginning. Yet the Bulls went on to win the Governors’ Cup and Triple-A National Championship. We set business and attendance records - a remarkable year. It’s not sentimental conjecture - there's undeniable proof - Colin’s spirit was with us.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Dedicated to Durham


"I will work for Durham until the day I die!"
Cora Cole-McFadden, Civic Honor Award
Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce
Annual Meeting | February 8, 2018

Cora is one of my favorite folks. I called her "Durham dynamite" in a tweet. The former City Councilwoman and Mayor Pro Tem has a big spirit.

There's an Old Testament story about the prophets Elijah and Elisha where the latter asks "Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit." That's my request of Cora!

In accepting the Durham Chamber's Civic Honor Award last week, she implored the business community to provide internships and summer jobs for Durham youth - to expose them to the world of business, to the world of work.

Durham Public Schools and Made in Durham are putting a fresh emphasis on work-based learning. It begins simply with career awareness, but that first rung on the ladder is important, especially for our children living at the poverty level. They don't necessarily see beyond their circumstances or neighborhood. An engaging career fair, a summertime job shadow opportunity or part-time job could alter the trajectory of a young life.

The City has a YouthWork program. The Durham Bulls and Bull City Hospitality are participating. YouthWork is currently lining up several hundred summer internships. Ideally, it would be in the thousands. 

There are over ten thousand students in Durham's high schools. As the kids move from grade to grade, we need to provide a couple thousand career exposures each year for rising sophomores and juniors, and then for graduates.

That's ambitious, but scale is important. We need those big numbers to make a significant difference.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

For Auld Lang Syne, My Friends

I'm guilty of severe lollygagging when it comes to this blog. I have developed a Twitter affection, rather, a Twitter infection!

However, a tweet is inadequate for the season of our Triple-A National Championship and International League Governors' Cup. I submit - with gratitude - this New Year's post as a placeholder and worthy 2017 year-in-review:

Bulls celebrate Sept National Championship win in Scranton PA

Durham hoists the Governors' Cup x5

L/R: Mike Birling, Durham Mayor Bill Bell & NC Gov Roy Cooper

Yes, a tweet is insufficient.
...for celebrating a twenty year affiliation with the Tampa Bay Rays and over ten million tickets sold at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Other highlights for me included Hispanic Heritage Night, Bark in the Park, Durm Night, Taco Tuesdays, our first e-gaming tourney at the DBAP and the enduring national popularity of the Bulls' logo and apparel.

More on the Bulls Top Ten Moments of 2017

As 2018 begins, I'm moving into a Special Projects role at Capitol Broadcasting Co. Building the Miracle League ball field in Durham is one of my top assignments. 

Meanwhile, Bulls GM Mike Birling got the "call up." He's the new and very able VP of Baseball Operations. His cup overfloweth with the ACC Baseball Championship returning to Durham in May and the Holly Springs Salamanders, Capitol's newly acquired collegiate summer league team. And in his spare time, Mike's designing jewelry...

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Most Faithful Fan

You think you've seen a lot of baseball, that you are committed to your job, but then you encounter fans like Bobbie and Marvin Wheeler. You stand humbly in their shadow. 

As the Wheelers neared retirement they embraced the Bulls with gusto. Nearly 35 years ago. 2500 games later. Super fans! In their seats on the cross aisle behind home plate, they have been fixtures at the DBAP. Quiet celebrities. 

And we are mourning the passing of Marvin. He died Sunday. Almost made it to his 89th birthday. His funeral was Wednesday. 

Marvin was a serious gardener, and we sang "This is My Father's World" at the service. (The hymn dates back to the late 1800s, written by a minister who pitched for Syracuse University's baseball club.) Our staff contingent included seating bowls hosts, ticket reps and the stadium operations director. Wool E. Bull attended (in civilian disguise.) The ballpark family grieves. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bobbie. 

Here's a great profile on the Wheelers from 2013, part of the Bull City Summer project. A year later their photo was on display in the NC Museum of Art for the BCS exhibition. Most worthy! 

If you are a regular here you may recall their companion, Frankie Parrott. He was the blind man, at every game as well, until his passing in 2014. The Wheelers often brought him to the ballpark. Frankie sat with them and listened to the game on his radio. He was more animated than Marvin and Bobbie, and we treasured his occasional shout "Hey ump, are you blind!?!" 

A unique aspect of the sports business is this cadre of special patrons - their great longevity, loyalty and personality. Again, something to treasure.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ken the Explorer

The Durham Bulls and Fox50 sponsor an Explorer Post, a Scouting program for teens who learn video production skills. Remarkably, they produce our TV broadcasts for MeTV (50.2 OTA and channels 196/1250 on Time Warner/Spectrum), MiLB TV and our in-park television. I contend that the kids get more experience during high school than they would receive in a college communications program!

There's another aspect of our program that is "remarkable" - the adult volunteer who coordinates Post50. Ken Bland, a career SAS employee, is the founder and sustainer of our Post. He was recognized by Scouting this past Saturday with the Spurgeon Award, the highest recognition for contributions to Exploring. The President of the Southern Region Board of the Boy Scouts of America, Tom Yarboro, joined us for the presentation along with John Akerman, CEO of the Occoneechee Council.

Ken is the Cal Ripken - the Ironman - of Post50. He's at the ballpark game in/game out, as a great role model and encourager to the 75 teens in our program. He "serves without condition or restraint," an apt description I borrowed from a Bible study on servant leadership. Here's more from our 6/24 on-field ceremony:

Please direct your attention to the field for a special presentation recognizing one of our own, Ken Bland, who is receiving the William H. Spurgeon III Award given by the Boy Scouts of America. The Spurgeon Award is presented to honor an outstanding volunteer leader with the Exploring program who exemplifies the values found in the Scout Oath. Ken was selected for his tremendous impact through Explorer Post 5 chartered to WRAL and Explorer Post 50 chartered to the Durham Bulls. Explorer Post 50 and Explorer Post 5 are youth-based television broadcasting programs that provide students ages 14-20 with the opportunity to gain experience in television broadcasting. Under Ken’s leadership, WRAL’s Post 5 and the Durham Bulls' Post 50 have provided thousands of hands-on, real-world experiences for area high school and college students, which offers them a glimpse into the opportunities and challenges that exist in the field of broadcasting. Ken has been instrumental in leading the Durham Bulls' Explorer Post 50 program, while serving as an advisor and mentor to WRAL’s Explorer Post 5 program participants for 30+ years. Through his many years of dedicated service, Ken has mentored young students each summer at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, giving Minor League Baseball's most iconic franchise one of the best television broadcasts in the industry. Please join the Durham Bulls in congratulating Ken for this well-deserved recognition. Ken, thank you for your continued support and leadership to both the Explorer Post 5 and Explorer Post 50 programs.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Winkie the Force

A Lifetime Achievement Award was bestowed upon Winkie La Force last Thursday at the second annual Power of Sharing Gala. 

Winkie retired at the end of 2016 as President of Leadership Triangle. That was a fourteen year run. Before that, she was a female pioneer in the sports world. She worked for the '87 Olympic Festival here, then ran the State Games of NC, worked for the '96 Atlanta Olympics, followed by the '99 Special Olympics World Summer Games in RDU, and she helmed the Triangle's bid for the Pan Am Games in the late '90s.

The bid fizzled, but it was a meaningful lesson in Triangle-wide community engagement and regionalism. Winkie did an exemplary job of bringing everyone to the table. Biz-nonprofit-gov't leaders, the universities...everyone from medical to transit to law enforcement. Inclusive. Diverse. I remember how she enrolled the Latino community, a very progressive thing to do twenty years ago. 

I tend to think of regionalism in terms of municipal entities and political boundaries. Winkie's great strength: she sees PEOPLE...and she inspires them to work across those boundaries for the community's betterment. She's a collaborator, a convener, and yes, a task master (or task mistress.) True to her name she has been a force!
~  ~  ~  ~

A word on the Power of Sharing. What a great event! First class! Inspiring! And the credit goes to a corporate leader, Coastal Credit Union and its foundation. They organized this gala to celebrate the work of numerous non-profits, collaboration and corporate support totaling $400K.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Springtime Thanksgiving

Today is the National Day of Prayer, and that presents an opportunity to publish our Opening Day Invocation. Sam Miglarese offered the first pitch prayer this year. Sam is a Presbyterian minister and Director of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership. He's tasked with doing good in the neighborhoods surrounding the University's campus with Duke resources, expertise...and students.

With thirteen home games under our belt, I have an attitude of gratitude. The 2017 season is off to a great start, the best in the ball club's history! 

Attendance records have been broken, and the Bulls sit atop the International League standings (.720, the best % in ALL of baseball!) The cherry on top: the Atlantic Coast Conference announced that the ACC Baseball Championships will return to the DBAP for 2018 and 2019.

There's more to come! If the first two home stands were monumental, the next one will be spectacular. We resume on Monday, May 8th playing thru Mothers Day: Teacher Appreciation Week, Nurses Night, Education Day, Food trucks and craft beer, fireworks, Star Wars Night and a Mother's Day twist: Moms Run the Bases. Click here for the particulars.

We've been blessed with unusually favorable weather, enthusiastic fans and a talent-loaded team. Our front office and stadium staff are committed to entertaining (and feeding) your family. Join us at the ball yard in downtown Durham!