Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Making of a Miracle

I’ve done a good many construction updates on Twitter about the Durham Miracle League field, but I want to detail this odyssey that began way, way back in 2016.


The Durham Bulls Miracle League Park is nearing completion. It’s a worthy but very challenging project that’s been percolating for six years. From its inception, the Bulls and parent company Capitol Broadcasting have championed the ballpark for special needs kids.


Background/Double vision. Miracle League of the Triangle is well established in Wake County, but their board’s vision is to serve all of RDU. That meant a field in Durham. They approached Capitol for support.


And then came double vision! Capitol’s VP Michael Goodmon was determined that the field should be in downtown Durham - with proximity to the DBAP, American Tobacco Campus and the American Tobacco Trail - on a vacant lot at the corner of Blackwell Street and Morehead Ave. He envisioned a mini-DBAP with brick and steel flourishes, canopied bleachers, a replica Blue Monster and snorting bull.


The need. State of NC stats indicate that ten thousand children with physical or mental disabilities live within a fifteen minute drive of downtown Durham. The Miracle League field will provide a first class recreation option for participating families.


Great idea. Even greater challenges. There has been delay upon delay, over ancient utilities beneath the site and a complex lease process with the federal government. Then came pandemic delays. The final body blow: our contractor unexpectedly passed away and the company shut down.


Help is on the way. We did receive funding from the City of Durham for the utility work, the Durham Housing Authority threaded the needle with HUD for a lease on that vacant lot, and now a new general contractor, Bobbitt, is at the helm. Also, Miracle League of the Triangle secured a grant from the NC General Assembly, and about $2.3 million has been raised from generous corporate, foundation and individual donors.


Uphill battle. Despite the progress noted above, construction costs have skyrocketed - a 44% hike. So, we still have a funding gap. It’s like we are being held at third base when we could be sprinting to home plate. (If you are reading this, maybe you can help us slide into home? Let’s talk…  ghabel@durhambulls.com)


Lessons learned. Despite the setbacks, this project sits upon multiple pillars of inspiration: SERVICE to the Miracle League players and families. The VISION that started it. The GENEROSITY that followed. And PERSEVERANCE, something Miracle League families live out every day. 


In that spirit we carry on and aim for a fall opening of the Durham Bulls Miracle League Park.



These guys are an inspiration! Miracle League’s leadership visits the site. Left to right: Founder Tony Withers, Board member Paul Carr, Founder Robin Rose, Executive Director Benjy Capps. It’s an honor to be in their company…dedicated to the cause…passionate about Miracle League!


Construction progress, July 29, 2022, 
drone shot from Scott Strickland

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

COVID Time Capsule


May 16, 2022

Just when I think COVID is in the rear view mirror, I’m confronted by its annoying persistence - a surging variant or a jarring stat. (For comparison, heart disease claims 700K lives in the US each year. For cancer it’s 600K.) COVID’s impact on public health, child development, the economy and our national psyche is sustained and severe. 

But allow me to take this post in a more benign direction with this question:


What would you put in a time capsule from the pandemic? 


My initial response: a mask and my vaccination card. 


On second thought, there’s so much more: A photo of our granddaughter Jubilee, born in January 2020, a child of the pandemic (who will hopefully have no memory of it!) A Durham Bulls 2020 schedule card - the season lost to COVID. My phone with those vital apps Instacart and zoom, Amazon prime, all my take-out apps. What could represent on-line church, badly needed hair cuts…and all of the time I’ve spent with my wife? We’ve been married for forty-three years, but our “we time” is record setting! Throw in a rapid COVID test.



(This time capsule exercise was from last year for an evaluation of Durham’s Recovery and Renewal Task Force. The group met regularly during 2020-21, a worthy example of former Mayor Steve Schewel’s leadership.)


Time capsules are usually buried, and I wish we could bury COVID! That’s elusive, but we do have vaccines and boosters (and those freakin’ masks) to protect us. The 2022 baseball season is underway…with no delays, no restrictions. Play ball!


My Granddaughter at the DBAP May 14th.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Five-star General (of general contractors)


Our company lost a good and loyal friend last month. 

Mike Higgins

August 7, 1963 - December 19, 2021


While Mike Higgins wasn’t a CBC employee per se, he was definitely on the team, and it was a rare collaboration of close to thirty years. He was our general contractor for construction of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (1995), then the American Tobacco Campus (2004), and our current project, the Miracle League field adjacent to the DBAP.


For twenty-nine years, Mike, aka Higgins, was with Lend Lease and its predecessors McDevitt Street Bovis and Bovis Lend Lease. He built the DBAP, did its 1998 expansion for Triple-A and the Diamond View I office building. Next came the American Tobacco Campus renovation which was the largest historic renovation in the nation in the early 2000s. Two more Diamond View office buildings went up, and there was a major renovation of the DBAP in 2014.


Capitol’s CEO Jim Goodmon provided the vision, VP Mike Hill led the charge and Higgins turned vision into reality. Along the way Michael Goodmon, Mike Birling and I joined the collaboration.


Higgins brought a big and positive personality to the work. He had a big brain, too, always quick with a solution, a real problem solver. And compared to many contractors, he was pretty good with deadlines. Most of our ballpark projects were accomplished in the off-season. It was always down to the wire but the gates always opened for Opening Day.


He formed his own construction company in 2015 - Atlantic Corporate Contracting. A member of the family, his new offices were in the DBAP’s basement level. ACC built the new clubhouse for Duke University Baseball in right field, and his company is presently working on the Miracle League project.


Speaking of family, the Higgins were loyal Bulls fans. Janet, his wife, is an accomplished baker, and we enjoyed her confections and presence at the ballpark. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Janet and the family…and I offer a tip of the ball cap to our favorite hard hat, Michael Wayne Higgins.


Higgins' canvas: American Tobacco | Diamond View I, II, III
Durham Bulls Athletic Park

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Remembering Sam Huff

 

Washington Post | Obituary

Another throwback post, inspired by the passing of NFL great Sam Huff on November 13th at 87. He played - famously - for the NY Giants and Washington Redskins in the 1950s and 60s. 

 

Long before the Panthers, the Washington Football Team (formerly the Washington Redskins) was this region’s favorite team, especially in the northern tier of NC.

 

And rightfully so. From 1982 to 1991, under legendary head coach Joe Gibbs, a NC native, Washington appeared in the postseason seven times, captured four conference titles and played in four Super Bowls, wining three of them. 

 

The team’s renowned radio crew of “Sonny, Sam & Frank” - Sonny Jurgensen (from Wilmington and Duke), Sam Huff and Frank Herzog called the games.

 

Capitol Radio Networks had built a regional satellite network in the 1980s and we provided that service for the Redskins broadcasts in the late 80s/early 90s, working originally with DC flagship station WMAL and later with WTEM. We grew the network to over 100 stations in the mid-Atlantic states. 

 

The football broadcasts connected us to Sam Huff, but we got to know him through his avocation, horse racing and breeding. Sam and his partner Carol Holden operated Sporting Life Stables in northern Virginia, and Capitol assisted them with the launch of a weekly radio show called Trackside. It aired for 28 years until 2016.

 

Sam’s day job was VP with Marriott. He was a celebrity rainmaker, persuading sports teams to use their hotels. He was a great salesman - disarmingly intense!

 

I recall a dinner at the Angus Barn where I asked him to do a commercial for an advertiser. He readily agreed…for $2500. That was major money in the early 90’s. My jaw dropped. Sam smiled and simply tapped his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring. Message delivered. Value established. (Like I said, disarmingly intense.)

~  ~  ~ 

Read about Sam’s equestrian pursuits and his inspiring life that began in the WVA coal fields, a football career that included a Time magazine cover, and his later years that unfortunately ended with dementia.


Before the Panthers 1995 premier,
the Redskins had a huge following in NC

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Celebrating Our Braves Legacy


My Myrtle Beach Pelicans 

Championship rings, 1999 & 2000. 

Thank you, Brian Snitker!!!

The Sun News looks back.


The Durham Bulls have been affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays since 1998, and over two decades the Rays have won my love and loyalty. I must confess, however, to flirting with an old flame during the 2021 World Series - the Atlanta Braves. I was smitten with memories of Durham’s Single-A Braves’ affiliation in the Carolina League and Atlanta’s most glorious decade that began thirty years ago.

Capitol Broadcasting purchased the Bulls in 1991, and the parent club played in World Series that fall (losing to the Twins.) During the 90’s the Braves, under legendary skipper Bobby Cox, played in a total of five World Series. The Fall Classic in 1995 was their singular triumph.


The Bulls and Durham had an eighteen year marriage with Atlanta. Capitol was the local operator for the last seven years, then engineered the move to Triple-A in the International League with the Rays’ affiliation.


For Capitol the Braves connection didn’t end in 1997. With the blessing of the very gracious Braves’ GM John Schuerholz, we retained the Single-A franchise and moved the team to Myrtle Beach. They became the Pelicans playing in a brand new ballpark adjacent to the landmark shopping/entertainment complex Broadway at the Beach. 


Forgotten tidbits…

  • While Coastal Federal Field was under construction in 1998, Danville VA hosted the Single-A team for one season. It was named the Danville 97s, commemorating a legendary train collision. Indeed, the year in Danville was somewhat of a train wreck, but we were focused on the Pelicans’ SC premiere in the spring of 1999.
  • We originally intended to name the team Myrtle Beach Braves. I have one of the promotional caps! The logo incorporated the traditional Braves script surrounded by waves. In consultation with Atlanta we decided it would be better to develop a unique, hometown brand for the team. It was the right thing to do, but some diehard Braves fans in Myrtle Beach were (temporarily) disappointed.
  • Capitol sold the Pelicans in 2006. Affiliations have since changed; in 2011 to the Texas Rangers; in 2015 to the Chicago Cubs.

I have buried my lede in nostalgia. The motivation for this post was to celebrate Braves’ Manager Brian Snitker. I so wanted this week’s Series win for him. It was a Hollywood ending! Brian, a lifer in the Braves organization, played for the Bulls, then managed both the Bulls and Pelicans. This AP piece by Charles Odum is a story well told…with some help from Twitter:



Hearty congratulations to Brian Snitker and the Atlanta Braves!


Friday, September 18, 2020

Bravo Bonfield!


Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield retires at month’s end. His twelve year tenure in the Bull City caps a career that spanned forty-two years of local government service. He was surprised with a Zoom tribute this afternoon.

Here’s what I offered:


Thank you, Tom, for your personal support of...


The Miracle League project and recreation for special needs kids. You “got it” from the very beginning, and the City did a half million dollars in utility work to get the site ready at Morehead and Blackwell. I predict, finally, an “opening day” next spring at the new Miracle League Field in downtown Durham, and you will be an honored guest.


Creation of the Durham Sports Commission five years ago. We’ve sponsored and hosted the first marathon in Durham, a national youth track meet and the ACC baseball championships...and we’re even doing eSports tournaments during the pandemic.


Looking back, 7-8 years ago...


You worked with the Bulls on a new 30 yr lease for the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and that triggered extensive stadium renovations.


In 2009 the historic DAP was renovated, saving that facility for recreation and preserving the legacy of “Bull Durham” and baseball in Durham.


Both NC Central and Duke now play baseball in downtown Durham because of these enhanced facilities, and the Long Ball program for at-risk kids is based at the DAP.


Most everyone knows you played baseball (in the Yankees farm system.) It’s been great to have you as a fan, but more importantly, to work with you professionally. You are analytical, the straightest of straight shooters, steady, remarkably above politics and a solid administrator. You have been a leader worth following! 


Thanks for you many contributions to Durham, especially to the renaissance of our downtown. Godspeed in your retirement!  




Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Spirit of ‘76


...been thinking about the underpinnings of my patriotism this morning - the what and why of America.


I’m of that generation that started each school day pledging allegiance to the flag, and my first career as a journalist began as the nation readied for and celebrated the Bicentennial. I lived in Charlottesville for eight years where Thomas Jefferson’s presence was palpable! An enduring memory is covering citizenship naturalization ceremonies on the steps of Monticello.

While the American flag seems to have become a military symbol (almost exclusively these days) I still hear “liberty and justice for all” and I feel the Spirit of ‘76 inspired by the Declaration of Independence:


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”


For sure, our slave holding Founding Fathers were parsimonious with those unalienable rights, but their noble, compelling concept was destined to spread, foreordained for expansion.


My forbears were Germans who ran afoul of a Kaiser and indentured servants from Italy and England. In rural Virginia, they staked a claim to those rights, to some measure of liberty and to their own pursuit of happiness.


I celebrate that heritage today!


And I believe the opportunity my ancestors found here is owed to ALL Americans and to those who seek sanctuary in these United States. 


We have work yet to do...