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.

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 lead 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...

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Bull City Birthday | Sesquicentennial

As Durham wraps us its 150th birthday observance, I reprise a springtime post from The Bulls of Durham website. Check out their blog. Publisher Sheila Amir is without peer when it comes to being bullish on Durham. 

For two decades I’ve been an inveterate promoter of the Bulls baseball club and more recently the renaissance of downtown Durham. But honestly, I hadn’t given any deep thought to the Bull City’s character. I’ve been challenged by the Bulls of Durham to unpack Durham’s uniqueness. Here’s my take... 

Our mill town motif creates a distinct sense of place. There’s an architectural ambience owing to the brick tobacco factories and warehouses spread across town. We have a smattering of office towers, but our true urban personality sits low on the horizon. It’s framed by masonry cornices and the red-orange brick of our native clay.

Speaking of personality, Durham nurtures a blue collar attitude. We talk of “Bull City grit” and “keep it dirty Durham.” It’s the soul of this 150 year old factory town that birthed the Durham Tobacconists baseball team in 1902, playing against furniture makers and textile workers from other NC mill towns. The Lucky Strike chimney and water tower at American Tobacco are emblematic of that heritage and spirit.

Attitude compliments architecture, but the contradictions are equally intriguing. The venerable warehouses are now home to academics and entrepreneurs. We are the City of Medicine, high tech and higher ed. That lunch pail mentality drives these high achievers in their discovery, disruption and innovation. 

A noteworthy aside: Durham’s lunch pail is truly exceptional. We are the South’s Tastiest Town, an accolade from Southern Living magazine. This working class town has world class victuals. 

Last but not least, Durham’s most distinguishing feature - at least by Triangle standards - is diversity. It’s dangerous for a 66 year old white guy to talk about race, but I’ll wade in... 

The City of Durham is close to evenly black/white with a significant Latinx component. (42% Caucasian, 41% African American, 14% Hispanic, 5% Asian American; 2010 US Census) This is bigger than the data points. There’s a civic ethic of tolerance and inclusion around race, gender and sexual orientation. There’s a notion that everyone is welcome, that all have a seat at the table. It’s also an expectation of the major employers and burgeoning millennial work force that have revived our downtown. For most of my years in Durham the mayor was African American, ditto for the chairman of the County Commissioners, and the CEO of the Duke health system was Chinese American. A gay man led the Chamber of Commerce. This isn’t a flash in the pan; it endures.

Durham Bulls Pride Night 2019

Durham Bulls Latino Heritage Weekend 2019

I’m not a cockeyed optimistic. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns. Folks fight to be heard and compete for resources. We rally, protest and over-react on social media. Watch out for the sharp elbow. There’s that Durham grit! But I would like to think (and pray) there’s a “force field” protecting Durham from the current wave of tribalism, nativism and racism. Durham is better than that...far better. 

It’s an honor and a privilege to be counted among the Bulls of Durham. Let’s toast our tobacco town heritage and grit. Let’s celebrate tech town innovation and inclusion. Happy 150th birthday to Durham NC!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Progress Report: Bull Durham | The Musical

Three decades after it’s theatrical release, Bull Durham has been reinvented as a musical, and it is Broadway bound. I attended a preview last month in New York City. The momentum seemed palpable. 

The producers have been stubbornly dedicated to this project. As Bull Durham’s creator Ron Shelton says in the video clip below, it’s like distilling a fine scotch. 

Of course, I am a cheerleader for this makeover! Just imagine a popular Broadway musical...the cast in Bulls’ caps and jerseys...set in Durham NC...then a nationwide tour of 30-40 cities (including our DPAC.) The movie, now considered a classic, conferred a special status on Durham and its ball club thirty years ago. The Broadway version would be a marvelous revival of that phenomenon. 

WRAL’s Bryan Mims tells the story...

We weren’t allowed to record the preview - top secret - but Bulls Production Manager Patrick Norwood talked with celebs in the audience. 

About Crash Davis: Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Torre attended the preview. He’s certainly an authority on our National Pastime, and the story resonates with him...

About Annie Savoy: Director Marc Bruni enthusiastically brings the story of an empowered female to Broadway...

The movie gave us memorable characters and quotable dialog. The Broadway show raises the bar with music and dancing. You will leave the theatre singing this soundtrack so cleverly crafted by Susan Werner. It's new territory for Bull Durham's mastermind Ron Shelton...

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Bull City Strong Day

We celebrate and honor first responders at the DBAP today. May 1st is Bull City Strong Day

The gas explosion in Durham was a tragic event on April 10th, but it could have been 20x worse if not for our courageous Bull City firefighters. As gas was silently building up, they cleared the building that was moments later blown to smithereens. Mission accomplished; mass casualties averted. 

A first responder/first pitch this morning from Durham
firefighter, Acting Captain Phillip "Speedy" Faucette. 
His Engine One, B-Shift was first on the scene when
the Duke St. building exploded April 10th.

Listening to news coverage of yesterday's campus shooting at UNC Charlotte, I’ve repeatedly heard the police described as “running toward the gun fire.” That’s a heavy concept - running toward gun fire...or clearing a building that could be filling with gas. We think of these people as brave and courageous, but there’s a transcendent aspect to this. They’re willing to put their lives on the line for the safety of others. 

We know this intuitively about the men and women serving in our military, and first responders deserve more attention and credit for their sacrificial work. The Durham One Fund is worthy of your support. 

Images from April 10th in downtown Durham,
on Duke Street and from the DBAP.