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.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Nashville Songwriters return to Durham

Memorable songs - the tunes we sing in the car or shower - are associated with the superstars who recorded the music. In most cases, however, that song came from the heart and soul of a not-so-famous songwriter - a poet or wordsmith with a guitar. We will celebrate (and enjoy) that talent Friday night April 5th at DPAC as the Nashville Songwriters return to the Bull City. They have penned hits for Blake Shelton, Dierks Bentley, Miley Cyrus, Brad Paisley, Jason Aldean and Rascal Flatts.

Click on image to enlarge.

The show, a benefit concert, is organized by Durham's Jeff Outlaw and his family foundation. We signed on last year because a portion of the proceeds goes to Kidznotes, and some of the kidz have an opportunity to perform with the professionals in one of the country's leading theaters.

Consider this your invitation to join us! And check out the videos...

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Raycom's ACC Sign Off

I get a little misty eyed as Raycom "retires" from the ACC after 37 years. If you are a Tobacco Road hoops fan, Raycom telecasts are a family member. After this conference tourney in Charlotte the new ACC Network will be birthed. Bob Holliday and Jeff Gravley at WRAL stroll down memory lane with a Raycom tribute:

Story & Video from
My sports broadcasting and marketing career began with UVA's radio network in 1979 as the Ralph Sampson era commenced in Charlottesville. The company was acquired by Capitol Broadcasting, and I moved to Raleigh in February 1983 as the Wolfpack started its National Championship run. My Brentwood neighbors spray painted our street red and white. Soon thereafter Capitol sent me to Richmond, but I returned to NC in 1991 as Duke University took the NCAA title. It's wonderful to have these big sports stories among your life's historical markers. At Capitol I've had the incredibly good fortune to work with the trifecta of NC State, Duke and UVA on their radio networks and athletic department marketing.

When I was starting out four decades ago, televised games were rare, so commercial breaks were limited. (Imagine that!) In some games, we weren't able to air all of the spots we had sold! But eventually, advertising revenue won the day, and collegiate athletics was transformed into a major media enterprise. In addition to the big bucks, technology now brings us to place where a conference can have its own cable channel and practically every sport can be televised.

I do have a lament, as someone in the local broadcasting business, that all of this programming will move to cable/satellite/Internet. That's hard to swallow, and viewers will probably be surprised (or confused) when the new network premiers in August.

But we move on, and we tip our cap to Raycom. Their vision and platform transformed college sports. What's next? Further conference expansion? Games in Europe or Asia? 3D telecasts? Augmented reality? I'll be OK as long as State plays Carolina and Duke and Wake Forest, as long as the local rivalries endure...on Tobacco Road.