Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jim Mills - Extra Innings

The Durham Bulls have a rich history dating back to 1902, but there are some gaps in the time-line. Play was suspended during World War I, the Depression and during much of the 1970s. WWI and the 30s – that makes sense – but what happened in the 70s?

Rusty Staub, Joe Morgan and Greg Luzinski played for Durham in the 1960s, but the team was on life support by the end of the decade. In 1968 the Durham and Raleigh teams merged. This early attempt at “regionalism” was a bust. The team folded in 1971 running a newspaper ad inviting its paltry fan base to “the final game in a long, disastrous, just plain awful season.” That is truth in advertising!

The baseball landscape was not a pretty picture in our region - no local baseball and the Carolina League had downsized to only four teams.

...and that brings me to Jim Mills, the former Carolina League President who passed away on November 14th at eighty-nine. He had much to do with the Bulls' renaissance.

Jim worked aggressively to expand the CL to eight teams. As part of that plan he aided and abetted the Bulls' return to Durham. Entrepreneur Miles Wolff deserves full credit for reviving the team in 1980 as a Atlanta Braves affiliate, but Jim was a behind-the-scenes force lending expertise and credibility to all aspects of the resurrection. The CL was taking in a new team, the Braves were adding a farm club and the City of Durham had to be persuaded to fix up the old Durham Athletic Park. Jim worked alongside Miles to get all of that done. Jim was his bench coach. And what an outstanding outcome: the Carolina League is considered the premier single-A league and the Bulls are the most renowned club in the minors.

Later in his career Jim worked in the Bulls' front office. He was a fixture at the DAP, and he served as consultant to Capitol Broadcasting Co. when we purchased the team in 1991. In retirement, he visited us each summer in the new ballpark, and we enjoyed his company.

Please read Jim's obituary and this news story. He's in the NC Sports Hall of Fame and NC High School Athletic Association’s HOF.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Jim's wife of sixty-three years, Flossie, and their family. He lived a full and interesting life. I'm thankful the Lord gave him extra innings!

(Jim & Flossie at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, circa 2003)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Duke ALS Clinic Hits a Home Run

The game of baseball has an unfortunate connection to the neurodegenerative disease ALS…or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis…or Lou Gehrig's disease. It claimed the life of the Yankee legend, and the disease bears his name - a dubious honor.

In the modern era, ALS afflicted NC native and Hall of Famer Jim “Catfish” Hunter who died in 1999. That brings me to another connection.

The Durham Bulls’ support the NC chapter of the ALS Association, the Jim "Catfish" Hunter Chapter, based in Raleigh. I’m on the chapter board, and we received some very good news this week.

On November 13th the ALS clinic at Duke University Medical Center was recognized as a Center of Excellence by the national ALS Assn. Congratulations to Dr. Richard Bedlack and his team. They provide care to over 300 ALS patients, and the clinic works closely with our chapter. We’re collaborating to improve care for patients in central and eastern NC. Duke, named one of America’s best hospitals in 2008 by U.S. News & World Report, has been important to that strategy.

From the ALS Assn. news release:

The ALS Association’s Jim “Catfish” Hunter Chapter in North Carolina works very closely with the clinic and has helped the clinic grow from one physician and physical therapist to include a nurse practitioner, an additional physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapists, assistive technology specialist, a neuropsychologist, respiratory therapist, equipment vendor and nurse. The team received a major boost when a full time coordinator and social worker joined the staff.

“Dr. Bedlack and his team of experts are held in high regard by so many coping with ALS and we consider it an honor to support and have a partnership with them,” said Jerry Dawson, president and CEO of the chapter. We are extremely proud of them.”

Beyond the Bull City, Dr. Bedlack and Duke have been unselfish and generous in helping the chapter establish a new clinic at Pitt County Memorial Hospital. The ribbon cutting was September 26th. Now, ALS patients in eastern NC won't have to travel to Durham for treatment.

NC has two other clinics: In Charlotte, the MDA/ALS Center at Carolinas Medical Center. In Winston-Salem, the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center’s ALS Clinic, another Center of Excellence.

ALS is a terrible disease. No known cause. No known cure. But these centers are on the frontline with compassionate care and research.

Check out the
Jim "Catfish" Hunter Chapter. We need your support!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Farewell to a Friend

We lost a dear colleague at Capitol Broadcasting this week. Ben Waters passed away Monday. He was 73. (Please read this tribute on the CBC web site.)

Ben was a corporate VP for two decades. He retired in 2003. The best of CBC’s senior executives never truly retire, and Ben was still working on various projects for the company.

For most of his career Ben was the “implementer-in-chief” for just about everything CBC did in the community. He was organizer, convener, funder and fundraiser. Jack-of-all-trades. Man for all seasons. The clich├ęs are apropos.

He was meticulous (constantly reminding our beneficiaries that Capitol is spelled with an O, not an A in that last syllable,) wise and sociable. The latter brings me to the most serious topic of “building corporate culture through golf” – Ben’s unheralded contribution to Capitol and his (slacking?) coworkers. He loved golf and used his position to spread the joy.

Every year as soon as our season ended Ben would give me a call and offer congratulations on the season, and then tell me that I need to let my staff play some golf for their hard work during the season. He would give me dates for multiple golf scrambles. Our golfers came to expect that phone call every fall.   Mike Birling, General Manager, Durham Bulls Baseball Club

I remember that Ben was very passionate about the game. He would call me every time CBC was sponsoring a foursome in a tournament. I guess he perceived me to be a “ringer,” and would invite me at every opportunity. I once joked with him that I’d never get any work done if I played in as many as these tournaments as he wanted me to. But he really loved the game, so much so that it really didn’t bother him if he was playing poorly. He just relished the opportunity to be out there. He was also very honest and a stickler for the rules. In these captain’s choice events, there are specific rules that govern how many club lengths you can move your ball to improve your lie, and I remember guys in our foursome moving their balls an inch or two beyond that limit. Ben would call them on it - and they were on his own team!    Tony Haynes, Broadcaster, Wolfpack Sports Marketing

We grieve with Martha, Kimberly and their entire family. Surely, Ben’s enjoying an adult beverage at Heaven’s 19th Hole, and we raise our glass in his honor and to his memory.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Project Homeless Connect

I want to give a “shout-out” to Edy Thompson and Lanea Foster, chief organizers of Durham’s Project Homelessness Connect. The second annual event was staged at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Sept. 25th. (Click here for pix from cbc-online.)

Edy is Director of the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness and Lanea is a Resource Specialist. I’m impressed with their passion and organizational skills. They had dozens of social service providers collaborating with hundreds of volunteers from RNs to social workers to lawyers.

This was a one-day-in-one-place event designed to connect homeless people with a broad range of services to stabilize their living conditions. The organizers wanted to use the ballpark as a drawing card to avoid the stigma of a homeless shelter. Edy initially described it as giant triage center, and that’s how they put the three acre DBAP to use.

Over 250 people took advantage of the services: employment, mental health, medical testing, dental. Some folks simply needed to make a phone call or get a bus pass. Many “street people” have pets, and they even provided veterinary services.

The Durham Bulls agreed to furnish a hot meal - not our usual hot dogs and nachos - rather a Thanksgiving style feast. So, we pulled out the white table linens and chaffing dishes for a buffet of turkey, fresh acorn squash and sweet potatoes, other veggies, fruit and dessert. That was our way of saying “you are welcome here.”

…another shout-out to Jamie Jenkins and Tammy Scott with CenterPlate for preparing the meal…to House of Raeford for the fresh turkeys, Sysco for veggies and fruit, Durham Rescue Mission for the desserts and Pepsi…to the Interfaith Food Shuttle for planning the menu and donating fresh produce from their warehouse.

Obviously, this wasn’t the Bulls regular fan base. An eight dollar baseball ticket would be a luxury for these visitors. I’m glad we could provide them with a hot meal and access to needed services. At my church we call that “radical hospitality” with inspiration from Luke 14:12-14:

“Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor...and you will be blessed.”

~ ~ ~

The Interfaith Food Shuttle reminds me that many families have been in their own personal recession long before the Wall Street meltdown. In IFS jargon, “food insecurity” is a significant problem. Jason Boone, the communications director at IFS, shared these statistics:

• 1,115,000 people (13.2% of the population) experience food insecurity in North Carolina.
• From the work we do with children who receive free or reduced school lunches, we know that in the Triangle there are 91,000 children who are food insecure.
• In Durham: 34,930 (14.9%) live in poverty. 11,565 (19.7%) children live in poverty.

So, we served about 250 people at the DBAP event in Sept. It seemed like a lot of people, but the stats reveal a much larger need, and it will only get worse as the economy weakens. Maybe you can help in some way:

Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness
Interfaith Food Shuttle