Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tinker Parnell: "Gotta have baseball."

The Durham Bulls lost their number one devotee last week when Thomas “Tinker” Parnell passed away at seventy-two. (He would not be pleased with devotee, but I needed something stronger than fan to capture his dedication to the ball club.)

I’m assuming he held the record for Bulls games attended by a fan. His father began bringing him to the old Durham Athletic Park when he was ten years old.

Tinker got a mention in Paul Hemphill’s The Heart of the Game. The author noted that he had his nameplate on the aluminum bleachers behind first base and was there in his Bulls cap and shorts and sneakers every night, greeting the players by name as they came out of the clubhouse to the dugout, giving the umpires hell, chain-smoking Winstons, wiping his face with a towel as the proceedings heated up, helping his grandchildren get autographs…

The “Gotta have baseball” line comes from a 1993 Duke Chronicle story. He was quoted in numerous publications as reporters penned features on the charm of the venerable DAP. Tinker was a venerated authority on the Bulls, and he always had a story to share.

In his more senior years at the new ballpark, he was a fixture in our lobby. It was sort of his personal clubhouse. Tinker’s the only fan who had access to our offices. The receptionist would send him back to our break room for a Pepsi, and he would check-up on the front office staff.

At his funeral Sunday the Pastor shared this stat and insight: "Tinker only missed two games at the old ballpark. One was for the birth of his son, and he regretted missing that one. I guess it was a really good game."

Tinker on video in 1994, interviewed for Ghosts in the Ballpark,
a tribute to the Durham Athletic Park

Thanks to Bulls Assistant GM Jon Bishop for photos and memories.