Bull City (Indian) Summer

grassy onlookers

Photo by Ivan Weiss.

As you may have noticed, it’s hot.

Summer took quite a while to get here. It started out dallying as some sort of temperate rainy season, then turned briefly, bracingly autumnal in mid-August, as though it had decided not to come at all. Finally, though, it gathered up its full humidity and heat, rounded on Durham, and draped it on us just as school started up again. The late-arriving season will be with us at least through this week’s pair of playoff games at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. High temperatures are forecast at around ninety degrees.

As long as it’s summer, it’s a Bull City Summer. That goes for both the South Division champion Durham Bulls and for us, their documentary chroniclers. This is not really a playoff preview. In past years, I’ve done thorough analyses, with head-to-head positional breakdowns and dissections of pitching matchups. Not necessary for this series. I can go ahead and furnish a preview/analysis in five sentences:

Are the Bulls going to hit, even a little? If they do, even a little, they’ll probably win the Governors’ Cup. If they don’t, they certainly won’t. Their pitching has been good, close to great, right through to the end of the season, and losing part-time closer Josh Lueke and lefty reliever Jeff Beliveau isn’t really a major blow (Juan Sandoval, the one-eyed jack-of-all-pitching trades, has returned from Double-A Montgomery, joined by power lefty Braulio Lara). But the hitting has been terribly weak and tired since the beginning of August, so powerless that the pitching, even as good as it is has been, can’t possibly be good enough to carry the Bulls to the title unless the hitting improves, even a little, just a small amount, which may be as much as it needs to improve because the pitching is so strong.

Regardless, I will be here with reports from the ballpark, and you should be there yourself. Crowds are small but rousing at playoff time, and you’ll want to join them. The Bulls are sweetening the pot — or better perhaps to say salting, greasing, and fermenting it — with a food truck feed on Wednesday and a craft beer crawl on Thursday.

That’s only two games, and then the Bulls take to the road to complete their first-round series against the Indianapolis Indians, but look for a bountiful late-summer harvest from Bull City Summer. Although the playoffs have their own attention-grabbing immediacy, I find myself looking backward these days: a long gaze into the past at the most exciting game I ever saw, which was played twenty-nine years ago Wednesday at the old Durham Athletic Park. It was a playoff game between the Bulls and the Lynchburg Mets, the apotheosis of my time as a young statistician for the Bulls back in the eighties. In Wednesday’s Paris Review Daily I’ll have a story about that game and its very unlikely hero, but that’s really only a small portion of what my research into the game has led me to find. Here’s what’s upcoming:

Tuesday: A story about (and interview with) Pete Bock, the founding General Manager of the modern-day Durham Bulls.

Wednesday: An interview with Brian Snitker, the manager of the Durham Bulls in 1984 and now the third base coach of the Atlanta Braves.

Thursday: An interview with Chip Childress, an esteemed Durham Bull from 1983-85, who scored the winning run in that great playoff game against the Lynchburg Mets (and who happened also to attend Lynchburg College). Thursday I will also have not only a report on Wednesday’s game, but also an investigation into the fascinating relationship between pitchers and catchers. Front and center in that story will be the Bulls’ J. D. Martin, who broke the team’s Triple-A record for wins in a season last month and was recently named International League Most Valuable Pitcher of the year. Martin is scheduled to start for Durham on Thursday night.

Friday: A report on Thursday night’s game. Also on Friday, just in time for the Bulls to head to Indianapolis, which will make us all dependent on the radio to follow the team’s fortunes, I’ll have an interview with Steve Pratt, who was the Bulls’ broadcaster from 1982-84, and whom I sat next to during the most exciting game I ever saw, on that unforgettable night, September fourth, twenty-nine years ago.

And if the Bulls reach the second round of the playoffs, I’ll have so much more.

Stay with us. Extra innings await.

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