Friday, April 04, 2014

Opening Night at the DBAP

"You know, we could stay on this mound and not have to go back to Gwinnett"
Last year, opening night at the Rogers Centre for the Blue Jays. This year, opening night at the refurbished Durham Bulls Athletic Park for the Bulls and Gwinnett Braves. Oddly enough, the number of passed balls was roughly the same, even without R.A. Dickey on the mound; Christian Bethancourt did a passable impression of J.P. Arencibia, which had him chasing baseballs all night.

The park refurbish is...very nice. Too nice, almost. There's another building stuck behind the left field wall, with a Moe's and a Which Wich at street level. If this marks the beginning of the invasion of the chains into downtown Durham, then it's a sad day indeed. Inside, all the food stands have been unified with a sort of faux-retro look, though there's a gazillion microbrews available (yay!) and at least one stand selling elk and pheasant-with-mushroom-and-spinach bratwursts (wha?). Peanut and popcorn vendors were out in full force, but the formerly ubiquitous lemonade and cotton candy and funnel cake guys were gone. And they've expanded out the second deck of the stadium for some purpose or other; didn't get up there to take a look, and to be honest, the bits I could see looked too expensive for me to be allowed anywhere near.

Nate Karns, the prize of this past offseason's trade with Washington, was the starting pitcher for the Bulls, and he promptly got his bell rung. Not a lot of hits, but plenty of runs, aided by a sloppy rundown. It was a relief when they finally lifted him for old friend Merrill Kelly. Another newcomer, former Padres reliever Brad Boxberger, did much better, with a little help from a diving catch by Justin Christian. Once he got that out, he went to work and blew the next two batters away with heavy fastballs, earning the win in the process.

Sitting in front of us were a few representatives of Fixed Gear Bike Nation, clearly at their first ballgame and clearly determined to enjoy it only ironically. One kid asked what the R-H-E on the scoreboard stood for, then ran into spelling problems during the mandatory performance of "YMCA"*. Another spent a good chunk of the night yelling at the referee. (His word, not mine.) And their friend would break out into the "My local sports team is better than your local sports team" chant, loudly, whenever he thought an attractive young lady was looking. At least they traded up their PBRs for Yvenglings. But as someone who was watching baseball before they thought it was cool, I'm so over them.

Old friend Wilson Betemit is now a member of the Bulls. He crushed a ball to right that got the home team within 1. Local product Jerry Sands is a Bull now, too, the shine worn off his prospect status by stints in the Boston and LA systems. Last year's mid-season spark plug Kevin Kiermier is back, and Mikie Matook (who has the most terrifying scoreboard headshot I've ever seen) is up from Double A. Which is a nice way of saying this is a pretty standard Bulls team, a few top prospects sprinkled in with some well-traveled AAA veterans (yes, Mike Fontenot is still around. So's Ray Almedo) and a roster built on pitching. Let the boys on the hill keep it close until the designated cagey vet - Betemit, in this case - launches one, and then let the shutdown bullpen do its thing. That seems to be the Charlie Montoya blueprint, and if it works, it works. 

So here's to another summer at the ballpark. Hopefully, with more fans who can spell.

*He kept getting his "C" backwards. Despite the evidence of thousands of people around him making the "C" the right way, he heroically insisted on doing his C, his way. Which makes him an American hero, I suppose.
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