The following is an excerpt from "The Bulls of Durham" living history book.
In Durham’s signature defiance of societal norms, the city houses a magic place where everyone gets along regardless of their size, gender, religion, skin color, sexual identity, or any other part of their existence. Within the 108.3 square miles of the city, there is one place where everyone is happy, loving and wearing matching outfits.
Not only is everyone rooting for the home team - everyone IS the home team. And the team wins every time they play, even if they lose, because Durham. This sacred space is known as the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP).
This goes all the way back to the 1840's which is when the first recorded baseball games in Durham took place, albeit not in the same location. This is before Bartlett Durham had purchased his acreage and cursed the corner just down the way from DBAP. As farmers brought their tobacco in for auction, opportunistic entrepreneurs found ways to care for and entertain the recently-paid farmers.
Once the farmers had collected their auction payments, they had time to enjoy life for a spell before heading back to the farms to start the exhausting process of growing the 13-month crop. By the 1840's, the Pinhook area was in full swing providing all the carousing a farmer could handle and perhaps a bit more. Baseball was a natural and more family friendly, extension of the entertainment line up. Baseball teams began to crop up and provide perfect entertainment on those hot summer nights. A simple pastime to bring the community together. Some things don’t change.
The Durham Bulls didn’t make their debut until April 24th, 1902. They did so as the Durham Tobacconists on the baseball field at Trinity College against the college’s baseball team. Trinity University became Duke University in 1924 after a generous donation from James Buchanan Duke, as part of the expansive Duke Endowment. To this day the Durham Bulls and Duke University unofficially start their baseball seasons squaring off against one another.
As with all things Durham, even the name Durham Bulls has two sides to it. For all the meticulous stats and record keeping of baseball, there is debate as to whether the Durham Bulls started out as the Durham Tobacconists, the Durham Bulls or, because this is Durham, both. There are records of a Durham Bulls baseball team in 1902, and there are records of the Tobacconists.
Maybe there was a name change mid-season or before the team took the field or maybe they really were both. Nomenclature woes and duality are common Bull City themes. What is known is that the team took an 11-year break between its first and second seasons. Plenty of time to sort out the name. The team’s gap years were filled in by city leagues entertaining the masses.
By the time the team took the field again on April 24, 1913, they were officially the Durham Bulls. On July 26, 1926 the Bulls began playing on the new sacred ground of El Toro Park. Play was kicked off by Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first Commissioner of Baseball, riding onto the field on a real bull. It must have gone well, or at least not horrible because he didn’t die.
The City of Durham bought El Toro Park and renamed it Durham Athletic Park after the 1933 baseball season had concluded. They say the reason the Durham Bulls weren’t able to play for the next two years was not due to a curse on the team, but rather to the Great Depression. That seems plausible.
The Bulls switched leagues and ownership many times by the time the original Durham Athletic Park burned down on June 17, 1939, hours after the Bulls lost a game there. Peculiar timing. Two weeks later the Bulls took to the field again in a functional Durham Athletic Park that boasted concrete and metal bleachers instead of wood.
Outside of Durham, the quick rehab is viewed as a miracle. Inside Durham, it’s no thing. The Bulls beat the Charlotte Hornets in that game. A fully rebuilt field was completed by April 1940, just in time for the Bulls to start their season.
From there the Bulls switched ownership and affiliation, A LOT. There was even this stint of time from 1967 to 1980, during the fall and reckoning of the Bull City, that the team left Durham. For a portion of that time, they merged with a Raleigh team. The dreaded term ‘Raleigh-Durham’ went in front of the team’s name. They were the Raleigh-Durham Mets and then the Raleigh-Durham Phillies and then the Raleigh-Durham Triangles.
In 1972, the team disbanded like travelers going their separate ways at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Raleigh’s team was over forever, and the Bulls didn’t retake the field again until 1980. Thankfully they took to the Durham Athletic Park field as the Durham Bulls. Then came the 1988 hit Bull Durham and everyone forgot those bleak years.
The energy was contagious, and the Bulls were now one hell of a commodity. In 1991, the Bulls were purchased by Capitol Broadcasting Company (CBC). Durhamites weren’t suffering another go at a Raleigh-Durham team and refused to let their team go.
Acclaimed architect Phil Freelon and his firm designed a new stadium. That stadium opened in 1995, inclusive of the famed Hit-Bull-Win-Steak bull that lights up and snorts smoke when struck by a baseball. They built it. The fans came. What followed next was a modern day Renaissance. It was never just about baseball.
Discover more about the Durham Bulls' pivotal role in Durham history and so much more in "The Bulls of Durham" living history book. Hurry to get your first print edition before this rare print sells out.
The Bulls of Durham 1st Edition *Special Reserve
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Signed, first print copy of "The Bulls of Durham" living history book. Projected book launch is April 10th, 2019, Durham's 150th Anniversary. This purchase includes your book and support for the project.
"The Bulls of Durham" living history book blends Durham's rich history with stories and perspectives of our city's greats that are continuing to build upon that history. And in this way, this is the story of Durham, North Carolina through the bulls' eyes.
Learn how a city that literally started from a tobacco seed in the ashes of the Civil War grew into the best city on earth. Discover how a stolen bull brought about a history shifting, global tobacco empire; and how 150 years later that relates to a British mustard company having beef with Sheila. #NotSorry
Find out the backstory to how the now hippest, foodiest, tech-hub of the South also gave rise to the bullpen, billboards, branding and baseball cards. Delve into our city's strong Black history that proves "Do It Like Durham" isn't a passing trend and will give you a profound sense of reverence walking down Parrish Street.
Best of all, see the common thread that runs through the stories of teachers, politicians, business owners, hip-hop artists, painters, activists, historians, architects and the real Bull City OG's. Hint: it's the BULLief that in Durham anything is possiBULL.
Welcome to Durham the incrediBULL place where grit meets grace. Here all you have to have is a dream and faith the size of a tobacco seed, because well, tobacco seeds build global empires, not mustard seeds.
Project book launch date: April 10, 2019 - Durham's EXACT150th Anniversary.
Cover Art by DeCario Allen.