Durham Athletic Park
Review by Gary
Any casual baseball fan of a certain age will think of a particular Kevin Costner movie upon hearing the name Durham Bulls. The 1988 movie, “Bull Durham”, was filmed in and around Historic Durham Athletic Park, nicknamed "The DAP". The site was the home of Minor League and Negro League baseball in Durham from 1926 thru 1994, with various incarnations of the Durham Bulls resident for much of that time. DAP is currently home to the North Carolina Central Eagles and the Durham School of the Arts Bulldogs.
An original wooden stadium burned to the ground in 1939 and, in a feat of incredible effort and determination, a new concrete and steel grandstand opened just two weeks later. The current structure was competed in time for the 1940 season.
The Bulls moved to their new home, the confusingly-named Durham Bulls Athletic Park, or "DBAP", in downtown Durham just a mile away, starting with the 1995 season. The Durham Bulls acquired the operating rights from Minor League Baseball to manage The DAP in December 2011.
On the day I visited this historic venue, the Duke Homestead & Tobacco Museum was hosting a night of Vintage Base Ball featuring a doubleheader played with 1860s rules in the opener and 1869 Beadles Rules in the nightcap. A travelling team called the Hog & Hominy Picked Nine featuring players from the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball would battle the Durham Station Lucky Strikes. The umpires were Eric ‘Red’ Laudenbacher and Chris ‘Doc” Laws. Eric visited us in the stands and let us examine the vintage bat and ball that was used back in the day. Proceeds from the event supported the Duke Homestead Historical Site.
Eric was dressed in top hat and tails while the combatants were nattily attired in uniforms typical of the late 19th century. The announcers peddled snake oil liniment and Life Buoy soap while entertaining the fans with terrible puns. Period-dressed vendors sold inexpensive concessions to the appreciative crowd. Eric the Ump took center stage, calling out on-field infractions such as “No Sliding”, “No Overrunning of the Bases”, and “No Swearing”, punishable with cash fines, payable immediately to the umpire.
Durham Athletic Park is well-maintained and still in excellent condition. The metal box railings and roof beams have all been newly painted, giving the old ballpark a fresh and vibrant look. The high roof covers the entire grandstand area, which is comprised of three types of seating; individual box seats, aluminum benches with 1970s-styled individual backs and simple metal bleachers on the top rows.
A unique field-level press box sits amongst the first rows of seats behind home plate while a second, larger enclosed room is found at the top of the grandstand. The present playing field has cozy dimensions, highlighted by the short 290-foot foul pole in right field. It was a beautiful day for Base Ball as it was originally played back in the day.