DURHAM, N.C.—Paul Kostacopoulos and his assistant coach, Scott Friedholm, walked into the renovated Durham Athletic Park, took a quick look around and proceeded to sit nowhere.
They had to venture down the third-base line to find the sunlight. With the temperature in the 40s, Kostacopoulos—formerly the coach at Maine and now Navy's head coach—had on gloves, while Friedholm had on his jacket. They were happy to have a tournament to go to, though. No teams had a 14th week scheduled at this time last year, and Navy was pleased to get a relatively warm-weather spot to play in.
Ostensibly they were scouting Iona and host North Carolina Central. Delaware State would be their first opponent later Friday evening, after the sun went down and it got really cold. Coming from Maryland, which has been hit with two massive blizzards this winter, including a 30-inch deluge of snow two weeks ago, neither man was complaining about the weather.
In fact, neither man was complaining about anything. It was Opening Day, and they were about to open their season not in the snow, but in one of baseball's most historic small ballparks.
"It's cold, but this is a great day compared to what we've had," Kostacopoulos said. "And this is very nice. We're pleasantly surprised."
He was talking about the DAP, built in the late 1930s, abandoned by the Durham Bulls in the mid-1990s for a new ballpark and left mostly vacant for more than a decade. Now, the DAP has been restored. It's not luxurious—there are few chairback seats, cozy dimensions from the dugouts to the down-the-line bullpens to the right-field fence, 290 feet away.
But it's unmistakably the DAP, the ballpark immortalized in the Kevin Costner/Susan Sarandon/Tim Robbins movie "Bull Durham." Even though the movie is older than virtually all of the players who played in it Friday, it sparkled on a sunny day, on Opening Day.
Credit Minor League Baseball for providing most of the funds and running the facility, and MILB president Pat O'Connor was on hand to throw out the first pitch. The venue will play host to approximately 100 games this year, and right now, North Carolina Central—a historically black college with a fourth-year baseball program making the move to Division I—is the primary tenant.
The opening game was fairly crisp considering the weather, the two teams and the fact it was the opener. One error. One home run. Iona won 4-2 and the coaches, the Gaels' Pat Carey and the Eagles' Dr. Henry White, chuckled when I thanked them for the clean game afterward.
Like Kostocopoulos, I was pleasantly surprised. I shouldn't have been, though. Opening Day has that way of living up to expectations.
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