From The Cutting Room Floor
by Will Lingo
Working at Baseball America is almost always enjoyable--no, we're not really fans of gathering Opening Day rosters, but we do it all for you--and there are some days that are especially fun.
The time we spent at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, working on the story you'll find on Page 14, was one of those days.
It's not often that we can unleash the full resources of Baseball America to report a story live and on the scene, but with the DBAP being just a few blocks away from our corporate headquarters, it worked out this time. We wanted to give readers a look inside a typical minor league game, and we decided the combination of the Bulls--one of the best-known franchises in the minors--and being able to report it ourselves was too good to pass up.
So on April 30, a Friday night when the Bulls welcomed the Richmond Braves to town, seven reporters and two photographers were let loose on the DBAP to get an all-access look at everything that happens on game day.
We got to the park around 5 p.m. for the 7 o'clock game, and our last reporter didn't leave until 11. It was a busy night for us, and we didn't work nearly as hard as the folks who work for the Bulls, most of whom arrived before we did and left after.
The players and fans we talked to were uniformly impressed with the Bulls operation, and we came away with the same impression. You have to be pretty confident in the way things operate to allow a cadre of journalists to watch and listen to everthing--including the team's walkie-talkie network--and the Bulls did it with nary a glance over our shoulders.
From The Cutting Room Floor
We hope the results give you a taste of everything that goes on around a minor league game. But be assured, what you're getting here is only a taste. We could have filled the entire issue with our accounts of what we saw and heard. If you like what you see in print, be sure to visit BaseballAmerica.com to read a longer version of the story.
Even there, however, we can't bring you everything that happened that night. Some things were just too strange, random, or apropos of nothing to fit into the story. In the interest of bringing as much as we can to you, however, here's the Nine Innings in the Minors version of "shaking out the notebook":
• A common refrain on the walkie-talkie is "Go for Matt," after another staff member calls for Matt DeMargel, the team's director of media relations and promotions. In the press box, this has resulted in a caricature of a rodent with DeMargel's head and buck teeth, labeled simply as "Gopher Matt."
• To promote camaraderie and fitness, members of the Bulls front office wear pedometers to count their steps each day and track the overall results on a map of the United States, starting in Durham and going west. General manager Mike Birling and assistant GM Jon Bishop are the captains, and they each drafted race teams before the season started.
Head groundskeeper Jimmy Simpson was a premium pick, with good reason. In the most recent week they had tracked, he took 248,718 steps (there are about 2,000 steps in a mile), staking Bishop's team to a huge lead. "They're already to Arkansas," Birling said.
• One of the most enjoyable aspects of listening to the Bulls walkie-talkies is hearing random conversations out of context.
First voice: "How long is the line at the ATM down where you are?"
Second voice: "There's no line at all."
Third voice: "That ATM is out of order and there's no sign on it."
• The assistant clubhouse manager, a local high school student, was celebrating a birthday. When told about this as he meandered through the clubhouse during the game, righthander Dewon Brazelton was suitably impressed: "It's you birthday? Make me a damn sandwich."
• SpongeBob Squarepants is becoming a hot commodity at the DBAP. It started when the promotions crew half-jokingly played the cartoon's theme song during an Education Day game, prompting the thousands of children in attendance to sing along and scream with delight. So on the night we were there, they trotted the song out again to see how it played to a more diverse audience. The reaction was again positive, with kids again singing along.
"Christy, that was awesome!" a voice on the radio called out. Christy played the song in the middle of the fifth. Even Bulls reliever Bobby Seay was captivated, asking that the song be played whenever he was about to enter the game.
"Oh, he's Bob. I get it. Comedy," DeMargel deadpanned.
• A trio of teenagers huddled on the concourse behind the first-base dugout as the players stretched and loosened up before the game. When asked why they come to the park, Samantha, 17, said without hesitation, "The players!" as the other smiled in agreement.
Any particular player they like the best? "Definitely number four for the Braves and number 11 for the Bulls, by far they're the best looking," said Courtney, 16. In the eighth inning, however, Zoe and Trisha, both 13, had become enamored of Bulls catcher Pete LaForest. "He took his face mask off and ohh my God, he's so cute," Zoe said. "Can you announce to him that we want to meet him?"
• Marshall Merims of Durham made his way up the concourse, with his wife and children in tow, wearing a true throwback jersey, a Bulls road gray No. 5 Quinten McCracken. "It was a name that my kids enjoyed when he played," Merims said. "It was a very distinctive name that they took to--sometimes they couldn't stop saying, 'McCracken.' So that's the one I put my money on."
• And one for the books from Bulls shortstop Jorge Cantu, who started the season red-hot at the plate but apparently is always hot off the field. "Well, you know, I am not a cocky guy but I do have some friends back home. You know, girlfriends. And I pretty much have them scheduled each month," he said. "And when they're not here, there are three college campuses nearby, and I am a big fan of the college girls."