Durham Bulls Return Home For A Prospect-Studded Affair
DURHAM, N.C.—For the first time in 607 days, the Durham Bulls played a home game. And even with a crowd of just 2,737—considered a sellout because of Covid-19 restrictions—the atmosphere was as tremendous as always.
Sure, the people in the giant plastic hamster ball battle were staff members, and the scene was recorded at the nearby Durham Athletic Park and shown on the giant video board embedded in the massive blue wall in left field, but it still drew cheers nonetheless.
The usual gaggle of children wasn't there to chase mascot Wool E. Bull across the field, either, but the team made due as best it could to entertain its first audience since the end of the 2019 season.
Before their season-opening series in Memphis last week, the Bulls were at the alternate training site at Tampa Bay’s spring training home of Port Charlotte, Fla.
But on Tuesday, the players and coaches were back in Durham, where a cool spring breeze paired with a picturesque spring sunset to provide the perfect atmosphere to welcome the Bulls back after the first canceled season in minor league history.
“When (Dalton) Kelly hit that home run in the eighth, we hadn’t heard that kind of noise in a while, so it kind of caught me off-guard. It was awesome to hear it,” Durham manager Brady Williams said. “I wish we could have heard it a lot more tonight, but overall it’s great to be back playing in front of fans.”
Before Kelly’s home run, the loudest sound of the night came off the bat of a former Bull, Jacksonville outfielder Jesus Sanchez. The 23-year-old slugger was dealt from the Rays to the Marlins as part of the package for relievers Trevor Richards and Nick Anderson.
Sanchez has opened the season on fire, and on Tuesday swatted a 3-1 offering from Joe Ryan 452 feet to right-center field, where it cleared the bleachers entirely. The ball left the bat at 110 mph for his fourth home run of the year.
“He had some pop (when I managed him), but I’m not sure I’ve seen that out of him,” Williams said. “That ball went pretty far. I’m not sure that ball landed in the stands, did it? It went over the stands.”
Sanchez was just one of a collection of talented players on both teams, including Durham shortstop Wander Franco, who currently sits atop Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list. Infielder Vidal Brujan is on the list too (No. 49), as is rehabbing Marlins infielder Jazz Chisholm (No. 54), who opened the game with an opposite-field double.
First baseman Lewin Diaz, who ranks as Miami’s No. 7 prospect, and shortstop Jose Devers (No. 10) were also on the field. On the home side, Franco and Brujan were joined by infielder Taylor Walls and outfielder Josh Lowe, who rank as Tampa Bay’s No. 15 and 16 prospects.
“They’re very driven, young, talented baseball players, and that combo can be dangerous as long as they stay focused on what they’re doing,” Williams said. “They challenge each other and they keep each other in check. For a young group to do that is pretty impressive.”
Because of the Covid-19-altered schedule in 2021, which has regionalized schedules in order to minimize lengthy travel, Tuesday night’s game was the first of 36 meetings between Durham and Jacksonville. That means two supremely talented teams will meet each other three dozen times over the course of the summer.
For Durham, no game is likely to be as significant as Tuesday night, which brought the team back to its home park for the first time in far too long.
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