Category Archives: Durham Bulls

Baseball Movies Spark Long Gone Memories and Show What Can be Right in the World

I like baseball.

I like movies.

I like movies about baseball.

Anyone who has read my writing through the years, or has spoken with me in person, will also know that in addition to liking movies about baseball, I enjoy quoting baseball movies. Classmates during my M.S. in Sports Management Program were often subjected to quotes from Bull Durham and Field of Dreams as I tried to make a compelling argument about whatever the issue of the day was in school that particular week.

In the same way, in my column writing over the past three decades I have often found occasion to drop a quote or reference from one of my favorite baseball movies to make a certain point of emphasis. I definitely do not lollygag when it comes to finding ways to drop in a Bull Durham reference.

Over the past three decades I have often found occasion to drop a quote or reference from one of my favorite baseball movies to make a certain point of emphasis. I definitely do not lollygag when it comes to finding ways to drop in a Bull Durham reference.

In addition to quoting baseball movies, for years I have compiled a list of what I feel are the Top 10 Baseball movies and count them down leading up to opening day.

With the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, and the year in general not being like anything that we have seen before thanks to a global COVID-19 pandemic, coin shortages, murder hornets, and sports in bubbles, among other things, it seems only fitting that I would discover a new baseball movie 33 years after it first came out. That movie is Long Gone.

Long Gone, is a 1987 made-for-TV film, based on a 1979 book about a minor league ball club in the Florida panhandle. The film is set in 1957 and aired on HBO. The cast includes William Petersen, Dermot Mulroney, Virginia Madsen, and Teller of Penn and Teller fame.

The movie tells the story of the Tampico Stogies, a team competing in the Alabama-Florida League, battling the odds, and segregation, in an effort to be better than they deserve. The movie also shows players as human beings dealing with real-world problems instead of as larger than life saints incapable of human follies and desires.

If the story of a rag tag bunch of Minor League ballplayers in the south sounds familiar, it should. A little over a year after Long Gone debuted on HBO, 13 months to be exact, a little film called Bull Durham hit the cinematic landscape; and the rest as they say was history.

The late eighties and early nineties are referred to by some as the golden age of the baseball movie based on the number of baseball movies to debut during that time. In fact, four of the Top 10 movies on my yearly countdown were filmed from 1988 to 1989. Those movies were, Bull Durham (1988), Eight Men Out (1988), Major League (1989) and Field of Dreams (1989). By coming out in 1987 it can be argued that Long Gone kicked off the end of the decade baseball movie trend in the late eighties.

Since the movie was filmed as a made for TV movie during a time before streaming services and DVD releases, finding it on DVD or Netflix can be difficult. Thankfully, I found the movie on You Tube and watched it the other day.

While watching the movie, part of me thought I had seen it before as certain scenes were familiar. Other parts of me thought that I had not seen the movie and was mistaking it for something else.

Regardless of whether I had or had not seen the movie before, the fact remains that it is a delightful time capsule of a forgotten era of Minor League Baseball and shows a side of baseball that helped the game become America’s Pastime.

Or to quote Walt Whitman about baseball, “It’s our game . . . it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly as our Constitution’s laws.”

The love affair with baseball has certainly soured over the years as other sports have grabbed hold of a sports population with short attention spans who want games that move quickly and entertain them with shiny baubles and artisanal beer at the Ballpark.

While I certainly enjoy my share of shiny objects, I have noted for years that part of baseball’s allure is the fact that it does not have a play clock and anything can happen on any given night. The unpredictability of the game and the desire to remember a past era is probably why I prefer Minor League Baseball (MiLB) over MLB.

The 2020 MiLB season was cancelled due to COVID-19. If the powers that be get their way in 2021 MiLB as it has been known for over a century is likely to be radically altered. Some affiliated clubs will likely be contracted. The very league structure of MiLB itself could fall under the umbrella of MLB and cease being an independently governed league. I will mourn deeply for minor league ball should it just become another arm of the multi tentacled MLB.

Independent league baseball is likely to flourish if major changes are made to affiliated MiLB. Thankfully the Sugar Land Skeeters are close enough for me to go see. So I will still have baseball to watch in person once the games resume next year, or whenever a COVID-19 vaccine allows normal operations of life to resume on a large scale.

Independent league baseball is likely to flourish if major changes are made to affiliated MiLB Ballclubs in 2021. Thankfully the Sugar Land Skeeters and Swatson are close enough for me to go see.
Photo R. Anderson

In the meantime while we await the day where Ballparks will once again come to life with the sounds, tastes, and smells of the game, cinematic baseball movies like Long Gone and Bull Durham show all that baseball can be if people just get out of the way and let the players play. Too much micromanaging of the game to suit the artisanal crowd could impact the game in negative ways that cannot be undone. We are seeing a little of that in some of the changes that have been rolled out the last couple of seasons in MLB.

On a personal note, Long Gone was filmed at historic McKechnie Field, located in Bradenton, Florida which serves as the Spring Training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, as well as the home of a Class A Florida State League team.

I mention this fact because for years my grandmother who lived in Bradenton Beach, FL wanted to take me to see a game at the Ballpark. Sadly, she died before we ever made that goal a reality. However, I am forever thankful to have watched games with her at Tinker Field in Orlando, FL and for the part she played along with my mom and other grandmother in instilling within me a love of the game of baseball.

I still hope to make it to Bradenton one of these days for a game at what is now known as Lecom Park. Although my grandmother, Mom Mom, will not be there in person, I know she will be there in spirit if I do make it to the Ballpark.

Baseball is a sport where memories can be made and promises can be kept. It is a simple game at heart. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. Sometimes it rains, and sometimes you watch a movie that reminds you of your grandmother.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a 2021 trip to Bradenton to plan.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Asking the Hard-Hitting Questions About Bobbleheads in a Ballpark

Here at the gigaplex news desk we like to tackle the big issues from time to time in honor of our days as a hard-hitting news reporter pounding the pavement in search of a scoop.

We do this, because ink runs through our veins, in addition to doing it in order to keep those journalistic skills sharpened in case this whole sports thing falls apart, and it is back to days of covering school board meetings, investigating pet crematoriums, and interviewing families living on lead tainted land.

There are so many stories to be told if one just stops to listen, and asks the right questions to get the answers that need to see the light of day. Good journalism brings those stories to the masses.

So, it is in that spirit of hard-hitting investigative journalism that we find ourselves asking the question that is no doubt on everyone’s mind. If a bobblehead falls in an empty ballpark, and no one is there to see it,  does its head go up and down?

In warehouses and store rooms around the world there are boxed bobbleheads waiting for a chance to be given away once fans return to Ballparks.
Photo R. Anderson

I mean, the simple answer is that if you ask the bobblehead, they will no doubt say yes. This should not come as a surprise to anyone, since literally the only answer a bobblehead can give to any question is yes. Because, you know, the whole fact that they are a bobblehead whose one job in the entire world is to nod up and down.

Of course, wearing our hard news hat, we were not going to just take a bobblehead at their world. I mean can you really trust a yes bobble? At least a Magic Eight Ball has the decency to tell you, “Reply hazy, try again,” if it is not ready to answer a question without just always answering in the affirmative.

So, once it was determined that a bobblehead could not be trusted to answer truthfully, the investigative issue became how best to get to the bottom of answering this bobbleheaded conundrum that has no doubt caused numerous philosophers to at least give it a minor bit of thought.

We could be sitting on a huge conspiracy theory, that is about to blow the head bobbing lid off of the entire thing. Either that or we could just be sitting on a big pile of cardboard boxes.

Perhaps that is why Major League Baseball is still at an impasse related to whether to start the season. People were getting too close to the truth and they needed more time to hide the answer along with the Illuminbobbleati.

The question on everyone’s mind is what did the bobblehead know and when did he know it?
Photo R. Anderson

(Mental note, stop binging X-Files into the wee hours of the morning, it is making you paranoid. Who said that?)

Just think about it. Right now, Ballparks across the country are likely filled with boxes of bobbleheads that were set to be given away to fans during games this year. With no fans, and no games so far, the bobbleheads are just sitting in a store room in the bowels of a promotions closet haphazardly stacked there by an intern who quite possibly can’t believe that they are getting college credit to stack boxes of bobbleheads.

Of course, it is also possible that thanks to the impacts on international shipping, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, that the nation’s 2020 bobblehead inventory is sitting in a warehouse somewhere in China, and that the intern never had the chance to stack them in that aforementioned promotions closet. After all, the gloves I ordered from China three months ago still have not arrived, so there is definitely some shipping delays on the slow boats from China.

What really goes on inside a bobblehead’s box when no one is there to see it?
Photo R. Anderson

In the big picture, with no games and no fans in the Ballpark, it does not really matter whether the bobbleheads are stateside, or still in their country of origin since they won’t be getting passed out any time soon.

So, with this new wrinkle of the nation’s supply of bobbleheads potentially being trapped overseas, we sought to go right to the source and really explore the issue with the full resources of our entire Action News Team of one.

We then realized that international travel is kind of hit and miss right now, so, flying to China to witness how the bobbleheads are made was probably not the best thing to do.

So, with travel to China ruled out, we did the next best thing and asked Google how bobbleheads were made in an attempt to see whether something in that process would tell us whether they would indeed bobble after a fall in an empty ballpark. Google basically told us that the most common bobbleheads are made from resin and plastic and that they involve a spring.

Dodger Stadium has an impressive display of bobbleheads but it is still unknown whether a bobblehead falling in an empty Ballpark nods its head up and down.
Photo R. Anderson

I am not sure what additional details I was expecting Google to have given me, but the response was entirely underwhelming. I mean I can look at a bobblehead and know that it is resin and plastic with a spring. Worst of all, now my browser and Gmail are clogged with ads telling me about the bobbleheads I can buy, and I am no closer to answering the question that started this all.

On a side note, if anyone is interested in commemorating the Spring/Summer/Fall/Winter of COVID-19 I did learn that they can order bobbleheads of infectious diseases experts Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx.

In our investigation into bobbleheads we encountered some bull.
Photo R. Anderson

In the end, it was determined that the world may not be ready to learn the truth of what happens when a bobblehead falls in an empty Ballpark.

For now, it shall remain an open case, just like the age-old debate pertaining to how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. I never did trust that Mr. Owl. I just know he is hiding something underneath those big glasses of his.

While I failed to get to the bottom of my investigation of bobbleheads, to all of my fellow journalists out there working tirelessly day and night to tell the stories that need to be told, keep up the good work.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to watch some more X-Files. I really hope the Smoking Man is in this one.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Wrapping up our Countdown with the Durham Bulls

Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season we will be counting down our favorite baseball movies for the next three weeks. Today we reach the end of our journey of baseball on the Silver Screen with the ultimate baseball movie.

After three weeks of counting we have reached the ninth inning and can reveal the final movie on our countdown of our favorite baseball movies. That movie is Bull Durham.

While Bull Durham enjoyed modest success during its theatrical run, it gained wider popularity in the years following to the point that celebrating the quarter century mark since it was released is kind of a big deal.

Our last stop on the cinematic countdown to Opening Day is Bull Durham. Photo R. Anderson
Our last stop on the cinematic countdown to Opening Day is Bull Durham.
Photo R. Anderson

While each of the sides of the Kevin Costner Baseball Triangle are good in their own ways, and each were ranked on our countdown (For Love of the Game #8, and Field of Dreams #2) I have always identified more with the comedy infused Durham.

I suppose Bull Durham resonates with me so well because while I was never a Minor League Baseball player, I was very much a Minor League Baseball fan and was attending games around the same time that the movie came out.

So the movie showed me the parts of Minor League life that I didn’t see from my view in the stands.

The movie also provided several concepts that I use even today as part of my daily life.

The concept of creating your own rain delay when the grind gets to tough and you just need a day to catch your breath is a theme that I have embraced from the movie. While I have never turned on the sprinklers in the office I have certainly found ways to give everyone a rain day here and there.

The movie also provided many timeless quotes with some of them being appropriate for repeating and some best left to the professionals.

In that respect, the members of the Durham Bulls, the real-life team that inspired the team in the movie, made a hilarious video reenacting some of the crazier lines from the film to honor the 25th anniversary of the movie’s release.

What makes the video of the players recreating the lines so funny, and perhaps makes the rest of us feel a little old, is the fact that many of the players were not alive when the movie first came out.

Another interesting aspect of the real life Durham Bulls is that they serve as the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays who were 10 years away from existing at the time of the film’s release.

As a bit of trivia the Bulls were a Single-A affiliate at the time the movie was made and were owned by one of the filmmakers.

But enough about things that weren’t around when the movie came out. It is time to focus on something highlighted in the movie that is no longer around.

In the movie, and in real life, Max Patkin was the Clown Prince of Baseball. For over 50 years Patkin went to Minor League ballparks across the country and Canada performing his baseball clown act.

I was fortunate enough to see Patkin perform during an Orlando Sun Rays game at Tinker Field in Orlando, FL. Patkin’s act was shown in several scenes and Patkin himself got to dance with the leading lady later in the movie.

While it was clear that Patkin was closer to the end of his performing career than the beginning by the time Bull Durham came out it, to this day when I watch his performance scenes it is like I am right there watching him in person and trying to avoid getting sprayed by his water trick.

Although Patkin died in 1999,  he will forever live on in his scenes from Bull Durham. That is both a testament to the man himself and to the filmmakers for recognizing the important role he played in conveying the essence of Minor League Baseball.

Another staple of both the movie and Minor League Baseball in general is road trips on a bus. Unlike the Major League players who travel in first class chartered planes, the Minor League players arrive by bus for all of their road trips.

When Michael Jordan tried to make it as a baseball player in the late 80′s he bought a luxury bus for the Birmingham Barons to use. Still despite the “luxury” bus features it is hard to picture Air Jordan traveling through the cities of the Southern League in a bus.

As for the bus that was used in the movie, that was purchased by a man named Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt is someone who knows a thing or two about motorized vehicles.

While Bull Durham has stood the test of time for over 25 years, every once in a while a rumor surfaces about a potential sequel being made. Sequels can certainly be tricky business as few ever really are as good as the first or meet the lofty expectations set for them.

But, even with all of that being said I would still watch a sequel to Bull Durham. Do I think it could ever be as good as the first movie? Probably not. But, it does not have to be as good as the first movie. It just needs to help show where the characters ended up some 25 years after we left them on the porch and field.

I have my own ideas about what happened to the characters so if a sequel is never made I will still carry on my version of the story in my head. But it would be nice to see the cast get back together for one more trip around the bases.

Now if you’ll excuse me I am off to swing for the fences and see if I can hit the bull to win a steak. And remember “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson

Today’s Baseball Movie Countdown is a Devil Ray of a Tale about Second Chances

Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season we will be counting down our favorite baseball movies for the next three weeks. Today’s choice of silver screen Baseball goodness looks at what happens when one gets a second chance to follow a dream.

Today we return to the world of real events captured on film as part of our journey to what we feel are the best baseball movie of all time.

While there is certainly no shortage of baseball movies about real people, the quest for a second chance often rings throughout the narrative of many of these movies which is certainly the case with The Rookie starring Dennis Quaid.

While I never really bought into the fantasy elements of Angels in the Outfield, there was one Disney baseball movie deemed worthy to join my collection and that movie was The Rookie.

The Rookie ells the true life tale of a high school baseball coach from Texas getting to live out his dream of pitching in the big leagues for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after he thought that his dream had been shattered following an injury.

As a fan of the Devil Rays turned just plain Rays, I try to soak up as much of the team’s history as possible.

The real life story of a Texas teacher turned Major League pitcher portrayed in the Rookie is one of the feel good movies about baseball. Photo R. Anderson
The real life story of a Texas teacher turned Major League pitcher portrayed in the Rookie is one of the feel good movies about baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

Granted there are only about 15 years of history so far but I have lived each one of those years with the team and can remember covering the announcement of their birth into the league so I guess you could say they hold an extra special place in my heart.

After being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers, Jim Morris (played by Dennis Quaid), blows out his shoulder ending his hopes of achieving his lifelong dream of pitching in the Major Leagues.

Fast forward a few years to 1999 and Morris is now married with three children, is a high school science teacher, and is the head baseball coach in Big Lake, TX.

After discovering that Morris can still bring the heat, his players offer him a deal that if they make the state playoffs, Morris will try out again for the Major Leagues.

After the Owls make the playoffs, Morris tries out for the Devil Rays and after being signed to a Minor League contract is assigned to the Class AA Orlando Rays (now the Montgomery Biscuits). After a quick stop in Orlando Morris moves up to the AAA Durham Bulls.

In September Jim is told that the Major League club has called him up, and that they will be playing in Texas against the Rangers. In true Hollywood fashion Morris makes his Major League debut against the Rangers in front of many of his friends and family who traveled to see his debut.

Morris pitched for the Devil Rays for a couple of years before finally hanging up his glove for the final time.

The movie and real life story of Jim Morris show that it is never too late for one to chase their dreams, which is an important lesson for everyone to keep in mind and is what makes The Rookie worthy to be on our countdown.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Rays baseball to get ready for.

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson

Presidents and Baseball are as American as the Fourth of July

Today is President’s Day, or Washington’s birthday as it is also known, which was set aside as a way to honor the first person who held that job .

The holiday was first thought of as a way to recognize the two presidents with birthdays in February, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, but it has grown to include a time to honor all of the people, who have served in the nation’s highest office.

Monday we celebrate Abraham Lincoln's Birthday along with honoring every other person to occupy the Oval Office. Photo R. Anderson
Monday we celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday along with honoring every other person to occupy the Oval Office.

Through the years President’s Day has also become a time to buy furniture, appliances and cars at unheard of savings as many companies have sought to capitalize on the fact that many people have the day off of work.

While the founding fathers wanted us to enjoy various freedoms, I doubt they had no interest financing on washers and dryers in mind when they spoke of “self-evident truths.” Then again maybe they did.

So for our purposes let us not focus on the retail aspects of the holiday. Instead let us try to focus on the office of the President and what that entails.

To date, 44 men have served as President of the United States.

Later this year the United States will elect the 45th person to hold the office of President.

I was fortunate enough to come face to face with two of the men who would go on to become president although I was only old enough to remember one of them

I have been told by my mother that my first encounter with a future President was during a rally for Jimmy Carter.

Of course at the time of that rally I would have been perhaps just turning 1 so needless to say I do not recall meeting him but I am sure it was a lovely time for all.

As for the encounter with a Commander in Chief that I do recall, in 1992 I met Bill Clinton at a campaign event in Orlando, FL. While the election was still months away, and Governor Clinton had not yet become President Clinton, there was still something cool about meeting someone on the campaign trail.

Years later, meeting candidate Clinton is still one of the more memorable moments of my journalistic career. I am sure that reporters that cover the Presidents on a daily basis lose some of the wow factor at some point but there always needs to be a respect for the office at some level.

The other day I also came face to face with a Presidential motorcade as the 41’st President, George Herbert Walker Bush, had stopped for lunch at a local Italian restaurant near me.

Although other Ballparks have been used for Presidential pitches, the home Ballparks of the Washington Senators and now the Washington Nationals hold the distinction of hosting the most presidents due to the proximity to the White House. Photo R. Anderson
Although other Ballparks have been used for Presidential pitches, the home Ballparks of the Washington Senators and now the Washington Nationals hold the distinction of hosting the most presidents due to the proximity to the White House.
Photo R. Anderson

Beyond getting to close down a restaurant so you can eat pasta in private, there are many other perks that come with residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington D.C.

One of those perks is throwing the ceremonial first pitch each year on Opening Day.

President William Howard Taft started the ceremonial first pitch tradition in 1910 linking the Commander in Chief with the National Pastime ever since.

While the first pitch did not occur until 1910 the link between Presidents and baseball actually goes back to post Civil War America when Andrew Johnson invited the first team of professional ballplayers to the White House.

The first presidential first pitch occurred on April 14, 1910, at National Park in Washington, DC. during a game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics with Taft connecting on the pitch to Walter Johnson.

The Senators moved to Minnesota to become the Twins and the Athletics packed up and headed west to Oakland but the one constant for over a century has been presidents and baseball.

From 1910 to 1971 the President traveled to the home ballpark of the Washington Senators to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day.

To put that streak into perspective it stretched from Taft to Richard Nixon.

While Presidents had thrown out first pitches at the World Series as well President Nixon became the first president to throw out an Opening Day pitch outside of Washington D.C. in 1972 when he threw out the pitch in Anaheim, California since there was no longer a team in Washington.

Before becoming the 41st President of the United States George Herbert Walker Bush was a baseball player at Yale University. Photo R. Anderson
Before becoming the 41st President of the United States George Herbert Walker Bush was a baseball player at Yale University.
Photo R. Anderson

Various other ballparks were used for Opening Day after 1972 but Baltimore and Washington D.C. were the most widely used due to proximity to the White House.

For around 70 years the first pitch was thrown from the stands. Bill Clinton became the first president to throw from the mound and each president since has also toed the rubber on their pitch.

The Presidential links to baseball are not limited to first pitches alone however. Both President Bush 41 and President Bush 43 also have deep baseball roots.

George H.W. Bush was a baseball player in college at Yale and can often be seen behind home plate at Houston Astros games, when he is not having lunch at local Italian restaurants that is.

Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, George W. Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who relocated from Washington D.C. in 1971. Photo R. Anderson
Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, George W. Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who relocated from Washington D.C. in 1971.
Photo R. Anderson

It is also a given that if both President Bush and his wife, Barbara, are seated together they will end up on the Ballpark’s kiss cam.

George W. Bush also has a baseball pedigree. Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, the younger President Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who, as one may or not know were once the expansion team that replaced the first version of the Washington Senators who left town to become the Minnesota Twins. It is sort of a neat bow to tie it all together.

So during this time that we honor our Presidents, let us not forget that soon it will once again be Opening Day and when the President steps onto the mound to throw that first pitch he will be continuing a long standing tradition that honors both the past, present and future of both the Oval Office and the game of baseball itself.

Now if you’ll excuse me I think I need to practice my pitching just in case I am ever called on to throw out a first pitch. After all, no one wants to be the person who inadvertently hits the mascot during the opening pitch a la Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh of Bull Durham fame.

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson