Given the chilly weather of the past week or so, today's warm fall day couldn't have come at a better time for the Durham Bulls' public celebration of their twin International League and National Championship victories.
Mother Nature must be a baseball fan; there's no better way to describe the gorgeous, cloudless evening that greeted fans taking the field for tonight's two-hour celebration.
And "take the field" is no exaggeration; fans who braved the nearly hour-long queue to see the trophies found their patience rewarded by an experience few have ever had: a journey from the locker room through the labyrinthine hallways of the DBAP's belly and, from there, up the dugout stairs and onto the artificially-lit field.
Free hot dogs, chips and bottles of Gordon Biersch awaited fans in the ballpark, though most like me chose to spend a healthy amount of time lingering out in the outfield for a good bit of time before heading up to the concourse for food.
Check out the photos beyond the jump for a taste of what a beautiful ballpark looks like on a beautiful North Carolina night, and for a look at the championship trophies as well.
As noted above, the crowds were thick, certainly heavier than I naively expected; I left my office in the American Tobacco complex and walked across the street, stunned to find a crowd that was snaking back practically to the season ticket holder entrance.
Inside the park, a small throng queued for signatures from Elliot Johnson and Chris Richard, while the rest of us headed into the ballpark store, where waivers were summarily procured and signed before you headed into the DBAP lobby.
Now I've never really thought much, or enough, about the architecture of the DPAP, so it never really occurred to me to think just why one heads up those stairs you see in the photo above. Well, it turns out that the ballpark store is the façade that masks the intestinal corridors where the home and visiting teams' locker rooms are, along with the team offices and other workspace.
Believe me, there was absolutely plenty of time to see all those elements of the ballpark time and again.
Also down in the corridors: one mini-locker room, it seems, for the Bulls' other star:
At last (and I mean, almost 45 minutes in to the adventure), the locker room, from the initial weight room space to the actual team lockers, where the trophies were poised:
And there on the left as you entered stood the trophies of the hour: the Governors' Cup!
Well, OK, not exactly the Governors Cup. According to Wikipedia, the original Cup -- a silver trophy sponsored by the governors of the Mid-Atlantic states and Canadian provinces that comprised the IL during the Great Depression -- has been on display in Cooperstown since the Reagan administration.
So this is a replica cup -- well, OK, not exactly, maybe. Turns out the replica Governors' Cup was smashed in by an irate fan in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre back in August of this year, before Durham beat the champions in a September rematch of last year's finals loss.
We at BCR aren't sure if this is the fake Governors' Cup (since repaired) or a fake fake Governors' Cup, but... oh, hell, we still won the thing.
Less impressive is the National Championship trophy (at right), which looks like it came from A-A-1 Trophies & Awards, Inc. down in Garner or some such. Free tip for trophy designers: if it needs to have the words "NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP" splayed across it in all-caps sans serif font, it's not impressive enough to be a national championship anything; quod erat demonstrandum.
Next, it was back through more tunnels and corridors before emerging at that perfect baseball moment: the stairs up to the dugout, and the field beyond.
And from there? Well, what better way to spend a beautiful November night than out on the grass, watching kids through the baseball around, watching the last call of twilight while those baseball stadium lights put forth one last autumnal encore, one bright light on the horizon emanating long after the boys of summer are back to families and winter leagues and odd jobs, long after the ballpark typically hibernates through our Tar Heel state's gray cold season.
After a couple of hot dogs and a beer -- not to mention nice conversations with a half-dozen Durhamite friends and acquaintances to boot -- it was back to the post-baseball world. I exited the ballpark and headed southward on Blackwell, across past the Mellow Mushroom to the parking deck, and my car, and home.
One last turn back to the stadium, though, showed the proud banner that showed what the whole celebration was all about.
Enjoy this one, Durham.
(Incidentally, a big thank you to the Bulls and Capitol Broadcasting for putting on a very classy and entertaining evening. The team certainly had no obligation to do this event; that they received such a warm turnout, and that their fans had such a nice free gift from the team, is proof to the role the team plays in Durham and the larger community, and to one of the benefits of having local, committed ownership. I heard well-deserved raves from more than one friend about the evening, and the kudos seem nicely earned from the expressions on most folks' faces, particularly the kids in attendance.)