April 12, 2020
Lollygagging Thru Bull Durham… 32 Years Later
NOTE: I did not write a single word of this article. ….. It appeared April 3, 2020 in TheAthletic.com – a subscription-only sports writing website. A website I strongly recommend you consider subscribing to – $45/year – if you enjoy really good sportswriting without ads… pop-ups… intrusive audio… or “woke-infested” SJW/writers.
Normally I would just post a paragraph or two then provide a READ MORE link … thereby getting the author his due “clicks”. I can’t do that due to the restricted access to the site. My apologies to the author – Brendan Marks.
This is an enjoyable nostalgic revisit to Durham … and to the locations of various Bull Durham iconic scenes. I admit the phrase “… enjoyable visit to Durham” is difficult to write without dodging a bullet.
My Real Life “Crash” Davis… In August 2016, I posted one of My Personal All-Time Favorite Columns – Where Have You Gone Harper Cooper – it gave me goose bumps when I wrote it… AND again when I just re-read it.
In less than 24 hours after I posted that column in 2016 – I Heard From THE HARPER COOPER! A/K/A “Skye King” now a flight instructor in Arlington TX… really close to 80. … This Inter-web Thingy can be a good thingy.
Harper Cooper was NOT a “Baseball Lifer” like “Crash” back in the early 60s. He was a young man in his early 20s “living his dream” of playing Professional Baseball.
Was there an “Annie Savoy” in Kinston in 1962? Probably, but Harper is a gentleman and would never speak of such things. I am sure that Harper caught a few games at The DAP like “Crash”.
My Baseball Idol – Harper Cooper – and I e-talk occasionally. “Doing what I do” brought he and I together again after 60 years … COOL, huh!
A Lollygagging Trip through … Bull Durham’s Durham
By Brendan Marks for TheAthletic – April 2020
DURHAM, N.C. — Annie Savoy has a new roof. Like, actually. It has been 32 years since “Bull Durham” debuted — plenty long enough for rust and rot to materialize — so it should come as no surprise that in November, Savoy’s famous residence got some repairs. Pickard Roofing will happily take the publicity; the current homeowners will settle for peace of mind.
Of course, we say “homeowners” rather than Savoy because, unlike the fictional flirt, we’re talking about a real residence. The famous house from Ron Shelton’s directorial debut is still standing. Only now, it’s owned by a Duke professor of anesthesiology and a metal artist, rather than a part-time community college English professor.
The real estate market shows no mercy. Still, other than a fresh coat of paint and the porch swing moving left of the front door, the Manning House (its official name, after a former state attorney general) looks exactly as it did in the movie. You can almost imagine Crash Davis dancing behind closed doors.
The Manning House has stood the test of time. And as it turns out, that’s far from the only “Bull Durham” landmark left standing, which I discovered during a tour for this story, part of our “Sports Movie Week” package. (For the record, “Bull Durham” is No. 4 on the top 100 movies list.)
What’s amazing is that’s the case even as Durham has transformed from a sleepy industrial town to an up-and-coming Silicon Valley-lite. Let’s just say parking is much more of an issue now than it was in 1988.
Thankfully, most of the sites on a modern-day “Bull Durham” walking tour are just that: within walking distance. Getting from the Manning House to the Durham Athletic Park takes just under 10 minutes on foot — and, thankfully, is mostly downhill. It’s a pleasant walk through an older neighborhood, the kind where people are older than the houses they occupy.
As the neighborhood turns to downtown, the DAP finally comes into view. Unfortunately, these days it’s somewhat underwhelming. The park still hosts N.C. Central home games and serves as a training facility for groundskeepers, but it’s far from the central locale the film depicted. Instead, it’s everything around the field that attracts foot traffic.
Durham Athletic Park isn’t the hit it used to be. Down in right field is a private event space called The Rickhouse, which has a patio overlooking the park. (One of my old college roommates is scheduled to get married there in November.) Leading down the same street toward center field is a new axe-throwing bar — which, yes, is exactly what it sounds like — and an arcade bar called Boxcar. Both, on a normal spring evening, would be packed with customers; they’d only see the DAP street-parking their cars down the first-base line.
It’s sort of sad, when you consider the irony of how the park got this way. “Bull Durham”, unsurprisingly, was terrific for the real-life Durham Bulls franchise back when the film was released. Popularity surged. Tickets sold out. The DAP tried keeping pace, expanding seating within reason, but ultimately demand superseded the site.
The franchise built the newer, larger Durham Bulls Athletic Park across town near the American Tobacco campus and began play there in 1995. (The Bulls were supposed to move in 1994, but construction delayed the plan; rumor has it the club even sold “2nd Annual Final Season at the DAP” shirts throughout the ’94 campaign.) The Bulls still play in the DBAP, which has been outfitted with a number of restaurants and bars. If only there were 10 taps and bottomless margs in deep left when Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh was playing …
More important? Yes, they brought the Bull sign to the new park.
The famous sign made its way across town. It too has been modified, offering salads for sluggers who hit the grass underfoot instead of the bull itself. This iteration of the bull came about in 2008, after strong winds in 2007 ripped part of the bull’s head off. But since then, the eye-flashing, smoke-snorting bull has been as good as new.
One other ode to the film at the DBAP is something that never before existed: Crash Davis’ retired No. 8 jersey. On a placard in front of the stadium, it’s proudly memorialized alongside other numbers for famous (real) players. Kevin Costner, who played Crash, even came to Durham and performed with his band Modern West for the 2008 ceremony.
Crash’s number 8 was retired in 2008. Comparatively, the other remaining relics on our tour don’t quite stand up the way the Manning House and the ballparks do. A few blocks from the DAP are the old Imperial Tobacco Company buildings, where locker-room scenes were shot. But given they’re shut down to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, we (luckily) aren’t likely to walk in on Nuke and Millie in the bathroom stall. But peer through the basement windows, and the old paint still remains. Plus, as of a few years ago, the team logo — The Greatest Show on Dirt! — was still painted on the brick archway it appears on in the film.
Around the corner, down West Morgan Street, are the old warehouses where Crash took his nighttime walk after — spoiler alert — he’s released. In typical gentrified fashion, the grungy brick buildings are now designer apartments. Where once there was a drunken, stumbling Crash, there now are hammocks and puppies playing off the leash. How genuine.
And speaking of Crash’s end-of-movie antics, one more site is worth seeing in Durham — although admittedly, I drove to this one. About a mile and a half from the apartments is The Green Room, the definition of an old dive of a pool hall. Like everything in a world of social distancing, it’s closed, but a peek through the window reveals practically the same layout as the film (although the original bar was on the opposite side of the street).
The Green Room was the site of Crash and Nuke’s final “lesson,” on the best way to punch a drunk. Only, we’re not so sure a pitcher of LaLoosh’s pedigree would even be allowed into the actual bar; recording 18 strikeouts doesn’t quite square with the third bullet point on the sign on the front door.
The Green Room has its rules. Other sites from the movie endure to this day, but they require more than a short walk around town. Mitch’s Tavern in Raleigh, where Nuke throws a ball through the window when he meets Crash for the first time, is still in business; head to the second floor to find a memento of a window pane still hanging.
Fleming Stadium in Wilson — the site of Crash’s rainout game — still hosts games. But otherwise, the lasting landmarks from the classic film are mostly still concentrated in Bull City.
So what does this all prove? Maybe nothing concretely, other than that “Bull Durham” isn’t dead. In fact, it’s very much still a fabric of the city it depicts. This is a close-knit region, where people like to see their people do well — even if they last passed through town three decades ago.
“Bull Durham” put minor league baseball on the map, and especially the Durham Bulls. But more than that, it helped make Durham a place to be. And the same charm that led Shelton to pick Durham as his production site, frankly, still exists. All the quotable lines, the epic moments — the lollygaggers scene remains an all-time cinematic marvel — are great. But the city is too.
Annie Savoy said, “When somebody leaves Durham, they don’t come back.” That’s fine. As the lasting landmarks prove, “Bull Durham” never really left.
Brendan Marks covers Duke and North Carolina basketball for The Athletic. He previously worked at The Charlotte Observer as a Carolina Panthers beat reporter, and his writing has also appeared in Sports Illustrated, The Boston Globe and The Baltimore Sun. A native of Raleigh, N.C., Brendan is a fan of good barbecue and buzzer-beaters. And of course, the best rivalry in college sports.
WHOA… YA GOTTA read that Harper Cooper column … It WILL “be on the final exam”. CLICK HERE.
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