Bull Durham

On shopworn minor-league catcher Crash Davis' list of things he believes in: the small of a woman's back, the hanging curveball, good scotch, outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter, and the sweet spot.

Atop many critics' lists as one of the best sports flicks of all time, 'Bull Durham,' the 1988 box-office home run, catapulted its stars' careers into the majors and sparked a national resurgence for minor-league baseball -- so much so that the historic Durham Athletic Park, where much of the movie was shot, was abandoned by the real-life Durham Bulls just a few years later for a shiny, new stadium down the road.

Kevin Costner stars as Crash Davis, who's knocked around the minors for a dozen years before being sent to groom the Bulls' hotshot, dumb-as-rocks pitcher Ebby LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) for an anticipated major-league career. Mentoring Ebby off-field is sex-oozing local Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), who traditionally targets one Bulls player per season to nurture in rather, um, untraditional ways. (Always wanted to see Tim Robbins don a garter belt? Here's your movie.) As the season journeys on, Crash and Annie's rapport becomes the stuff of real romance, while Crash and Ebby's mutual dreams of making it to "the show" -- as Crash reverentially refers to the majors, where he once spent "the 21 greatest days of my life" -- only manifest for one of them. (The runner-up, though, gets to paint Susan Sarandon's toenails while she's tied to a bed, so it's all good.)

Location as Character: "The ballparks are like cathedrals" is how Crash describes the stadiums of the Major League, but the minor-league DAP (as true Durhamites call it) possessed a cultish charm of its own; it was, after all, Annie's chosen house of worship for practicing her faith in "the church of baseball."

As the Bulls' home field, the Durham Athletic Park sees plenty of screen time, and its prewar construction and old-timey touches -- dinky grandstand, backless bleachers, wood-planked billboards lining the outfield wall, red-brick exterior -- help inform the film's small-town, Southern-gentility feel. But the stadium's most famous fixture was actually a Hollywood prop; the "Hit Bull Win Steak" sign, aka "the smoking bull," was installed for the movie, although real-life Bulls fans quickly adopted the two-dimensional mascot as their own.



Historical Significance: The DAP served as the Durham Bulls' home from 1926 to 1994, albeit with a few hiccups along the way. The original structure, known as El Toro Stadium (rechristened Durham Athletic Park in 1933), only lasted until 1939, when it was destroyed by a fire. Thanks to the Great Depression and World War II, the '34, '35 and '44 summer seasons went unplayed, while a 1971 merger with a Raleigh-based club resulted in a tenantless DAP until 1980, when the Bulls were born anew.

After the release of Bull Durham on June 15, 1988, attendance at Bulls games broke Single-A attendance records, and by the mid-1990s, a new ballpark with twice the capacity debuted one mile away in downtown Durham. (The Bulls also got bumped up to AAA status in 1998.) The new stadium's official name is the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, or DBAP, but locals simpy call it "the new DAP."

Since the Bulls' departure, "the old DAP" has hosted concerts, farmers' markets, beer festivals, summer leagues and, briefly, women's professional softball. It is also the home field for North Carolina Central University's men's baseball team. In 2008, the DAP received a multimillion dollar renovation from the city in the hopes of turning it into a memorial or museum. For now, though, Minor League Baseball uses it as a training facility.

Fun Facts: The smoking bull survived the relocation to the new DAP but has since been replaced by a larger replica. He was also bestowed a more proper moniker: Wool E. Bull.

Directions: Located at 500 W Corporation St., The DAP is nestled in a residential, slightly rundown section of Old North Durham. By car from the Raleigh-Durham Airport, take I-40 West to the Durham Freeway. Exit onto South Duke Street, turn right onto West Corporation Street about a mile down the road, then take the first left onto Washington Street. The DAP is on the right.

Visitor Info: While the city of Durham advertises the DAP as a tourist destination for charter-bus groups, it doesn't really operate as an open-to-the-public site. However, as previously mentioned, public events and college ballgames are held there often, and the city seems to take a laissez-faire attitude towards curious fans. Front-office workers at the new DAP claim they field requests for directions to the old DAP from lost, on-foot tourists at least once a week.
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