Walter Triebel spent 15 years as an adjunct faculty member at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He has had an extensive career in business and as a textbook and reference book author. Triebel’s “Road-Tripping the South Atlantic League: A Guide to the Teams, Ballparks and Cities“ was published by McFarland in 2016. It’s available for purchase on their website as well as Amazon.
This is the third of a three-part article series for Marlins fans.
As the subtitle indicates, this Part 3 of the “Marlins Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip“ will highlight the other two teams and their ballparks that I suggested adding to enrich your travel plan—the Durham Bulls (Durham Bulls Athletic Park) and Charlotte Knights (BB&T Ballpark). Again, I will include some visitor attractions and eateries in or near those host cities that should be helpful in developing one’s overall travel plan.
Both the Bulls and Knight play their games at the triple-A class and their rosters include some of the top players and MLB top ranked prospects in their Major League affiliates Minor League organization. In fact, nine members of the Durham Bulls current roster are ranked as top 30 prospects of the Tampa Bay Rays and five players on the Knights roster are in the Chicago White Sox top 30. Moreover, a number of the players you may see playing for Durham or Charlotte as well as their visiting team will have already made their debut in the majors.
Durham Bulls and Durham Bulls Athletic Park
The city of Durham is an exceptional baseball destination for an extension to the Marlins Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip. Professional baseball has been a fixture of everyday life in Durham for more than a century. A team named the Durham Bulls first played baseball in the city in the year 1900. During the one hundred and eighteen years since then, the city has hosted a team during ninety-five of those baseball seasons and for all but four of them the team was named the Durham Bulls.
When the Tampa Bay Rays joined the American League as an expansion club for the 1998 season, they engaged the Durham Bulls as their triple-A affiliate in the International League. Therefore, two-thousand eighteen is the twenty-first season that the Bulls are playing AAA ball as a member of the Rays Minor League organization.
The 1988 movie Bull Durham, which is possibly the best sports movie and certainly the best baseball movie ever filmed, was shot in or around Durham and featured the Durham Bulls baseball club. Durham Athletic Park (the DAP as it is commonly known) was a primary baseball filming location for the movie. That historic stadium still stands today and is a baseball landmark in the city of Durham. It is listed at the end of this section of the article as one of the interesting baseball related attractions that could be visited on a stop for a game in the city.
The DAP was replaced by a new stadium—Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP)—for the start of the 1995 season, which is the current home ballpark of the Durham Bulls. Similar to BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte, the DBAP, which is shown in Figure 1(a), was one of writer Josh Norris’ highly ranked Minor League ballparks in his 2017 Baseball America article “Top 10 Minor League Ballparks.” Norris ranked Durham Bulls Athletic Park #6 in the list of his top 10 ballparks. Figure 1(b) shows the view of the action on the ball field as seen from the seats behind home plate. The stadium offers essentially everything that a Minor League fan could ask for.
In fact, the ballpark has one of the most interesting attractions found at any Minor League stadium. That is, the infamous snorting bull shown in Figure 2 that stands atop the “Blue Monster” left field wall. Whenever a Durham player hits a home run, this Bull’s large red eyes blink, tail wags, and puffs of smoke stream out from its nostrils. It also puts on that show after each Durham Bulls home victory. This Bull’s origin is from a prop that was added to the DAP for the filming of the movie Bull Durham.
Another interesting attraction at a Durham Bulls game is their team mascot, who is named Wool E. Bull. Figure 3 shows a projection of him on the scoreboard. You will surely find him on the field, on the dugout, in the stands, or on the concourse entertaining Bulls fans and encouraging them to root their team on to victory.
Finally, like many of the newer Minor League ballparks, Durham Bulls Athletic Park has a wrap around concourse that enables you to walk around the full perimeter of the baseball field.
Relative to the game action on the field, you are sure to see a number of the top prospects of the Tampa Bay Rays in the Bulls starting lineup and also some of those of the Major League affiliate of the visiting club. As mentioned earlier, nine of the Rays current top 30 prospects are on the Durham roster. They are #1 Brent Honeywell (RHP), #9 Justin Williams (RF), #12 Joe McCarthy (LF), #14 Brandon Lowe (LF/2B), #20 Yonny Chirinos (RHP), #23 Nick Ciuffo (C), #25 Chih-Wei Hu (RHP), #28 Jaime Schultz (RHP), and #29 Ian Gibaut (RHP).
Today, the Durham Bulls might be the best known Minor League team in America and its host city and ballpark among the most interesting Minor League destinations for fans of the game. The DBAP is located in Durham’s popular historic downtown American Tobacco complex, which includes restaurants, shops, a performing arts center, and business offices. Moreover, the stadium is just a short drive from another quite enjoyable destination—Brightleaf Square (Figure 4). Brightleaf Square, which was formed from two historic warehouse buildings of the American Tobacco Company, opened in 1981. The square is home to a number of interesting shops, such as the Wentworth & Leggett Bookshop, and popular restaurants—Clouds Brewing and El Rodeo. A list of some attractions and interesting eateries in or near Durham follows.
Attractions In or Near Durham
- Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP), 409 Blackwell St, Durham, NC 27701
- Historic Durham Athletic Park (DAP), 28 Morris St. Durham, NC 27701
Collegiate Baseball Stadiums
- Duke University Blue Devils/Jack Coombs Field, 101 Whitford Dr. Durham, NC 27708
- North Carolina Tar Heels/Boshamer Stadium, 235 Ridge Rd. Chapel Hill, NC 27599
- North Carolina State University Wolfpack/Doak Field, 1081 Varsity Dr. Raleigh, NC
- American Tobacco Historic District Dining and Entertainment, 318 Blackwell St. Durham, NC 27701
- Brightleaf Square Shopping and Dining, 905 W. Main St. Durham, NC 27701
- Ninth Street District—Shopping, Dining, and Entertainment, Ninth St. between Green St. and W. Main St. Durham, NC 27705
- Museum of Life and Science, 433 W. Murray Ave. Durham, NC 27704
- Downtown Chapel Hill Visitors Center, 501 W. Franklin St. Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Dining In or Near Durham
- Tobacco Road Sports Café, 280 S. Mangum Street, Durham, NC 27701
- Tyler’s Restaurant and Taproom, 324 Blackwell St. Durham, NC 27701
- Mellow Mushroom, 410 Blackwell St. Durham, NC 27701
- Cloud Brewing, 905 W. Main St. #22, Durham, NC 27701 (919) 251-8096
- El Rodeo Mexican Restaurant, 905 W. Main St. #1, Durham, NC 27701 (919) 683-2417
- Elmo’s Dinner, 776 9th St. Durham NC 27705 and 200 N. Greensboro St. Carrboro, NC 27510
- Carolina Brewery, 460 W. Franklin St. Chapel Hill, NC 27516
- Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery, 100 E. Franklin St. Chapel Hill, NC 27514 (919) 927-8676
Charlotte Knights and BB&T Ballpark
Similar to Durham, the city of Charlotte, NC also has had a long, consistent history in support of professional baseball. The first pro team to play in the city was called the Charlotte Hornets and took the field during the summer of 1892. A team with that name and a few others, including the Charlotte Knights played in the city as the member of a number of different leagues during 108 seasons over the next 126 years.
A team named the Charlotte Knights has been a member of the International League each season since 1993. Interestingly, the Knights were the triple-A team of the Florida Marlins from 1995 through 1998, but transitioned to the Chicago White Sox for the start of the 1999 season. Therefore, 2018 is the twentieth consecutive year that the Charlotte Knights are the triple-A member of the White Sox Minor League organization.
Even though the team has been consistently called the Charlotte Knights, they did not play in the city of Charlotte, NC from 1989 through 2013. Instead, their home games were held at Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, which is just across the state line from Charlotte in South Carolina. It was not until BB&T Ballpark was built in downtown Charlotte and opened for the start of the 2014 season that the Chicago White Sox’s Charlotte Knights played in their namesake city in North Carolina.
However, the wait was worthwhile. Today the Charlotte Knights play in one of the most interesting and attractive ballparks of any Minor League team. In fact, as pointed out in Part 1, BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte was ranked as the #1 stadium in all of Minor League baseball according to the earlier mentioned Baseball America article. Figure 5 shows the entrance to the Knights’ ballpark.
BB&T Ballpark has all the amenities a baseball fan could ask for—interesting food concessions, such as the Queen City Q and Beers of the World, a children’s play area, and a 360 degree wraparound concourse. The concourse is open to the field and permits fans to view the action on the field from any point along its path. But what I believe sets BB&T Ballpark apart from all others is its magnificent Charlotte city backdrop over the outfield wall. The photo in Figure 6 shows the majestic view one sees looking out over the ball field from the concourse or seats behind home plate.
As in other Minor League ballparks, the atmosphere at Charlotte Knights’ games is very family friendly. In addition to the children’s play area, the Knights’ have an interesting mascot called Homer the Dragon that will help make your day at the ballpark relaxing and fun. Figure 7 shows Homer on top of the dugout entertaining Knights’ fans.
When attending a Knights’ game at BB&T Ballpark, you are sure to see some of the White Sox and the opposing team’s top prospects take the field. The five Chicago White Sox MLB Top 30 Prospect on Charlotte’s current roster include four right-handed pitchers, Michael Kopech (#2), Spencer Adams (#14), Jordan Stephens (#20), and Thyago Vieira (#27), and one field player—center fielder Ryan Cordell (#17).
Since BB&T Ballpark is located in the downtown area, it is ideally location to enjoy the charm of the “Queen City.” It is right across the street from Romare Bearden Park (Figure 8(a)), and a very short walk from Latta Arcade, which is a historic indoor shopping mall, and next to Brevard Court (Figure 8(b)), with its cobblestone courtyard that is home to a variety of interesting restaurants. A lists of some attractions to see in the city and a few interesting places to stop for dinner, lunch, or just a snack follows.
Attractions In Charlotte
- BB&T Ballpark, 324 S. Mint St. Charlotte, NC 28202
- Latta Arcade, 320 S. Tryon St. Charlotte, NC 28202
- Brevard Court, 321 S. Church St. Charlotte, NC 28202
- NASCAR Hall of Fame, 400 E Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Charlotte, NC 28202
- Romare Bearden Park, 300 S. Church St. Charlotte, NC 28202
- Discovery Place, 301 N Tryon St. Charlotte., NC 28202
Dining In Charlotte
- Valhalla Pub & Eatery, 317 S. Church St. Charlotte, NC 28202
- French Quarter Restaurant, 321 S. Church St. Charlotte, NC 28202
- The Capital Grill, 201 N. Tryon St. Charlotte., NC 28202
- Hazelnuts Creperie, 200 S. Tryon St. Charlotte., NC 28201
- Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, 401 N. Tryon St. Charlotte, NC 28202
- Queen City Q, 225 E. 6th St. Charlotte, NC 28202
- The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, 4150 Yancey Rd, Charlotte, NC 28217
That completes my review of the ballparks, towns, and top prospects of the Greensboro Grasshoppers, Durham Bulls, and Charlotte Knights. Now it’s time for you to create a travel plan and set out on the trail of the Marlins Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip adventure.