Back in the early 90s, the iconic Durham Bulls were considering a move to nearby Raleigh, NC. The team had just been moved up to Triple-A status, and the team needed to move from the much smaller Durham Athletic Park. Raleigh was trying hard to lure the Bulls, but the owner continued to work with Durham and finally settled on a deal that would keep the team in the city. The Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) opened in 1995 and consistently ranks as one of the top minor league stadiums in the country. For the 2014 season, the Bulls announced that they were renovating the stadium by replacing the seats, adding concessions in the outfield, putting video boards across the outfield wall, and other small additions that enhance an already great fan experience.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Just walking the concourse should make you hungry. There is food and drink everywhere you look, and the concessions are a good mix of local and chain food. In the main concourse, there are hot dogs, bratwurst, burgers, pizza, Chick-fil-A, and wings. On the sweeter side is Rita's water ice, along with the local favorite Locopops popsicles that are ether fruit or ice cream-flavored. Over in left field is Tequilera De Toros; a Mexican food stand next to a Mexican-themed bar. Down the line in right field is Triangle Fish Fry, the 42 Bar, and Smokebox BBQ. Smokebox features the same BBQ that can be found in the neighboring Ed Mitchell's Que, the man behind the highly successful triangle BBQ restaurant, The Pit.
The DBAP was built after Camden Yards in Baltimore started the new "classic" ballpark era, and is similar to many MLB parks of this era. The stadium is built in the city, and recent development has created a scenic skyline all around the park.
There are three gates by which you can enter the stadium, but I highly recommend the home plate gate. The home plate gate is decorated with fountains, flags, and the team's four retired numbers (Joe Morgan, Chipper Jones, Bill Evers, and Crash Davis). This is also where you can find the team store, which offers a wide selection of Durham Bulls apparel, including a "Lollygaggers" t-shirt, a reference to the movie Bull Durham.
Every seat at the DBAP is a good one, considering that they all have extra wide seat backs and extra leg room. The team claims that 95% of seats also have cup holders, which are often forgotten when trying to give fans leg room. The better seats are on the third base side of the ballpark, since the sun will be behind you for the entire game. The sun sets behind third base, so seats on the first base side will be in the shade before those in the outfield. If you want to avoid the sun altogether, consider sitting under the roof. The space is outfitted with large ceiling fans and a high-quality sound system that makes these seats the best for those trying to avoid the elements. On the other hand, if you want to sit near the players, make sure to sit in the sections on either foul line. The bullpens are on the field, and pitchers warming up are only a few feet from the fans in the first row.
Walking around the ballpark, one concourse circles the stadium and splits into two as you walk around the infield. This design makes it very easy to walk around the ballpark without missing any of the action. Near the visitor bullpen and in right field, there is a picnic area that is available on a first-come, first-served basis. For those looking for a drink, look no further than the 42 bar. One of the newer additions to the DBAP, this is a full bar located in the concourse above first base. All of these areas offer great views of the field and are a great place to sit and enjoy your concessions.
Perhaps the most noticeable part of the ballpark is the blue monster. Durham's version of the monster sits just a few feet shorter than Fenway's, and also has a hand-operated scoreboard. The biggest difference between the two blue monsters is the giant LED video board built into the blue monster. The screen is 25.4 feet-by-63 feet and is well used by the Bulls to provide stats, highlights, and even player trivia. What's more, the team also hangs K signs for every strikeout pitched by the Bulls. The rest of the outfield is enclosed by video screens on the walls. They are used to show ads and stats. Even if you are sitting in the outfield or standing atop the monster, the Bulls have you covered. There is a video scoreboard on the wall directly behind home plate, which can easily be seen from almost anywhere in the park.
During the game, there is a good mix of baseball and between inning games. There are few antics during the innings, but there are plenty of between inning games to keep you entertained. There are the Bull Durham Racers, a Bull Durham take on Milwaukee's sausage racers, along with sumo wrestling, and "running of the kids," which features kids chasing the mascot across the field.
The best thing about Durham Bulls games is that the between innings stuff is not forced upon you. If you are in a conversation with someone or just not paying attention, a game could go by and you wouldn't know it. For those who like to be entertained, the Bulls cater to that, as well, with fun but simple games.
There is no lodging and only a handful of restaurants within walking distance of the stadium. On the other hand, the team has made a serious effort to attract pre and post-game traffic around the ballpark, and that shouldn't go unnoticed. Surrounding the stadium are Ed Mitchell's Que, Which Wich, Moe's, Mellow Mushroom, Cuban Revolution, Saladelia, and Tobacco Road Sports Cafe, which happens to be located atop the blue monster. As you can imagine, Tobacco Road gets very crowded during ballgames, so make sure to call ahead.
If you have a little time before the game and are looking for something a little different, check out Dame's Chicken n' Waffles. A local favorite, Dame's serves exactly what you think it would: chicken and waffles. Served with the waffles are "Dame's Almost World Famous Shmears," which are butter mixed with a fresh fruit or other ingredients to create a perfect topping.
Bulls fans are a very solid minor league fan base. They may not know every player by name, but they almost always stay late into the game. They definitely know when to get loud, and that is especially true when the score is close late in the game.
Don't get confused, though, as this is still a minor league game. There are plenty of families in attendance, and they don't usually get involved in much cheering. There are many diehards mixed in, and they certainly make up for the others.
The DBAP is easily accessible via NC-147, which runs between I-40 and I-85. Take either exit 12B or 12C, and stadium parking is just minutes away.
Around the ballpark, there are four parking decks, and all have reasonably low-cost parking. The decks closest to the park cost $5, while the deck at 101 Corcoran St. is $3 -- or sometimes free. No matter what deck you choose, you will have a scenic walk to the game through the American Tobacco campus, which is full of newly-renovated warehouses that have been converted to offices.
There is no shortage of restrooms, and the ones behind home plate even feature signs honoring famous ballplayers.
The Durham Bulls offer one of the cheapest tickets in the minor leagues, not just Triple-A. Tickets start at $10 for a lower-level seat, but you must purchase a $5 concessions credit in addition to the seats. That is not a problem, since spending $5 means maybe a drink or two. Upper-level seats under the cover are also $10, with no required concessions purchase. Other upper-level seats are $9, outfield seats are $7, and when necessary, the team will sell grass seats for $6.
Just looking around the area, the Bulls offer the second-cheapest ticket prices in the state of NC, and are a Triple-A team.
A $10 ticket, $5 parking, a $3.25 hot dog, and a $3 soda make Bulls games $21.25 per person, which is an absolute steal. Without question, this is one of the best values in sports.
The Bulls have taken clips from Bull Durham and turned them into a welcome video listing the rules and regulations for the ballpark. This is a nice take on the usual PA announcer reading.
Throughout the park, there are employees whose job it is to help people out. They hold signs that say "How may I help you?" Customer service often goes overlooked, but not at the DBAP.
One of the most iconic signs is the "Hit Bull, Win Steak" sign. The sign is located just above the blue monster, and any player who hits it wins himself and a lucky fan a free steak at a local restaurant, just like in the movie.
Wool E. Bull is the team's mascot, and is often regarded as one of the best in the minors He is a very agile mascot, as showcased in his dance routine.
#BullsReborn was the campaign for the renovations and deserves a point. The Bulls were faced with the hard task of making a great stadium better. They absolutely succeeded.
If it isn't completely obvious by now, I love this stadium. The Bulls do a great job of combining a fun night out for local families, a cool hangout for adults, and a baseball atmosphere for die-hard fans. The DBAP is known around the nation as one of the best stadiums, and it certainly does not disappoint.
In the heart of basketball country, where legendary names like Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski are commonplace, stands a minor league baseball gem. The Bulls have been a staple in Durham since 1913 and have been rather infamous ever since the release of the 1988 feature film Bull Durham. Although you won't find Crash Davis and Nuke Laloosh here, you will find a baseball experience that will rival any other in Triple A Baseball.
In 1998 the Durham Bulls made the jump from the Single A Carolina League to the Triple A International League. Named after current Bulls owner and CEO of Capitol Broadcasting, Jim Goodmon, Goodmon Field is always referred to as Durham Bulls Athletic Park or D-BAP. As the Triple A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Bulls have flourished boasting solid attendance and on-field success.
Built in 1995, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park was part of the first wave of the minor league building boom. Following the template established by the 1992 opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the “DBAP” is a steel and brick construct – a “new” ballpark with the retro feel of the ballparks of the past.
Less than a mile from Durham Athletic Park, film site for the classic “Bull Durham” film and the prior home of the Bulls, the DBAP has been the centerpiece of a downtown revitalization. Shops, restaurants and office and residential buildings have all sprung up around the ballpark, where previously it was primarily the burned out shell of the historic American Tobacco District.
To me, this is one of the premiere minor league parks out there. Plenty of food options (inside and outside of the stadium), the seating is major league quality, and it's easy to get to. The lower level seats are just $10, a great deal. I also love the view from the monster out in left. This is a must-see park.
It's a great setting for a ballpark, with downtown buildings surrounding the ballpark on 3 sides. There are numerous areas to watch the game, and each separate area brings unique characteristics into focus. Watching the game from atop the left field wall was particularly nice. Minus points for not having ice cream helmets (and no ice cream, for that matter), and a lack of Bull Durham movie memorabilia on hand. Lots of choices in the area for dining before and after the game.
Beautiful ballpark with many amenities. Enormous food and beverage selection to appeal to all fans. Sell-out crowds on weekday nights when not many people would attend a minor league baseball game. Situated right in the heart of downtown Durham with a modernized classic park. Fans interested and always loud. Easily accessible from the Southern Durham Highway. For $15, you can get a seat along the first or third base line and a $5 concession/merchandise credit. Parking is very reasonable (I found a lot across from the park for $5) and the staff is friendly and always willing to help. Scenes from the hit movie Bull Durham are used to help explain the rules of the park, putting a small twist on the usual boring PA voice. The Blue Monster in left field resembles the Green Monster at Fenway Park and has both a video board with statistics and the classic manual scoreboard. And of course, the bull on top of the Blue Monster lights up and snorts steam after every Bulls home run. If a player hits the bull, they win a steak dinner from a local restaurant and if they hit the grass, they win a salad from a local restaurant. One lucky fan will join the player in winning a meal. In-game promotions keep fans entertained and there is never a dull moment at the DBAP.
Durham Bulls Athletic Park is a great example of how a baseball stadium can revitalize an area. Just a few years ago, downtown Durham was not much to look at. There was no reason to come down here. But, build a ballpark, then it gives people reason to come. Then American Tobacco opens across the street with shops, restaurants and a college. Then a performing arts center, then more condos, business and retail surrounding the ballpark. This is the right way to do it; too bad Atlanta was not watching! Now, I believe downtown Durham has more going on than its sister sister across the triangle, downtown Raleigh; another reason why not to build baseball stadiums and arenas in the middle of nowhere (PNC Arena). With the just completed renovations, this stadium is still like new.
Food & Beverage:
A lot of selections including local favorites. I recommend you either go behind left field to the Mexican food stand which is next to a Mexican-themed bar, or go all the way to the end of the concourse on the first base side, then take the elevator up to the Triangle Fish Fry, the 42 Bar, and Smokebox BBQ. The bar is great and gives you a view of the field. But, any ballpark must have a good hot dog, and I was sooo disappointed, which is why I did not score them a 5 in food. I first got one of their red hots, which was just ok. I then got a regular dog and I could not even finish it. It was that bad! Bulls executives: take a visit to Charlotte Knights and see why they use Sahlen's hot dogs; the best!!
Again, this is how ballparks should be build, downtown and let the rest of the development come. The stadium is a classic look but with all the amenities. Out front at the main gate are fountains and pre-game activity going on. I came on a rainy night and there was still a big enthusiastic crowd. They have a great 2-level main team store with a great selection. There are a lot of great areas to enjoy, like the bar, the area in left field, plenty of outside tables to enjoy your food, and the walk around the entire stadium, especially on top of the blue monster, so do walk the stadium. Here is where they made a mistake, now I know most games are not played in the rain, but on the night I was there is was raining. Other than the upper level seats under the roof and the stools at the outside bar, there are very few, and I mean very few areas to sit where you are protected from the rain. Like I said there are a ton of tables and chairs to sit and eat, but they are all unprotected. They could put a roof over the tables and chairs by the bar, and it would not affect any sight lines. On the concourse, there are maybe only a handful of tables and chairs near the main entrance, so we had to eat our food, and a lot of others as well, standing in the concourse in large areas where they could easily put in more tables and chairs. Plus there is no indoor restaurant open to the public, just a private club, which is also unfortunate.
There are a lot of restaurants within walking distance of the stadium. Just outside the gate there are four, then across the street in the American Tobacco complex there are several more; both sit-down and faster food. We stayed at the Marriott City Center and it was only a 10 minute 4-5 block walk from the hotel to the ballpark. The area is a great example of what to do with old factories and warehouses. Walking, I felt safe and there were a lot of people around.
I thought the fans were great. Like I said we came on a rainy night so I thought were would be a skeleton crowd of a few die hards, but there was a big crowd on hand, and they stayed for the most part to the bitter end when the game was finally called. I have seen less at Major League games with similar weather.
The Durham Freeway, NC-147, runs right along the ballpark with exits right there, so getting there from I-40, I-85, and other areas of the city and the Triangle are easy. We walked from our hotel, but there looked like plenty of parking nearby in lots under the highway and in ramps in American Tobacco complex.
Return on Investment:
Our tickets were lower level and very low cost for Triple-A, compared to the gouging in Charlotte for the same level of play. The concession prices were reasonable, and again, there was a great selection; just stay away from the hot dogs! Plus, it's the Durham Bulls!
It's the Durham Bulls! Also, there are plenty of staff holding up "How may I help you?" signs to help fans, so the customer service is great. The renovations have made this stadium even greater. But, they still need more covered tables and chairs, and an inside dining option for all fans, not just club seat holders.
Again, this is how to do it! Any city looking to build a ball park needs to tour here; actually the day before representatives from Columbia SC were here touring the stadium as they prepare to build their new downtown ball park. A great night out seeing players on the verge of making the big show. Just get some better hot dogs!
Triple-A ball at this iconic park can be had for just $7 or so. The surrounding area is great for AAA ball. Great fans and lots to see and do before the game. Only minor quibbles with the access to the concourse from the seating bowl. Free parking on the street helps. Not to be missed!
280 S Mangum St
Durham, NC 27701
318 Blackwell St
Durham, NC 27701
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