The Durham Bulls may be one of the most famous minor league teams in history thanks to the movie, Bull Durham. What people don’t know is that the team was already a storied franchise. Created in 1902 as the Durham Tobacconists, the team played in the then newly formed North Carolina league, a league which lasted for two months before being dismantled. It wasn’t until 1913 that the city of Durham had a professional team again when the Tobacconists were restructured as the Durham Bulls. In 1917, the Bulls won their first of their many championships. After only 36 games in the season, this league, too, was disbanded due to World War I. The War ended in 1918 and in 1919, the Piedmont league was created, which the Bulls joined.
On July 7th, 1926, a new chapter of Bull’s history and, for that matter, Hollywood’s history was created. The Durham Bulls played their first game in El Toro Park, now known as the Durham Athletic Park (DAP). Because of the 1988 movie, Bull Durham, a romantic comedy about the players, the game, and some may argue, life, this landmark is one of Durham’s most visited sites. On June 17th, 1939 after a 7-3 win over Portsmouth, the DAP burned to the ground. The stadium we see today and that was filmed in the movie is of similar design to the original, but was reconstructed with concrete and steel instead of the original wood design.
The popularity of the movie greatly increased the Bulls’ following. A few locals started talking about building a new, larger stadium which would allow them to become a AAA Minor league team, one level below the majors. In 1990, the team was sold to the Capital Broadcasting Company and in 1995, the move was made to the new Durham Bulls Athletic Park across from the American Tobacco Campus. In 1998, after 45 years of being a part of the Carolina League, the Bulls joined the International League (AAA Baseball) and won back to back league championships in 2002 and 2003 with another in 2009. The national title was also won in 2009.
Today, for many, the Durham Bulls provide an evening of entertainment. Like many traditional minor league teams, not only is the game entertaining, but so are the acts between innings such as Wool E. Bull (the mascot) and some games played by younger fans, providing plenty of laughter. While some of the nostalgia may be lost due to the stadium move, watching the Bulls play in the new stadium is still an intimate and fun experience. Downtown Durham including the iconic Lucky Strike smokestack and water tower can be seen from the outfield which gives you the feeling of being in the heart of city. While at a game, it feels as if Bulls baseball is as important to Durham as was all of the industrial and tobacco money.