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Grabbing the Bull by the Horns: Durham Bulls Honor Film’s Legacy on 30th Anniversary

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September 26, 2023 | Podcast
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“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones…and the only church that trule feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” -Annie Savoy, Bull Durham

Those opening lines, spoken by Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy at the beginning of Bull Durham, speak to just how powerful a force baseball can be. Of course, what Annie didn’t know is that she was taking part in one of the greatest sports movies of all time that would practically merit a “Church” of its own.

Bull Durham– the quintessential baseball film (and better of the Costner movies; just check this writer’s bio…) turns 30 this year, and the Durham Bulls Minor League team intends to go all-out celebrating the monumental anniversary.

As the Minor League team featured in the movie, the Durham Bulls are in a rather unique- sometimes challenging- position. “We take great pride in maintaining the legacy of our ball club’s connection to the film…and love to celebrate routinely with little odes during the season,” said Matt Sutor, the Bulls’ director of marketing and communications.

Yet he went on to describe how that can require walking a fine line, as Sutor and the marketing team don’t want fans to lose sight of the fact that the Durham Bulls are much more than just that movie. They are also a veritable Minor League Baseball team that continues to provide a great fan experience to this day.

“Do we honor the movie? Yes. But is it our ‘bread and butter’? No,” Sutor stated. He and his team usually have to be careful not to go overboard at the expense of minimizing the current MiLB product.

That all changes for two weeks this summer, as Durham is planning an elaborate 30th Anniversary Celebration. “This year is different,” Sutor mentioned. “You only turn 30 once. We really want to blow this out of the water, and honor what gave Durham and the Bulls an international name.”

The festivities kicked off on June 8th, with the club showing the ‘80s movie at Durham Athletic Park, which is actually one of the original filming locations. (The team currently plays in nearby Durham Bulls Athletic Park, although the old ‘DAP’ facility does continue to get used by other teams for baseball, community events, and other activities).

“There were two screens. Fans had the option of sitting in the Grandstand or on the grassy outfield, with the movie showing both ways,” Sutor mentioned. He went on to describe the entire experience, which featured food trucks, refreshments from Bull Durham Beer Co., and the team’s Mascot, Wool E. Bull, as well as other characters from the movie.

This first event, “Bull Durham Rewind- Movie Night at the DAP,” was designed to serve as a fun, laid-back way to open the week and create that overall nostalgic feeling that the team is hoping to generate.

The big highlight will be on June 15th, with the “Bull Durham 30th Anniversary Celebration,” taking place during the actual Durham Bulls MiLB game. “It’s 30 years to the day of the movie’s premiere…the entire game-day experience is going to be an ode to the movie’s legacy,” Sutor gushed.  

During the game, the Bulls will wear throwback jerseys from the 80s, the video board will have fun historical features, the movie mascot will be in attendance, and there will be on-field entertainment based on the movie. Sutor was also rather excited to reveal a few of the other big highlights- the team will be hosting Ron Shelton, the film’s writer and director, at the ballpark that night; and there will be a mini-museum featuring artifacts from the actual movie.

“It’s been great. Fans have been generous enough to lend, and eager to participate in celebrating this great movie. We were also able to get ‘core extras’ from the film to do interviews talking about their behind-the-scenes story working on the film.”

This will all give the celebration the local feel that Sutor noted was paramount to running a successful promotion. “We want to make sure the event stays true to it’s Durham roots, and want to approach the movie from an angle that people haven’t seen or heard before.” After all, it’s the ability to offer that ‘local flavor’ that provides the Durham Bulls such a unique opportunity to make this event stand out and be different from other Minor League promotions.

Sutor said that there is a lot more in the works, although as it stands currently, the event sounds like a blast! “It’s important for us to honor and do right by Durham Bulls fans, and fans of the movie. We want to make the experience truly unique…fans should know they’re coming to a lot more than just a baseball game.”

For two weeks in June, the Durham Bulls are providing a great demonstration of a team leveraging history and capitalizing on a unique opportunity to offer a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience sure to generate buzz and excitement. There’s really only one thing to say about anybody missing such a fun event. “You know what that makes you? A lollygagger!”    

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