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Posts Tagged ‘Bull Durham’

Even the Losers

July 25, 2014 | by

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A drone—yes, really—photographed the action at our game against New York. Photo: Alon Sicherman, Center for the Study of the Drone

Even the losers
Keep a little bit of pride
—Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

About a month ago, when I last wrote about The Paris Review’s softball team, I called us “damn fine.” “The Parisians are on something of a hot streak,” I had the gall to say, noting that we’d “met with defeat only once, at the hands of The Nation.”

Then July happened.

Reader, you gaze upon the words of a broken man. (Specifically a broken right fielder.) Today, that “damn fine” is inflected with callow hubris; that “hot streak” runs lukewarm. After three more games—against Vanity Fair, New York, and n+1—our season is over, and our win-loss record is a measly 4-4.

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When we were good: the scorecard of this season’s first game, against DC Comics.

The close of yesterday’s game found us supine on the Astroturf, wondering: What happened back there? That’s for history to decide, or the trolls in the comments section. Whatever the case, our early, easy victories against the likes of The New Yorker and Harper’s now seem like distant memories.

The trouble started with our game against Vanity Fair, whose chic black-on-black uniforms belied their brutish athleticism. (And their trash talking: “Don’t just tweet about it,” shouted their third-base coach, “be about it.”) They eked out a 5-4 victory; I ate some of their pizza in recompense. Our spirits were still high enough, at that point, for a group photo: Read More »

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Swinging for the Fences

July 1, 2014 | by

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The Paris Review’s Hailey Gates, Stephen Andrew Hiltner, and Clare Fentress at the game against The New Yorker last week.

A certain literary quarterly graced Page Six this morning, and it’s not because we’re in rehab or recently posed nude or hosted a tony, freewheeling charity dinner in Sagaponack—though we aspire to do those things, ideally all at once.

No, it’s because we have a damn fine softball team.

Fact is, The Paris Review Parisians are on something of a hot streak; in our five games this season, we’ve met with defeat only once, at the hands of The Nation. And we play a good clean game: no pine tar, no corked bats, no steroids (unless you count the occasional can of Bud Light). We believe, like Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham, in the Church of Baseball. It was only a matter of time until we attracted the attention of the gossip rags. Says the Post of our game against Harper’s last week,

“A string of ‘Parisian’ homers” put eight more runs on the board … the “mercy rule” was invoked—meaning nobody kept count … A spy said of The Paris Review’s crew that also pummeled The New Yorker two days earlier: “Their team was so good-looking and so coordinated, I could hardly believe any of them actually knew how to read. Let alone know what to do with a semicolon.”

The print version of the piece puts an even finer point on it: “Literary sluggers in rout,” its headline says.

In just a few hours, the Parisians—now well acquainted with the art of being vain—take on Vanity Fair, itself no stranger to Page Six. What’s at stake is more than just bragging rights: it’s what John Updike called, in “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” “the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill.”

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The Church of Baseball

September 18, 2013 | by

Fireworks over the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Photo: Kate Joyce

Fireworks over the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Photo: Kate Joyce

On Saturday, the Bulls won the International League championship. They won the championship! We showed up to document them, and it’s as if they responded to the scrutiny, performed for the cameras. I can’t help thinking of the observer effect. Did we help cause this?

The series was tied at one win apiece after the Bulls and the Pawtucket Red Sox split a pair of 2-1 games in Durham. The run deprivation bottomed out in game three at Pawtucket: neither team scored for an incredible thirteen innings. The futility (or great pitching, if you prefer) went on for nearly six hours. It was dazing and gripping, by turns, with blurry, barren stretches punctuated by a few dramatically thwarted rallies.

Around midnight, it became clear that whoever won this game would go on to take the best-of-five series, for the blood would go right out of the loser of this marathon. Finally, in the fourteenth inning, the Bulls scored two runs—without getting a hit, naturally: Pawtucket coughed up two walks and two errors. Even though Durham closer Kirby Yates loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the fourteenth, there was no doubt he’d pitch out of the jam. A rousing strikeout on a full-count pitch ended the game and, essentially, the series. Read More »

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When Winning Is Everything

July 24, 2013 | by

Durham Bulls mascot Wool E. Bull. Wet-plate tintype by Leah Sobsey/Tim Telkamp.

Durham Bulls mascot Wool E. Bull. Wet-plate tintype by Leah Sobsey/Tim Telkamp.

“Not really about baseball”: we’ve adhered pretty well so far to this watchword of our Bull City Summer documentary project, but cultivating indifference has been hard for me. I really care about baseball, and I watch the games closely. Still, I’ve made a season-long effort to notice the surroundings in a rather moony way—trying to soak up the ambient energy in the ballpark, its sheer quality and quantity.

That energy rises and falls throughout the game, but it does so unevenly and unpredictably, not always (in fact, usually not) in step with the action on the field. The video board command to MAKE SOME NOISE!, in huge, undulating letters, can whip the crowd into a lather, as can a Bulls home run, but these exclamatory moments have a short life span. As soon as the words leave the screen, as soon as the next pitch is thrown, the energy reverts, subject to its own mysterious forces.

There is plenty of early froth and surge: the singing of the National Anthem, the anticipatory buzz at first pitch, the grandstand up-and-down for hot dogs and beer and cotton candy, the breakthrough of early hits and runs, the sideshow pileup of mid-inning contests and mascot high jinks and blaring pop music. But then “the game turns inward in the middle innings,” as Don DeLillo puts it in his novella Pafko at the Wall (which is also the opening chapter of Underworld). At the deepest recess of this inward turn, there inevitably comes what I have dubbed “the nadir”: a quiet, satisfying, and almost narcotic moment when all of the energy, on the field and off, recedes, as if subdued by its own exuberance. The crowd noise falls to a low, warm murmur, like a dovecote. Read More »

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When Baseball Isn’t Baseball

May 15, 2013 | by

In Ivan Weiss’s trailer for Bull City Summer, guest photographer Alec Soth says, “What I’m doing here isn’t about the game of baseball.” Soth isn’t the first project participant to say this (or words to that effect). The notion has been with us virtually since Bull City Summer was conceived, more than two years ago. It has since grown into an informal slogan.

It’s curious to say that a project about a baseball team, set in and around a baseball park, isn’t about baseball. But in fact, the diamond has long refracted our attention outward from itself: Walt Whitman compared baseball to America’s laws and Constitution; more recently, Michael Chabon wrote, in Summerland, “A baseball game is nothing but a great slow contraption for getting you to pay attention to the cadence of a summer day.”

The “summer day” part is a little too pastoral for me (the vast majority of games are at night, anyway), but Chabon is right that a ballgame, with its pauses and blank spaces built around what Whitman called the “snap” and “fling” of the game’s energy and action, encourages you to take in everything around it—everything that “isn’t about the game of baseball,” as Soth says. Chabon and Soth are getting at why we call baseball the national pastime instead of the national sport. Read More »

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Bull City Summer

April 17, 2013 | by

At Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Photo: Kate Joyce.

At Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Photo: Kate Joyce.

Unless you are a baseball adept, or familiar with Durham, North Carolina, your relationship to the words Durham Bulls may be an inverted one. Perhaps your mind flips the words to Bull Durham, the 1988 movie about life and love in the minor leagues. Kevin Costner stars as journeyman catcher Crash Davis (there was a real player by that name, long ago), who is sent to Durham to tutor the young, talented, and wild Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), a flamethrowing pitcher who is never sure where his pitches will go. Nuke spends the summer canoodling with Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), an aging baseball groupie, before he is called up to the “Show,” the major leagues. That clears the way for Crash and Annie to become the batterymates, as baseball argot puts it, they were destined to be. It is a mellow, even melancholy consummation, a sadder-but-wiser ending to an antic, shaggy, often profane baseball tale of getting all the way to the major leagues, or just to the end of summer—to the end of a dream.

Bull Durham gets a lot right, and real minor-leaguers approve of it—my multiyear polling of ballplayers in clubhouses shows it to be the truest baseball movie: they identify with the bus-ride scenes (the minors are still known colloquially as the bus leagues), with Crash lamenting the “dying quail” difference between hitting .250 and .300 (the difference that’ll get you to the majors), and with the lecture Crash gives Nuke on how to fob off sports clichés on reporters like me.

But Bull Durham does omit a crucial detail, one that the casual viewer will probably overlook. Read More »

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