I grew up in Orange County, New York. That is where my love of the NY Yankees began. I moved to North Carolina right after I graduated high school. I've been fortunate to live in close proximity to the nationally-known Durham Bulls franchise for my entire NC residency. I was too late to have seen any of the well known Braves alumni play in Durham, but it has been a LOT of fun getting to see some of the players that have gone on to excel in Tampa Bay and beyond. I love the look and the feel of Durham Bulls Athletic Park and had wanted to add a card depicting the home of the Bulls for some time. I was finally able to do that with the above stadium card. It came in a PCL All-Stars set that I picked up at the All-Star autograph session this past summer. It was a stroke of good fortune, since I only picked the set up since I didn't have many cards of most of their roster. Just like busting packs, it's good to be lucky.
Here are some of my favorite cards depicting players in their Durham Bulls uniform.
I'll begin with Toby Hall. He was the first Bulls player that I found myself liking for really no good reason. He was a decent player and he made it to the bigs for a bit, but he wasn't outstanding. Toby was the catcher on the team during the first season that I became a regular spectator at the DBAP. Besides the Bulls logo and uniform, this card kinda makes it look like you're looking down the barrel of Toby's bat. It's a pretty cool visual, if you ask me.
Next up are two guys with a lot of major league miles under their belts. Aubrey Huff really hit his stride with the Baltimore Orioles a number of years after he appeared on this card from the 2000 Bulls team set. Conversely, Juan Guzman was well past his prime when he made his appearances in Durham. He had been a solid pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays for years. This is one of the perks of having a Triple A club close to home. You can see players before they become MLB stars and you can see former stars trying to hold on for one last go round.
From some of the older cards in my Bulls collection, we come to one of the newest. Early this past season, Kevin Kiermaier became another one of my favorite players to watch. He's dynamic, he can hit, run, and make plays in the field. Obviously, other folks in the organization took notice as well since he spent quite a bit of time patrolling the outfield in Tampa. This comes from the 2014 team set and shows off a little of the 'hustle' that made him one of my faves.
Did I mention that you get to see veterans trying to make it back to the bigs for one last hurrah? Well, this is the first of two former World Series MVP's that I have been fortunate enough to see play. Pat was the MVP for Toronto's 1992 championship team. He hit .450 in the series with a homer. His primary function while with the Bulls was to guide the two young catchers on the squad. One of those guys was Paul Hoover who never really amounted to much. The other guy was the previously mentioned Toby Hall.
World Series MVP number two... Hideki Matsui! This one is probably tied for my absolute favorite Durham Bulls card in the collection. The card it is tied with will make an appearance shortly. It was incredible to see a former NY Yankee WS hero in my local ballpark. His arrival in town just happened to coincide with the Pawtucket Red Sox visit in 2012. Even better, Dice-K was on a rehab assignment and pitched during that series. It was quite impressive to see these two former MLB rivals face off in our back yard.
Here is the first of the favorites that I didn't get to see in person. Chipper is a sure fire Hall of Famer and it was really fun to see the Bulls retire his number. I wasn't his biggest fan while he was playing(thanks to the fact he played for the Braves), but I can respect a guy like him that plays the game the right way, stays out of trouble, and is loyal to one team for his entire career. Now that he is no longer contributing to the Braves teams that I loved to hate, I've got to focus on his minor league cards since he is one of the greatest layers to wear the Durham uniform. As good as Chipper was, the greatest player to wear the Durham uni is...
Hall of Famer Joe Morgan(the only other player that I didn't get to see in person). I recently stumbled onto this card on eBay. As soon as I saw it, I knew I needed to add it to my collection. I had never seen a card of Joe Morgan wearing a Bulls jersey. I didn't even think one existed. This came from a Carolina League Anniversary set issued in 1995. It wasn't expensive, but it is a priceless addition and is tied with the Matsui at the top of my Durham Bulls collection favorites.
Spring training is rapidly approaching which means the Bulls roster will be announced soon. Here's hoping that the 2015 team set will contain a new favorite to add to this list.