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Pittsburgh Pirates Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip pt. 3

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As the subtitle indicates, this Part 3 of the “Pittsburgh Pirates Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip” will highlight the other two baseball destination that I suggested adding to enrich your travel plan—the Burlington Royals/ Burlington Athletic Stadium and Durham Bulls/Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Again, I will include some visitor attractions and eateries in or near those host cities that should be helpful in developing one’s overall travel plan. However, here I will also briefly introduce the two Pirates Minor League clubs that travel to these cities to play away games in July or August—the Bristol Pirates and Indianapolis Indian.

The travel distance/time matrix in Part 1 of this series of posts, showed that the ballparks in Burlington and Durham are easily accessible from Greensboro. The route between those cities is primarily via interstate highways I-85 and I-40. In fact, over most of the route those two highways join into a single highway I-85/I-40. Finally, the baseball stadium in each of those cities is located just a short distance off of the interstate highway. The travel matrix shows that Burlington is located kind of midway between Greensboro and Durham and identifies that the trip from Greensboro to the Burlington Royals ballpark is a 24.4 mile/35 minute drive. On the other hand, the run from the Durham Bulls stadium to Burlington is a 32.7 mile drive and should take approximately 39 minutes.

The Bristol Pirates

Two thousand nineteen is the sixth season that the Bristol Pirates are the Pittsburgh Pirates rookie class team in the Appalachian League. As identified in Part 1 of this post, they play their home games at DeVault Memorial Stadium in Bristol, VA. The Appalachian League plays a short-season schedule that begins this year on June 18th and consists of 68 games.

Typically, the Bristol Pirates roster is made up of players who are playing their first or second year of professional baseball. A number of those players were selected in the 2018 First Year Player Draft and played for either the GCL Pirates or Bristol Pirates that season. Also, the roster usually includes some players selected and signed in the current year draft (June 2019 draft). Finally, the roster may include some International players that might have played for the DSL Pirates in the Dominican Summer League. The makeup of the Burlington Royals (Kansas City Royals) roster is similar to that of the Bristol Pirates.

The group of players that form the Bristol Pirates 2019 roster includes two players that are ranked as Pittsburgh Pirates 2019 MLB Top 30 Prospects. They are both right hand pitchers: Tahnaj Thomas (#16) and Santiago Florez (#21). Tahnaj Santiago Florez is an International player from Columbia. He was signed by the Pirates as an International free agent in July 2016 and began his pro career with the DSL Pirates in 2017. In 2018, Florez played his second season of in the Pirates Minor League system with the GCL Pirates in the Gulf Coast League (Rookie class).

Tahnaj Thomas is also an International player, but from the Bahamas He took an alternate route to the Bristol Pirates roster. Thomas was signed by the Cleveland Indians as a free agent in December of 2016 and played for the Indians rookie class team in the Arizona League during 2018. However, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates during that off season. Therefore, 2019 with the Bristol Pirates is his first season playing in the Pittsburgh Pirates Minor League organization.

Burlington Royals/Burlington Athletic Stadium

Burlington, North Carolina has a long and quite consistent history as the host city of Minor League baseball clubs. The first professional baseball team that represented the city was the Burlington Bees. They played in the Bi-State league during the 1942 season. Since then, the city has hosted a number of different teams that played their games in the Carolina League and Appalachian League. In fact, 2019 is the thirty-fourth consecutive season that an Appalachian League team took the field at Burlington Athletic Stadium.

For the start of the 2007 baseball season, the Kansas City Royals added an Appalachian League based rookie class team in Burlington, NC to their Minor League organization. That team was named the Burlington Royals or today the B-Royals for short. Therefore, 2019 is the thirteenth season that the B-Royals are playing their home games at Burlington Athletic Stadium.

Burlington Athletic Stadium

The home baseball field of the Burlington Royals, Burlington Athletic Stadium, is one of the historic ballparks of the Appalachian League. Five of the stadiums of today’s ten team circuit were built fifty or more years ago. Burlington Athletic Stadium, which opened in 1960, is 60 years old this year and is the fourth oldest in that group. As mentioned in Part 1 of this post, Burlington Athletic Stadium is a classic grandstand style ballpark. The photo in Figure 2 is a view of the front of the stadium and shows the back side of the infield grandstand seating area.

Over the years, Burlington Athletic Stadium has undergone a number of renovations to update and expand its facilities and keep it up with the Minor League ballpark of today. Upon entry, you are located on the concourse area behind home plate. Food concessions, the team store, and restrooms are all located along that concourse. Also unique to this ballpark, it that the team’s locker rooms are in separate building structures at the third base end of the concourse. For that reason, players may be seen and greeted as they walk across the concourse to enter the field prior to the game.

Burlington Athletic Stadium field view

The grandstand seating area may be entered by a ramp at either the first base or third base end of the concourse. Those ramps lead to a narrow walkway that extends across the grandstand area behind the infield diamond and separates the reserved box seat section that is on the field side from the unreserved general admission seating that extends up from the other side into the covered grandstand. The grandstand seating areas are close up to the field and offer a great view of the action on the field. Figure 2 shows the view as seen from the walkway directly behind home plate.

Burlington Royals mascot Bingo

The Burlington Royals have a strong fan base that results in an interesting, fun, and family friendly atmosphere during the game. Also, the Royals mascot, who is named Bingo, adds to the enjoyment of the game day experience at the ballpark. Bingo may be found on the field, in the stands, or on the concourse, as shown in Figure 3, encouraging fans to root their home team on to victory.

Burlington Historic Train Depot
Norfolk and Western Rail Caboose Car

A secondary goal of the Pittsburgh Pirates Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip was to see a game of the Bristol Pirates versus the Burlington Royals at Burlington Athletic Stadium. The B-Royals ballpark is located close to the border of Burlington and the neighboring town of Graham. Both Burlington and Graham have an interesting old-time downtown and are less than a 1 mile/five minute drive from the stadium.

One of a number of local attractions that could be visited as part of a day-trip to see a baseball game at Burlington Athletic Stadium is the Burlington Historic Train Depot. A photo of this old time train station, which today is home to the town’s visitor center and an interesting train museum, is shown in Figure 4(a). Figure 4(b) shows a Caboose train car that is on display at the train station complex. The address of this destination is provided below in a list that includes some other visitor attractions in or near Burlington. If time permits, also try to take a run over to downtown Graham to see the historic Alamance County Court House at Court Square and some of the local shops and restaurants. Below the list of attractions, I have provided a list with a few interesting places to stop for a pre- or post-game snack, lunch, or dinner.

Attractions In or Near Burlington

· Burlington Athletic Stadium, 1450 Graham St. Burlington, NC 27217 (336) 222-0223

· Burlington Historic Train Depot and Visitors Center, 200 S. Main St. Burlington, NC 27215 (336) 570-1444

· Whistlestop Exhibit at Company Shops Station, 101 N. Main St. Burlington, NC 27215 (919) 954-7601

· Textile Heritage Museum, 2406 Glencoe St. Burlington, NC 27217 (336) 270-6374

· Graham, NC Downtown/Court Square, 101 N. Main St, 27253 Graham, NC 27253

· Children’s Museum of Alamance County, 217 S. Main St. Graham, NC 27253 (336) 228-7997

· Haw River Trail, 3916 R. Dean Coleman Rd. Burlington, NC 27215 (336) 229-2380

Dining In or Near Burlington

· Valerio’s Italian Restaurant, 120 E. Front St. Burlington, NC 27215 (336) 585-3090

· Burlington Beer Works Co-op, 103 E. Front St. Burlington, NC 27215 (336) 525-6383

· Zack’s Hotdogs, 201 W. Davis St. Burlington, NC 27215 (336) 226-4746

· Blue Ribbon Diner, 2465 S. Church St. Burlington, NC 27215 (336) 570-1120

· The Village Grill, 580 Huffman Mill Rd. Burlington, NC 27215 (336) 584-1497

· TickleMyRibs Barbeque, 1183 University Dr. Burlington, NC 27215 (336) 538-0227

· Piedmont Ale House, 1149 St. Marks Church Rd. Burlington, NC 27215 (336) 584-4422

· The Verdict on the Square, 28 NW. Court Square Graham, NC 27253 (336) 270-3198

· Graham Soda Shop & Grill, 22 NE. Court Square Graham, NC 27253 (336) 229-0501

The Indianapolis Indians

The Indianapolis Indians have been the triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the International League since 2007. They played their home games during each of those thirteen seasons at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis. Since the AAA class is the highest level of Minor League baseball, the Indians roster often includes a number of players that have already made their Major League debut with the Pirates or another club. In fact, from time to time players with a long, successful career in the majors that have been injured are assigned to their clubs AAA team for a short rehabilitation period.

However, the Indianapolis Indians roster also includes many players that are still working their way up to the majors or have played in the majors, but still retain their rookie status because they did not yet play in enough Major League games to exceed the statistical limits set to qualify as a rookie. For that reason, the Indians roster normally includes a number of the Pittsburgh Pirates MLB Top 30 Prospects.

In fact, Indianapolis’ current roster has seven players that are ranked in the top 30. The table in Figure 5 lists each of those players. Three of them have made their debut with the Pirates at the Major League level during the 2018 or 2019 season: Kevin Kramer (2018), Pablo Reyes (2018), and Jason Martin (2019). You are sure to see some of them in action on the field by attending an Indianapolis Indians away game against the Durham Bulls at Durham Bulls Athletic Park as part of the road trip to Greensboro to see the Grasshoppers.

Pittsburgh Pirates MLB Top 30 Prospects on the Indianapolis Indians roster
Durham Bulls Athletic Park home of the Durham Bulls
View of the ball field at the DBAP

Durham Bulls and Durham Bulls Athletic Park

The city of Durham is an exceptional baseball destination for an extension to the Pittsburgh Pirates Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip. Professional baseball has been a fixture of everyday life in Durham for more than a century. A team named the Durham Bulls first played baseball in the city in the year 1900. During the one hundred and twenty years since then, the city has hosted a team during ninety-six of those baseball seasons and for all but four of them the team was named the Durham Bulls.

When the Tampa Bay Rays joined the American League as an expansion club for the 1998 season, they engaged the Durham Bulls as their triple-A affiliate in the International League. Therefore, two-thousand eighteen is the twenty-first season that the Bulls are playing AAA ball as a member of the Rays Minor League organization.

The 1988 movie Bull Durham, which is possibly the best sports movie and certainly the best baseball movie ever filmed, was shot in or around Durham and featured the Durham Bulls baseball club. Durham Athletic Park (the DAP as it is commonly known) was a primary baseball filming location for the movie. That historic stadium still stands today and is a baseball landmark in the city of Durham. It is listed at the end of this section of the article as one of the interesting attractions that could be visited on a stop for a game in the city.

The DAP was replaced by a new stadium—Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP)—for the start of the 1995 season, which is the current home ballpark of the Durham Bulls. As highlighted in Part 1 of this series of posts, DBAP, which is shown in Figure 6(a), was one of writer Josh Norris’ highly ranked Minor League ballparks in his 2017 Baseball America article “Top 10 Minor League Ballparks.” Norris ranked Durham Bulls Athletic Park #6 in the list of his top 10 ballparks. Figure 6 (b) shows the view of the action on the ball field as seen from the seats behind home plate. The stadium offers essentially everything that a Minor League fan could ask for.

Bull atop the left field wall at the DBAP

In fact, the ballpark has one of the most interesting attractions found at any Minor League stadium. That is, the infamous snorting bull shown in Figure 7 that stands atop the “Blue Monster” left field wall. Whenever a Durham player hits a home run, this Bull’s large red eyes blink, tail wags, and puffs of smoke stream out from its nostrils. It also puts on that show after each Durham Bulls home victory. This Bull’s origin is from a prop that was added to the DAP for the filming of the movie Bull Durham

The Durham Bulls mascot—Wool E. Bull

Another interesting attraction at a Durham Bull’s game is their team mascot, who is named Wool E. Bull. Figure 8 shows a projection of him on the scoreboard. You will surely find him on the field, on the dugout, in the stands, or on the concourse entertaining Bull’s fans and encouraging them to root his team on to victory.

Finally, like many of the newer Minor League ballparks, Durham Bulls Athletic Park has a wrap around concourse that enables you to walk around the full perimeter of the baseball field.

Historic Brightleaf Square

Today, the Durham Bulls might be the best known Minor League team in America and its host city and ballpark among the most interesting Minor League destinations for fans of the game. The DBAP is located in Durham’s popular historic downtown American Tobacco complex, which includes restaurants, shops, a performing arts center, and business offices. Moreover, the stadium is just a short drive from another quite enjoyable destination—Brightleaf Square (Figure 9). Brightleaf Square, which was formed from two historic warehouse building of the American Tobacco Company, opened in1981. The square is home to a number of interesting shops, such as the Wentworth & Leggett Bookshop, and popular restaurants—Clouds Brewing, Trattoria Salve and El Rodeo. A list of some attractions and interesting eateries in or near Durham follows.

Attractions In or Near Durham

· Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP), 409 Blackwell St. Durham, NC 27701 (919) 687-6500

· Historic Durham Athletic Park (DAP), 28 Morris St. Durham, NC 27701

· American Tobacco Historic District Dining and Entertainment, 318 Blackwell St. Durham, NC 27701 (919) 433-1566

· Brightleaf Square Shopping and Dining, 905 W. Main St. Durham, NC 27701 (919) 682-9229

· Ninth Street District—Shopping, Dining, and Entertainment, Ninth St. between Green St. and W. Main St. Durham, NC 27705

· Museum of Life and Science, 433 W. Murray Ave. Durham, NC 27704 (919) 220-5429

· Downtown Chapel Hill Visitors Center, 501 W. Franklin St. Chapel Hill, NC 27516 (919) 245-4320

Dining In or Near Durham

· Tobacco Road Sports Café, 280 S. Mangum Street, Durham, NC 27701 (919) 937-9909

· Mellow Mushroom, 410 Blackwell St. Durham, NC 27701 (919) 680-8500

· Cloud Brewing, 905 W. Main St. #22, Durham, NC 27701 (919) 251-8096

· Trattoria Salve, 905 W. Main St. #21A, Durham, NC 27701 (948) 219-6120

· El Rodeo Mexican Restaurant, 905 W. Main St. #1, Durham, NC 27701 (919) 683-2417

· Elmo’s Diner, 776 9th St. Durham, NC 27705 (919) 416-3823 and 200 N. Greensboro St. Carrboro, NC 27510 (919) 929-2909

· Carolina Brewery, 460 W. Franklin St. Chapel Hill, NC 27516 (919) 942-1800

· Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery, 100 E. Franklin St. Chapel Hill, NC 27514 (919) 929-8676

That completes my review of the Pittsburgh Pirates Minor League teams that reside or travel into North Carolina and the ballparks of the Greensboro Grasshoppers, Burlington Royals, and Durham Bulls. Now it’s time for you to create a travel plan and set out on the trail of the Pittsburgh Pirates Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip adventure.

Walter Triebel spent 15 years as an adjunct faculty member at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He has had an extensive career in business and as a textbook and reference book author. Triebel’s “Road-Tripping the South Atlantic League: A Guide to the Teams, Ballparks and Cities” was published by McFarland in 2016. It’s available for purchase on their website as well as Amazon