"When somebody leaves Durham, they don't come back."
So says Annie Savoy (played by Susan Sarandon) in the 1988 film "Bull Durham." But as it turns out, that's not entirely true.
Ron Shelton, the writer and director of "Bull Durham," will return to Durham Friday — 30 years to the day the film was released — to celebrate the film's milestone. The legendary sports movie was filmed around the Triangle, including some spots still standing.
Considered a classic, it elevated the Bulls to their status as perhaps the most famous minor league baseball team. The film, also starring Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins, continues to inspire heated debate among film and sports fans alike who consider it in the mix of best baseball films of all time, if not one of the best sports movies out there.
In it, "Nuke" LaLoosh (played by Tim Robbins) is a hot young pitching prospect on rotation with the Durham Bulls, with an exceptional throwing arm and complete lack of maturity and common sense. "Crash" Davis (played by Kevin Costner) is a veteran minor league catcher, brought in to settle him down, and help him grow up. The two compete for baseball groupie Annie Savoy, while at the same time building a strange camaraderie.
Ten years after Costner came back to Durham and performed at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Shelton will revisit the city that became so much a part of the film. He will throw the first pitch as the Bulls host the Gwinnett Stripers and will conduct a Q&A with fans preceding the postgame fireworks.
In honor of the film's anniversary, here's your guide to how to celebrate, its local roots, and where it falls in the debate about the greatest baseball movie ever.
30th anniversary celebrations
▪ At the Bulls game Friday, visitors will meet lookalikes of Annie Savoy, "Nuke" LaLoosh, and "Crash" Davis as they enter Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The stadium will be adorned by various prop replicas, and the team will wear throwback jerseys reminiscent of those worn in the film. No word on if that includes a garter belt, though. The game will get underway at 7:05 p.m. Tickets: https://bit.ly/2sULheS
▪ In Raleigh, the film will also be shown Friday at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. Seating is reserved, so be sure to purchase tickets in advance. Information and tickets: https://bit.ly/2LP5Qkh (The Bulls screened it at DPAP last week.)
▪ The centerpiece of the film, and the set for all the home games, is the historic Durham Athletic Park. The Bulls played there from 1926 until 1994, when the team moved to their present home in 1995, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The old Durham Athletic Park now serves as the home for the North Carolina Central University baseball team.
▪ Annie Savoy's stately Queen Anne-style manor in the film is actually known as the James Manning House. It is at 911 N. Mangum St. in Durham, and is under private ownership.
▪ Mitch's Bar, where Savoy, LaLoosh, and Davis first all meet, was filmed in Mitch's Tavern at 2426 Hillsborough St., in Raleigh. Viewers may recall the confrontation between Davis and LaLoosh, during which Davis challenges LaLoosh to hit him with a baseball, and LaLoosh misses, sending the ball through a glass door emblazoned with the words "Mitch's Bar Deliveries."
The real Mitch's Tavern is on the second floor of its building, overlooking Hillsborough Street, and has no such back door. However, an intact replica of the prop glass used in the movie hangs in the tavern today.
▪ The film comes full circle when LaLoosh is called up to the majors, and he and Davis again fight in a bar. This time, it's The Green Room, at 1108 Broad St. in Durham. The Green Room remains much as it's seen in the movie: an authentically dive-y pool hall.
▪ Finally, there's McCormick Field — in Asheville. McCormick Field is the home of the Asheville Tourists, where Davis goes to hit one more home run, after getting cut from the Bulls just shy of the Minor League home run record.
The legacy of 'Bull Durham'
The film rocketed the Durham Bulls to minor league celebrity. But how does it fare when put up against other classic baseball flicks?
"Bull Durham" has already made headlines twice this year when first Major League Baseball omitted it from its poll on the best baseball movie of all time, and then ESPN snubbed it in their "Sports Movie Madness" bracket.
MLB's final four films were "Major League," "The Natural," "Field of Dreams," and "The Sandlot." They're all classic films, but so is "Bull Durham." None of them have singlehandedly given a team so much recognition, and neither "Major League" nor "The Natural" can compete for sheer quotability.
Pick whichever you like to go, but "Bull Durham" should be on that list.
ESPN's offense is far more egregious, who apparently didn't believe that "Bull Durham" is one of the top 32 sports films ever made. To many, it's a travesty that a bracket that includes "The Waterboy" could not make room for "Bull Durham."
There's no accounting for taste. But in this writer's opinion, calling "Bull Durham" anything other than "the greatest film on dirt" isn't just disappointing, it's downright wrong.