Durham News: Sports

Bulls aim for big leagues and the steak

Hak-Ju Lee dives in safe to third base during the 12th inning of a Bulls home game against Lehigh Valley on June 10. He would score the winning run, a few moments later, off Taylor Motter's single.
Hak-Ju Lee dives in safe to third base during the 12th inning of a Bulls home game against Lehigh Valley on June 10. He would score the winning run, a few moments later, off Taylor Motter's single. THOMAS HARTWELL

The Triple-A Baseball carousel has shuffled the faces on the field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, but a memorable set of 2015 Durham Bulls have distinguished themselves.

“This is the highlight of our summer, to come here and see the Bulls play,” said Bonnie Gosney, who took home a unique souvenir from the ballpark in May.

Feisty play and a good clubhouse vibe characterize this team.

Alexi Casilla’s acrobatics at second base have dazzled fans. A man who has played in the Major Leagues, he holds court in Spanish with closer Ronald Belisario in the locker room.

Belisario, late of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox, is a can’t-miss sight as he walks to the mound for the ninth inning, with his goggles and Mohawked-hair.

Matt Buschmann has struck out 1,000 batters, all in the minors. At 31 after 10 seasons, he is waiting to do it in the Major Leagues. He led the team in strikeouts with a 7-4 record entering his June 13 start.

At 25, Taylor Motter has an aggressive approach at the plate and on the base path. He is finding his range in many different field positions as he bats his way to an important spot in the lineup.

“Double-A, Triple-A, Major League,” said manager Jared Sandberg. “It’s the same game. If you have talent, you can play.”

There’s J.B. Arencibia, whose buoyancy and power swing lift spirits on and off the field.

Injuries and front-office indecision limited the core of last season’s alumni in recent weeks. Vince Belnome and Mayo Acosta got some playing time during the road series, and Hak-Ju Lee is back after slicing his hand in an aggressive play.

Slugger Mikie Mahtook’s season has taken a north-south aspect, as he is moved back and forth between Durham and the major-league Tampa Bay Rays.

A late arrival packed fireworks. Richie Shaffer had seven home runs in his first 17 games since coming up from Double-A Montgomery. The Charlotte native hit three of them in a June game at Louisville.

Luke Maile and Curt Casali split time behind the plate. Starter Dylan Floro, lefty Scott Diamond and the imposing reliever Jhan Mariñez have stapled a pitching staff that has worked Durham to a 37-26 record as of June 13.

But the biggest surprise is a new arm on the staff: infielder Leo Reginatto. He took the mound after Sandberg ran out of pitchers in his bullpen.

Reginatto pitched three scoreless innings into the 12th. Sandberg will surely look to his Brazilian-born infield arm should the needs of parent-club Tampa Bay leave him “short-handed” again.

Like many who play in the limbo of Triple-A, they are self-driven and independently motivated.

But the vibes between them are loose when they’re at home, even when they lose. And despite some hard losses this season, they sit atop their division.

Failure won’t dissipate them. They are all competing for a spot on Tampa’s major-league roster, but they fight together against opposing teams and boredom on the road.

Hit Bull, win steak

Bulls outfielder Corey Brown and a lucky fan can eat those words painted on the giant Bull signboard at Tobacco Road.

Brown walloped a home run that tagged the Bull on May 26 against the Rochester Red Wings.

Born as a movie prop, it has been upgraded to steam and snort, its eyes glowing red, whenever a member of the home team hits a “tater-shot.”

”It was a fastball pitch,” Brown said. “That’s the way I hit. I’m going to get a lot of home runs and strikeouts.”

The big Bull guards the left foul pole and looks West over Blackwell Street.

“I’ve never hit it,” bomber Mikie Mahtook remarked to no one in particular. “Justin Christian hit it twice last year.”

Bonnie Gosney, a season ticket holder who sits behind the home dugout, was informed by one of the stadium’s promotions staff during the game that her ticket had been chosen in the raffle.

Player and fan won a $100 gift certificate to the Angus Barn in Raleigh.

“Thank you, because I live with a vegetarian, and I’m not a vegetarian,” Gosney said. “And I’m getting a steak.”

Give 1 for Dad on Father’s day

The Durham Bulls has joined the effort to support the Durham campaign called Give 1 For Dad that began on May 5 to raise $1 million for the Duke Cancer Institute (DCI) to conduct a clinical trial that could result in a new treatment opportunities for those with advanced prostate cancer.

DCI, part of the Duke University Medical Center, is prepared to launch the trial to test the the protocol, nicknamed Copper Kills Cancer. As it is based on a generic drug, funding is elusive. Give 1 For Dad has been launched to raise the money necessary to start the trial; this will be the first time a clinical trial at Duke has been funded this way.

The Bulls players will wear Give 1 For Dad wristbands and will use the team’s Father’s Day game to raise awareness and funding for the clinical trial. Representatives from Give 1 For Dad and the Duke Cancer Institute will be on hand at the game to take donations and share information.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer