Editor’s Observe: Please permit me the chance to introduce Walter Triebel, a veteran sports activities blogger who has written a number of team-specific guides for minor league street journeys. This 12 months he’s taking up the Tampa Bay Rays system, and we’re glad to welcome him at DRaysBay whereas he conducts his analysis. He has beforehand had his work featured at Fish Stripes and Bucs Dugout. Hyperlinks to his printed work are on the backside of the web page. Welcome, Walter! – DR

Durham, North Carolina is a Mecca amongst Minor League Baseball locations. That’s, a vacation spot the place followers of baseball must attended no less than one recreation if no more.

The town of Durham could be probably the greatest is aware of Minor League baseball locations in america. It’s the residence of a legendary baseball membership named the Durham Bulls. In actual fact, a Durham Bulls skilled baseball group first took the sector within the metropolis in 1900 and since then a group performed within the metropolis throughout ninety-eight of the 100 twenty-two baseball season from that 12 months via 2021. Furthermore, the group’s moniker has been the Bulls throughout all however 4 of these years.

The picture above exhibits the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP), which is positioned in a historic part of downtown, Durham. That ballpark and its metropolis are an distinctive vacation spot for attending a Minor League recreation, as it’s positioned within the American Tobacco Historic District that’s the residence of quite a few attention-grabbing eating places and really near quite a few different historic buying, eating, and leisure areas, reminiscent of Brightleaf Sq. and the Ninth Road District.

In actual fact, the DBAP was one in every of author Josh Norris’ extremely ranked Minor League ballparks in his 2018 Baseball America article “High 10 Minor League Ballparks.” Norris ranked Durham Bulls Athletic Park #6 within the listing on that listing.

The reorganization of Minor League Baseball that occurred previous to the beginning of the 2021 season has opened up an attention-grabbing new alternative for North Carolina-based followers of the Tampa Bay Rays (TB) Main League membership and their Durham Bulls (DUR) Minor League affiliate.

Previous to this season, the Bulls the place the Rays solely Minor League membership that performed video games in NC. Nonetheless, the reorganization of the minor leagues into Main League Baseball’s new Skilled Improvement League (PDL) has modified that. This chance can be highlighted shortly, however first a bit of in regards to the reorganization of MiLB that has created the Durham Bulls/Tampa Bay Rays road-tripping alternative.

MiLB Reorganization brings Rays associates to North Carolina

The Durham Bulls, who had been the Triple-A group of the Rays within the Worldwide League (AAA) for the twenty-three years from 1998 via 2020, turned a member of the Skilled Improvement League’s new AAA class league the Triple-A East League for the beginning of the 2021 season.

Subsequent, the Charleston RiverDogs, of Charleston, South Carolina, transitioned from the previous South Atlantic League to the brand new Low-A East League of the PDL. On the similar time, the golf equipment Main League affiliation moved from the New York Yankees to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Lastly, Tampa Bay’s prior A-class group the Bowling Creek Scorching Rods, who the place the Rays full-season A-class group since 2009 and had served that function within the Midwest League for eleven years (2010 to 2020), transitioned to the brand new PDL Excessive-A East League.

Throughout the 2021 season each the Scorching Rods (Excessive-A category) and RiverDogs (Low-A category) golf equipment journey to NC to play away recreation towards different members of their league.

Additionally, for the 2021 season, there was a serious restructuring of how group’s residence/away video games are scheduled. That was finished to chop again on the quantity of journey the groups did throughout their common season. This season all residence and away sequence versus one other group are six days lengthy—Tuesday via Sunday; as a substitute of the normal three or 4 day stints. This has lengthened the groups keep in every metropolis.

Now, for the primary time, two different members of the Tampa Bay Rays Minor League system play away video games inside straightforward day-tripping journey distance of the Bull’s residence ballpark in Durham, NC.

Durham Bulls, Bowling Inexperienced Scorching Rods, and Charleston RiverDogs North Carolina based mostly recreation schedule.

The desk above highlights the summer time 2021 dates that every of these three groups are enjoying residence (Bulls) or away (Scorching Rods or RiverDogs) video games at ballparks in North Carolina. Observe that the Durham Bulls residence recreation dates are coded in inexperienced, Bowling Inexperienced Scorching Rods days with yellow, and Charleston RiverDogs blue.

Particularly, a assessment of the desk exhibits that for the interval from June 22nd via July 4th all three groups are enjoying some recreation in NC.

The Bulls are at residence at Durham Bulls Athletic Park every day from June 29th via Sunday July 4th. Throughout that precise sequence of days/dates, the Charleston RiverDogs are in North Carolina enjoying away video games versus the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers (KAN/Chicago White Sox) at their new stadium—Atrium Well being Ballpark.

However, the Bowling Inexperienced Scorching Rods are visiting the Hickory Crawdads (HIC/Texas Rangers) at L.P. Frans Stadium in Hickory, NC the prior week—Tuesday, June 22nd via Sunday, June 27th. That interval represents a fairly brief time window throughout which native followers of the Durham Bulls or country-wide fan of the Tampa Bay Rays may attend a sequence of video games wherein every of these three groups are enjoying in North Carolina cities.

The journey distances and instances from the Durham Bull’s ballpark in downtown Durham to these of the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers and Hickory Crawdads are inside straightforward day-tripping vary. The Cannon Ballers’ stadium in Kannapolis, North Carolina is roughly a 116 mile/1 hour 49 minute drive from Durham Bulls Athletic Park; nonetheless, the drive between DBAP and the Crawdads ballpark in Hickory, NC is roughly 153 miles and may take about 2 hours and 19 minutes.

The desk additionally exhibits some alternate July, August, and September dates wherein two or three of the groups may very well be seen whereas enjoying video games in NC.

Throughout these durations, the Scorching Rods and RiverDogs are enjoying completely different groups. As an example, in mid July (the 14th via 17th) Bowling Inexperienced is visiting Greensboro, NC for a six recreation sequence versus the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Pittsburgh Pirates) at their ballpark—First Nationwide Financial institution Discipline. Then, in September they arrive again to play the Winston-Salem Sprint (Chicago White Sox) at Truist Stadium.

However, the Charleston RiverDogs solely return to North Carolina as soon as and that isn’t till the final week of the common season—September 15th via 19th. That week, the RiverDogs play the Down East Wooden Geese (Texas Rangers) at Grainger Stadium n Kinston, NC. The ballparks of every of these three groups are nearer to Durham Bulls Athletic Park than these of the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers or Hickory Crawdads. In actual fact, the Grasshoppers stadium is the closest to DBAP—roughly a 54 mile/58 minute drive.

Why it is best to make the street journey: Baseball’s High Farm System

Right here’s a break down of the Tampa Bay Rays High 30 Prospects on the Durham Bulls, Bowling Inexperienced Scorching Rods, and Charleston RiverDogs rosters, per MLB.com.

In the intervening time of the writing of this text, twenty-three of the Tampa Bay Rays 2021 MLB High 30 Prospects are assigned to the rosters of the Durham Bulls, Bowling Inexperienced Scorching Rods, or Charleston RiverDogs. Observe that eight of the Rays prime 30 ranked gamers are on the Bulls roster, three on that of the Scorching Rods, and 9 on the RiverDogs. It’s a reasonably even unfold, and additional assessment of the desk exhibits that 5 of the Rays prime 10 prospect at the moment play for a kind of groups.

Earlier this season, I attended a Durham Bulls residence recreation on the DBAP. That day 4 Bulls gamers that have been ranked as Tampa Bay High 30 Prospects have been of their beginning lineup. Nonetheless, since then, one in every of them, shortstop Taylor Partitions, was referred to as as much as the majors and for that motive is not listed within the desk.

Two of the opposite three starters, subject gamers Wander Franco (#1) and Vidal Brujan (#2), stay within the desk. That day the Bulls performed the Charlotte Knights (CWS); opened the scoring with 4 runs within the backside of the primary; and rolled on to a 7 run to 2 victory. In actual fact, Franco, Brujan, and Partitions all performed key roles in that first inning rally. Nonetheless, the massive hit, which drove within the eventual recreation profitable run, was by quantity 5 batter, designated hitter Ryan Boldt. He hit a two-run homer that knocked in runs 3 and 4 of the inning.

The fourth prime 30 prospect I bought to see is Tampa Bay Rays present quantity 19 prospect Drew Strotman.

Strotman, a 40-man rostered pitcher, took the mound because the Durham Bulls starter in that recreation and in addition performed a star function. He was making his third begin of the season and had a high quality begin. Strotman threw six full innings and allowed only one run on two hits and didn’t stroll a batter. In actual fact, 4 of these six have been 1-2-3 innings and he document 8 of the 18 outs over that stretch through the strikeout.

When Strotman departed, he was exchange by a reliever that can also be ranked among the many Rays prime 30 prospects—proper hand pitcher Brent Honeywell (#18). He pitched a shout out seventh inning.

Followers of the Tampa Bay Rays and Durham Bulls: it’s time for a bit of Minor League Baseball road-tripping journey. You’ve gotten the chance to see most of the Tampa Bay Rays present MLB High 30 Prospects in motion of the sector in addition to go to historic Durham and attend a recreation at one of many prime ranked Minor League ballparks within the nation.

The 2021 Durham Bulls/Tampa Bay Rays North Carolina Minor League Baseball Street Journey awaits you.

Walter Triebel is the writer of “Road-Tripping the South Atlantic League: A Guide to the Teams, Ballparks and Cities” printed by McFarland. It’s obtainable for buy on their website in addition to Amazon. Walter beforehand spent 15 years as an adjunct college member at Fairleigh Dickinson College, and has led an intensive profession as a textbook and reference e book writer. You possibly can comply with him on twitter here.

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