DURHAM Between a seven-run performance by the International League and a fireworks show, the Durham sky was lit up Wednesday night.
The International League defeated the Pacific Coast League 7-3 to win the Triple-A All-Star Game. The Durham Bulls were well represented, as four players saw action and were led by Durham and IL manager Charlie Montoyo.
Managing the best: Montoyo had to do more than just manage, as the IL skipper had the honor of throwing out the first pitch.
I didn’t know “until two days ago,” Monotoyo said. “After throwing two groups of (batting practice), I’m glad I made it there… That was fun. It was an honor for me to do it.”
The game was his second at the helm of a Class AAA all-star squad – the first in 2010 – and Montoyo was all smiles following the game. He was proud.
“I got everybody in,” Montoyo said. “That’s what I wanted to do and it worked out great.”
With 611 wins as the manager of the Bulls, Montoyo sits at No. 2 on the club’s all-time list. He trails Bill Evers, whose No. 20 is retired by Durham, by six victories and is on pace to break the record by the end of July.
Bulls shine in spotlight: Wilson Betemit and Mikie Mahtook – the position players representing the Bulls – both started and did their best to take advantage of it.
Betemit helped to put the IL ahead early, registering a two-RBI single during the first inning to give it a 2-0 lead and one it would not surrender.
Mahtook finished 0-for-4. Hits or no hits, Mahtook relished the opportunity to represent Durham on minor league baseball’s biggest night of the year.
“Playing on the home field was a pretty cool experience,” Mahtook said. “I wish I could have been able to get a few hits for the guys. All in all it was an awesome experience.”
On the mound, Mike Montgomery tossed one inning, allowing no hits or walks and registering one strikeout. Merrill Kelly was brought on for the last out of the game, allowing one run on one hit before getting Stephen Piscotty to ground out.
Making it all possible: For Bulls fans, the past week was a whirlwind of excitement, with events like the Block Party, Fan Fest and the Home Run Derby preceding the main event. And while the process seems smooth from the outside, Bulls general manager Mike Birling can attest to just how much work it has been.
“It’s been great. I can say that now that we’re almost done. It’s been a stressful few weeks. The staff has been working on this since we were named (as host) about a year and a half ago. It’s been nonstop work.”
But the process of securing the bid goes back seven or eight years, according to Birling.
“When we did the renovations, we didn’t want this just to be Durham Bulls stadium,” he said. “We wanted this to be a place where we can put events on, unique events. Where fans from the Triangle can come.
“There’s teams lined up for years, for the Pacific Coast League and International League. We started looking and asking for this maybe seven, eight years ago. We got it and I think it’s turned out pretty good.”
The Bulls staff worked nonstop since Friday setting up events and making sure everything was prepped for the amount of fans the Durham Bulls Athletic Park would host. Birling compared their role to that of a busy wedding planner.
“It’s funny because you put so much effort into the details then suddenly that event is over so fast,” Birling said. “Then you go to the next one. Someone made the analogy of it’s like planning five weddings in five days. You do all this work and then it’s over so quickly.”
Birling is making sure he and the staff don’t lose track of what they have accomplished – but not before they take a much-deserved weekend.
“It’s almost like you’re too tired to enjoy it,” he said. “A few of us will be in here tomorrow, most of us won’t.
“Luckily, the league gave us until Monday when the Bulls come back, so the whole office is going to be shut down Friday, Saturday, Sunday just for people to regroup. The next week, we’re going to celebrate, because the staff has worked so hard.”
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