banner
Bull City Summer

Born to be a Bull

Posted May 28, 2013

Jatovi McDuffie doesn’t smile; he beams. When he talks to you, his eyes widen and his face lights up, then he laughs with his whole body. He’s easy to recognize from across the stands—arms folded at an angle, black Durham Bulls Baseball Club shirt neatly tucked into his khaki shorts, head tilted to one side as he listens and nods and confers.

Watching McDuffie, a thought occurs—he’s the mayor of the stadium. He can’t make it 10 feet without bumping into someone he knows and exchanging effusive backslaps. Given his job—and his personality—this isn’t surprising. For the past nine years, McDuffie has worked as the on-field promotional announcer for the Bulls. Every three outs, he’s on the diamond with his microphone in hand, rallying the crowd to cheer along while members of the promotion squad wrestle in sumo suits or kids race around the bases against Wool E. Bull, the team’s bovine mascot.

“Okay, everyone, I want to introduce you to Chaz! Everybody wave!” McDuffie yells at the crowd with infectious energy, one hand on the shoulder of this young contender. “Chaz needs to throw all four of these beanbags into these buckets. Your job is to make noise. Chaz needs to hear you all the time so he has the strength and the willpower to make these shots!” The crowd cheers and cheers—and McDuffie cheers with them—as Chaz launches his beanbags into the air.

McDuffie’s enthusiasm doesn’t fade once his microphone is back in his pocket and the game has resumed. Instead, he circulates around the stadium, greeting fans and making jokes and catching up with the season ticketholders who have become game day staples for McDuffie after nearly a decade of emceeing. (That includes six years of emceeing full-time for every home game of the season, totaling well over 500 games—not that he’s counting.)

“You recognize faces,” he says. “It’s so weird watching kids that I saw when they were three that are now 12 years old. It’s so crazy. You see kids grow up.”

McDuffie also grew up in Durham, graduating from Northern High School. He came to this job after years of performing improvisational comedy for Triangle troupes ComedyWorx and Humor Therapy. When the on-field announcer position opened up, two friends—a basketball buddy who at the time worked for the Bulls and a fellow improv performer who worked for Fox 50—encouraged him to try out. After several auditions, during which the promotional director’s first and second choices for the job backed out, McDuffie landed the gig.

McDuffie draws on his improv comedy experience to keep the crowds entertained and the activities moving:

“Honestly, the biggest difference between this and improv is just the size of the crowds,” he says. “You can have 10,000 fans watching at the stadium, and an improv show might have 300 people in the audience on a good night.”

And the other difference? Out on the field, McDuffie isn’t playing a character.

“In a sense, it’s being me playing me.”

All of these skills—the improv, the humor, the sociability and endless energy—come into play for McDuffie’s other job, his day job, so to speak: He works as a teacher at the New Horizons Character and Leadership Academy, a faith-based independent alternative school for at-risk youth in Durham.

The students at New Horizons range in age from 15 to 21, and many of them have been through the criminal justice system and are three or four grade levels behind. The majority are from low-income, single-parent homes; over half are raised by their grandmothers. In addition to offering traditional high school coursework, the school provides instruction in character development, restorative justice and public speaking. McDuffie teaches classes in computer systems and communications. The aim is to give students a voice and instill in them self-worth, discipline and accountability through a dose of tough love.

“A lot of the students are reading at a fifth grade level,” McDuffie says. “They’ve been told that they’re stupid and dumb for years, so you’ve got to be patient and make sure they understand that they’re really smart, that they just have to take time with it.”

And that’s where his improv comedy skills come in.

“Improv is required to find different ways to tap into their abilities. And jokes help in the sense that it makes that child respect you—that you’re not trying to be this giant authoritative figure, that you’re not trying to be their dad.”

But McDuffie doesn’t open up to his students about his other role outside the classroom and on the diamond.

“I don’t want them to think that I think I’m on this level [above them] or I’m on this plateau,” he says. So he keeps his alter ego a secret—he’s a teacher by day, and an announcer by night.

“One kid I’m teaching now, she found out. She came into class, ‘Well, you know, I just realized something. My mom and I go to Bulls games, and there’s this guy who I thought was funny, and then I realized that it was Mr. Jatovi!’ That tickled me.”

New Horizons is taking steps to secure a new building to house its high school students.

“We want to keep them outside of the neighborhood or home that they live in now, at least for a little while, to keep them focused on education, on improving themselves,” McDuffie says. “Because most of them only see their neighborhood and think that’s the only place they’re ever going to be. So there are few options besides, ‘I’ll go sell drugs with my boys.’”

It’s a lot to balance—teaching, a long stretch of 72 games to announce each season, and the full-time responsibilities of being a parent to a three-year-old girl. But McDuffie, who was just nominated for 2013 Man of the Year for Community Service by Durham’s Spectacular Magazine, thrives on the busyness of his schedule and says he wants to keep announcing as long as the Bulls will have him.

“To me, being out on the field, it doesn’t feel like I’m talking to a giant crowd. If feels like I’m talking to one or two people out there, I just have a microphone,” he says.

“It really does feel like I’m hanging out … No matter if I never knew them or if I knew them for 10 years, it’s like hanging out with a bunch of friends.”

1 Comment

This blogpost is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • tdouble232323 May 28, 9:01 a.m.

    Great story and a great young man.

  • HSFB: Football Friday with Tom Suiter

    Tonight at 11:35 on WRAL-TV

  • ACC: NC State at UNC

    Tomorrow at 12:58 pm on WRAL-TV

  • SEC: Mississippi State at Ole Miss

    Tomorrow at 3:30 pm on WRAL-TV

  • NFL: San Diego at Baltimore

    Sunday at 1:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • HSFB: Millbrook at Wake Forest

    Tonight at 7:30 on 620am

  • CFB: NC State at UNC

    Tomorrow at 12:30 pm on WRAL-FM

Scoreboard
Local
Final
NCCU 65
EILL 40
 
1st
NCSU 0
BSU 3
 
7:00pm Tonight
PIT
CAR
7:00pm Tonight
CHA
GSW
8:00pm Tonight
UF
UNC
8:30pm Tonight
TULSA
ECU
Final
BOS 102
CHI 109
7:00pm Tonight
CHA
GSW
7:30pm Tonight
TOR
DAL
7:30pm Tonight
DET
MIL
7:30pm Tonight
ATL
NOP
8:00pm Tonight
HOU
LAC
8:00pm Tonight
OKC
NYK
8:00pm Tonight
IND
ORL
8:30pm Tonight
SAN
SAC
9:00pm Tonight
DEN
PHO
10:00pm Tonight
POR
MEM
10:30pm Tonight
LAL
MIN
Final
WMICH 21
NILL 31
Final
SMU 9
HOU 35
Final
IOWA 34
NEB 37
Final
SFLA 0
UCF 16
Final
MARS 66
WKENT 67
Final
KSU 27
AKR 24
Final
BGU 24
BST 41
Final
UMASS 21
BUF 41
Final
EMICH 16
TOL 52
Final
MIZZ 21
ARK 14
Final
SALABAMA 40
NAVY 42
 
Final
ARZ 42
ARST 35
 
4th
AFA 24
COLST 24
 
Final
UCLA 10
STAN 31
8:00pm Tonight
VT
UVA
8:30pm Tonight
TULSA
ECU
Final
NCCU 65
EILL 40
 
Final
KU 82
TENN 67
Final
TEXAM 87
NO 65
 
Final
NCAT 57
RAD 65
 
Final
GEOR 58
BUT 64
Final
BRO 81
PVU 71
Final
RIU 66
SCU 44
Final
NARZ 70
SOUTH 63
Final
DART 68
MAST 67
Final
WRST 59
FIU 61
Final
XAV 73
UTEP 77
Final
OSU 73
JMU 56
Final
TXSOU 71
LAM 56
 
Final
TAMCC 75
MVSU 66
 
Final
AKAN 51
MIZST 55
Final
BUCK 80
PSU 88
 
Final
PROV 72
YALE 66
Final
UGA 62
MINN 66
 
Final
WISC 69
OKLA 56
 
1st OT
Terriers 67
NORST 67
 
Final
PEAY 62
STEPH 83
 
Half
FSU 29
CSOU 17
 
2nd
VALPO 34
DRAK 21
 
2nd
CIN 43
MTST 21
 
2nd
SDU 45
PRIN 30
 
Half
WASU 39
RICE 33
 
1st
CSFU 34
USCU 28
 
1st
GT 21
RIDE 14
 
1st
TXPA 4
ALAST 3
 
1st
NCSU 0
BSU 3
 
7:00pm Tonight
TCU
BRAD
1st
WAKE 5
DELST 8
 
1st
HART 0
EMERSON 0
 
7:00pm Tonight
STJ
GONZ
1st
CLEM 0
HIGH 0
 
7:00pm Tonight
SYR
HC
 
7:00pm Tonight
MD
MON
1st
JVST 5
SAV 4
 
7:00pm Tonight
MIAMI
SALA
1st
RUTG 3
VANDY 5
 
7:30pm Tonight
PETE
TENST
8:00pm Tonight
MARS
CLST
8:00pm Tonight
JST
HOF
 
8:00pm Tonight
INDST
MEM
8:00pm Tonight
UF
UNC
8:00pm Tonight
LATU
SAMF
8:00pm Tonight
TULA
SELA
 
8:00pm Tonight
NEB
TENNM
8:30pm Tonight
MISS
CREI
8:30pm Tonight
PORT
MURST
9:00pm Tonight
MARQ
MSU
9:00pm Tonight
ARK
UNT
9:00pm Tonight
NCOL
STET
 
9:00pm Tonight
IND
UNCG
9:00pm Tonight
SJST
WMICH
9:05pm Tonight
MNTST
TXARL
9:30pm Tonight
UVA
LAS
9:30pm Tonight
STLU
MSST
9:30pm Tonight
COLST
PAC
10:00pm Tonight
UTAH
NDAK
10:30pm Tonight
ILL
BAY
10:30pm Tonight
UAB
UCLA
11:30pm Tonight
WASH
LBSU
11:59pm Tonight
UCSB
MERC
Final
PHI 0
NYR 3
Final
ANA 1
CHI 4
3rd
WAS 3
NYI 2
 
7:00pm Tonight
PIT
CAR
7:00pm Tonight
NJD
DET
7:00pm Tonight
BUF
MON
7:00pm Tonight
CLB
VAN
7:00pm Tonight
BOS
WIN
7:30pm Tonight
FLA
OTT
8:00pm Tonight
STL
EDM
8:30pm Tonight
DAL
MIN