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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.”

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  • tdouble232323 May 28, 9:01 a.m.

    Great story and a great young man.

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Scoreboard
Local
Final
UNC 82
OSU 74
2nd
MVSU 30
NCCU 50
 
7:00pm Tonight
UNCW
ECU
7:00pm Tonight
CAR
NYR
7:00pm Tonight
CHA
UTA
9:30pm Tonight
WVU
NCSU
Final
NYK 90
PHO 99
7:00pm Tonight
NOP
POR
7:00pm Tonight
CHA
UTA
8:00pm Tonight
HOU
ATL
8:30pm Tonight
DAL
SAN
9:00pm Tonight
DEN
IND
10:30pm Tonight
LAC
MIL
Final
LALAF 16
NEV 3
4th
UTEP 3
UTST 14
 
2nd
COLST 10
UTAH 24
 
5:45pm Tonight
AFA
WMICH
9:15pm Tonight
BGU
SALABAMA
Final
GEOR 81
CHAR 78
Final
WKENT 67
LOU 76
Final
MICH 51
SMU 62
Final
CIN 47
VCU 68
Final
BSU 77
ABCHRIST 33
 
Final
PROV 85
UMASS 65
Final
AMER 46
MNTER 45
 
Final
UNC 82
OSU 74
Final
IUPUI 71
SALA 65
 
Final
VILL 82
SYR 77
Final
VT 64
CITA 61
Final
DUQ 79
MLOWELL 63
 
Final
FAIR 61
BEL 73
 
Final
YALE 60
GTDNS 64
 
Final
FD 76
DEL 74
 
Final
PSU 73
DREX 68
Final
UNCG 64
ELON 71
 
Final
ILL 62
MIZZ 59
Final
CAMP 90
MONT 64
 
Final
LONG 106
PSUBEAVER 74
 
Final
HOU 63
SCST 71
 
Final
FSU 75
SFLA 62
 
Final
BING 51
BONA 69
 
Final
RUTG 68
RFLSH 73
 
Final
MCNST 69
TOL 83
 
Final
JVU 84
TRUETT 55
 
Final
GT 65
VANDY 60
Final
INDST 56
EILL 60
 
Final
BUT 73
IND 82
Final
STEPH 94
ARTCH 57
 
Final
OREG 83
DELST 70
 
Final
Terriers 61
FATL 56
 
Final
TXARL 89
HPYN 50
 
Final
KU 96
LAF 69
Final
ARKST 67
MARS 58
 
Final
MEM 78
ORU 63
 
Final
KNST 53
UMBC 66
 
Final
NW 67
WMICH 61
 
Final
MIZST 65
EMICH 77
 
Final
CHIST 77
STJOE 54
 
2nd
KENT 68
UCLA 27
 
2nd
COC 36
DAVID 45
 
2nd
RIU 36
DET 38
 
2nd
UCR 49
HOUB 39
 
Half
MURST 37
ILLST 42
 
2nd
NWST 62
LALAF 54
 
2nd
WAGN 32
MON 35
 
2nd
MVSU 30
NCCU 50
 
2nd
PITT 47
OU 45
 
2nd
TENNM 43
PBY 32
 
2nd
WYO 37
SOUTH 24
 
2nd
AFA 38
UCD 45
 
2nd
MSST 23
USCU 29
 
1st
JMU 6
HIGH 6
 
1st
TXST 9
HTILL 0
 
1st
DRAK 0
ISU 2
 
1st
SHU 7
UNH 8
 
1st
SCU 11
NE 12
 
1st
MSU 6
TXSOU 2
 
1st
UF 6
WAKE 7
 
5:15pm Tonight
ND
PURD
5:30pm Tonight
SHSU
PVU
 
6:00pm Tonight
AUB
XAV
7:00pm Tonight
AKR
BLUFFTON
 
7:00pm Tonight
DAY
BU
 
7:00pm Tonight
UNCW
ECU
7:00pm Tonight
CLMB
HOF
 
7:00pm Tonight
GMAS
IONA
7:00pm Tonight
TOWS
LAS
7:00pm Tonight
MAN
MRGST
 
7:00pm Tonight
CCST
YALE
 
7:00pm Tonight
PEPP
RICH
7:00pm Tonight
MAR
STJOE
7:00pm Tonight
KYST
TEXAM
7:00pm Tonight
MAST
VALPO
 
7:05pm Tonight
UMKC
INCWORD
 
7:30pm Tonight
IDST
CALST
 
7:30pm Tonight
NIOWA
IOWA
7:30pm Tonight
SIUE
UWMIL
 
8:00pm Tonight
TEX
LBSU
8:00pm Tonight
TCU
TXSA
8:30pm Tonight
ARK
SEMIZ
9:00pm Tonight
NCOL
JVST
 
9:00pm Tonight
ARST
LEH
 
9:00pm Tonight
NMST
NMU
 
9:00pm Tonight
WASH
OKLA
9:00pm Tonight
GRCN
STED
 
9:00pm Tonight
WEBER
WLVRN
 
9:30pm Tonight
WVU
NCSU
10:00pm Tonight
SDST
BST
10:00pm Tonight
GONZ
CPSL
10:00pm Tonight
PAC
FRES
10:00pm Tonight
PORT
MNTST
 
10:00pm Tonight
CSNO
TAMCC
 
10:05pm Tonight
UTST
SDKST
 
11:00pm Tonight
BYU
STAN
11:30pm Tonight
UNLV
UTAH
2nd
LOS 1
ARI 2
 
7:00pm Tonight
CLB
CHI
7:00pm Tonight
BUF
COL
7:00pm Tonight
PIT
FLA
7:00pm Tonight
CAR
NYR
7:00pm Tonight
MON
OTT
7:00pm Tonight
TOR
PHI
7:00pm Tonight
NYI
TAM
7:00pm Tonight
NJD
WAS
8:00pm Tonight
MIN
NAS
10:00pm Tonight
VAN
CAL
10:30pm Tonight
SJS
STL
2nd
WAS 10
PHI 7
 
8:25pm Tonight
SFX
SDC