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Bull City Summer

Lifelong Bulls fans

Posted June 7, 2013

Triple-A baseball is an unpredictable sport, but come to a Bulls game and there are a number of certainties. Jatovi McDuffie will be on the field between innings, announcing promotional games. Vendors will be roaming through the stands and staffing the concessions booths, hawking costly hot dogs, popcorn and beer. And in two prime seats just behind home plate, you’ll find Bobbie and Marvin Wheeler, nursing beers and watching the game with silent intensity. They’re there every game. No, really—every game. And—barring illness or emergency—they’ve been at every game for the last 35 years.

"[Bulls radio announcer] Ken Tanner calls us Mr. and Mrs. Baseball," says Bobbie, 82, as she shows me around her Durham home, a spacious two-story house surrounded by tall pines and filled with antique glassware, while Marvin, 85, gardens out back. Bobbie wears a vibrant tie-dyed Bulls shirt, a small bull figurine hung on a gold chain around her neck. This shirt is one of more than 75 pieces of Bulls apparel she owns—both Bobbie and Marvin make sure to wear Bulls gear to every game.

“If we’re late to the game, the management team starts asking, ‘Where are you?’ They all acknowledge us and know our names.”

That’s not surprising considering the number of games the Wheelers have attended. Bobbie doesn’t have a precise count, but she says that she and her husband haven't missed more than 50 games since 1981. That means the two have been present for something like 2500 games over the past three and a half decades. (I ask Marvin, a gentle, hard-of-hearing man of few words, how many games he estimates he has attended over the years, and he simply answers, “All of them.”)

“In 2007, I had to have my knee replaced,” Bobbie says. “I told the doctor I had to wait until the end of baseball season to have the surgery.” The Wheelers also make sure to plan all their vacations around Bulls games, and Bobbie says she begins counting down the days to baseball season beginning in January or February.

That’s serious dedication. Bobbie and Marvin maintain that it’s fandom of their hometown team and a passion for baseball that bring them back to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park time and time again, but it does seem there’s another factor at play. The Wheelers have neither children nor grandchildren, and Marvin, the youngest of 10 kids, is the last living member of his family. Perhaps the Bulls play a sort of surrogate familial role?

“I do feel like the Bulls management is a sort of extension of family,” Bobbie says. “We’ve met a lot of people and there’s a lot of camaraderie down there ... And the Bulls feel more personal to me than other sports teams. I feel like I have something invested in their future.”

It makes sense that Bobbie would feel she has something at stake in how the Bulls fare—the team has been a part of her life for 80 years. Bobbie began going to games at the old Bulls stadium with her father when she was just two years old, after her family moved to Durham from Greenville, North Carolina. Marvin is also from Greenville; he grew up on a country farm where playing sandlot baseball and cow pasture ball was the norm. He didn't meet Bobbie, however, until they were both living in Durham—a girlfriend of Bobbie’s worked in Marvin’s office.

Bobbie’s family lived in Old North Durham on Mangum Street, right near the old ballpark, and Bobbie would walk past the stadium going to school every day.

“Daddy had to take me to games to give Mother a break,” she explains. “Dad was a great baseball fan. He wanted to get to the World Series someday and I wanted to take him, but he had a sudden coronary problem and died in 1975, before I retired and had the chance.”

Until 1988, Bobbie worked in nursing management at the V.A. psychiatric hospital. She retired after 35 years. Marvin retired the following year from his position as a financial officer at Liggett-Myers. But even while they were working, the Wheelers managed to find time to go to games at the old ballpark. And when the new stadium opened, they purchased season tickets.

“The old stadium has lots of old memories and old ghosts,” she says. “When the new ballpark opened, at first it didn’t feel like home. But now it does … I think it’s the best thing to have happened to Durham. It's completely revitalized the area.”

On gameday, the Wheelers have a precise routine to get to the stadium, a daily schedule that takes over during baseball season. They have breakfast, do chores, and then begin getting ready for the game around 4 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game. They arrive at the DBAP nearly two hours early in order to buy food and beer from concessions and catch up with the Bulls management team who inevitably make the rounds to say hello to Mr. and Mrs. Baseball.

Then the game begins. Bobbie and Marvin remain seated and stay for all nine innings, cans of Yuengling cradled in their cupholders. Marvin listens to the Bulls' radio broadcast through a headset. Bobbie sits quietly beside him, taking in the game and the crowd. The Wheelers have seen players and managers come and go; they’ve seen thousands of wins and losses. At this point, after 57 years of marriage, no words are necessary. So they simply watch and wait for the outcome. Then they go home—and prepare to do it all over again.

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Scoreboard
Local
Final
ROC 1
DUR 2
 
1:05pm Today
ROC
DUR
 
2:30pm Friday
STONYBROOK
NCSTATE
 
7:05pm Friday
SYR
DUR
 
6:35pm Saturday
SYR
DUR
 
5:05pm Sunday
SYR
DUR
 
Final
HOU 4
BAL 1
Final
KAN 1
NYY 5
Final
MIA 1
PIT 5
Final
WAS 2
CHC 3
Final
CWS 9
TOR 10
Final
COL 1
CIN 2
Final
PHI 4
NYM 5
Final
SEA 7
TAM 6
Final
TEX 4
CLE 3
Final
BOS 1
MIN 2
Final
SFG 6
MIL 3
Final
ARI 4
STL 6
Final
DET 1
OAK 0
Final
SDP 4
ANA 0
Final
ATL 0
LOS 8
12:10pm Today
TEX
CLE
 
12:35pm Today
COL
CIN
 
12:35pm Today
MIA
PIT
 
12:37pm Today
CWS
TOR
 
1:05pm Today
KAN
NYY
 
1:10pm Today
BOS
MIN
 
1:10pm Today
PHI
NYM
 
1:10pm Today
SEA
TAM
 
1:40pm Today
SFG
MIL
 
3:35pm Today
DET
OAK
 
4:35pm Today
HOU
BAL
 
8:05pm Tonight
WAS
CHC
 
8:15pm Tonight
ARI
STL
 
10:05pm Tonight
SDP
ANA
 
10:10pm Tonight
ATL
LOS
 
1:05pm Thursday
CWS
BAL
 
4:35pm Thursday
CWS
BAL
 
8:05pm Thursday
BOS
TEX
 
10:05pm Thursday
DET
ANA
 
10:05pm Thursday
NYY
OAK
 
10:10pm Thursday
CLE
SEA
 
10:10pm Thursday
PIT
SDP
 
10:15pm Thursday
ATL
SFG
 
4:05pm Friday
KAN
CHC
 
7:05pm Friday
COL
PHI
 
7:05pm Friday
TAM
BAL
 
7:10pm Friday
MIA
NYM
 
7:10pm Friday
WAS
CIN
 
8:05pm Friday
BOS
TEX
 
8:10pm Friday
ARI
MIL
 
8:10pm Friday
CWS
HOU
 
8:10pm Friday
TOR
MIN
 
8:15pm Friday
LOS
STL
 
10:05pm Friday
DET
ANA
 
10:05pm Friday
NYY
OAK
 
10:10pm Friday
CLE
SEA
 
10:10pm Friday
PIT
SDP
 
10:15pm Friday
ATL
SFG
 
2:10pm Saturday
TOR
MIN
 
3:05pm Saturday
COL
PHI
 
4:05pm Saturday
TAM
BAL
 
4:10pm Saturday
ARI
MIL
 
4:10pm Saturday
CWS
HOU
 
4:10pm Saturday
MIA
NYM
 
4:10pm Saturday
WAS
CIN
 
7:15pm Saturday
BOS
TEX
 
7:15pm Saturday
KAN
CHC
 
7:15pm Saturday
LOS
STL
 
10:05pm Saturday
ATL
SFG
 
10:05pm Saturday
DET
ANA
 
10:05pm Saturday
NYY
OAK
 
10:10pm Saturday
CLE
SEA
 
10:10pm Saturday
PIT
SDP
 
1:10pm Sunday
MIA
NYM
 
1:10pm Sunday
WAS
CIN
 
1:35pm Sunday
COL
PHI
 
1:35pm Sunday
TAM
BAL
 
2:10pm Sunday
ARI
MIL
 
2:10pm Sunday
CWS
HOU
 
2:10pm Sunday
TOR
MIN
 
2:15pm Sunday
LOS
STL
 
2:20pm Sunday
KAN
CHC
 
3:05pm Sunday
BOS
TEX
 
4:05pm Sunday
ATL
SFG
 
4:05pm Sunday
NYY
OAK
 
4:10pm Sunday
CLE
SEA
 
8:05pm Sunday
DET
ANA
 
9:10pm Sunday
PIT
SDP
 
Final
ATL 88
CLE 118
9:00pm Tonight
HOU
GSW
 
9:00pm Friday
GSW
HOU
 
9:00pm Sunday
HOU
GSW
 
Final
NYR 7
TAM 3
8:00pm Tonight
ANA
CHI
 
8:00pm Friday
TAM
NYR
 
8:00pm Saturday
CHI
ANA
 
12:00pm Friday
AUBURN
CHARLESTON
 
1:00pm Friday
CALIFORNIA
CCAROLINA
 
1:00pm Friday
COLUMBIA
ECAROLINA
 
1:00pm Friday
ORALROBRTS
ARKANSAS
 
1:00pm Friday
OREGON
IOWA
 
1:00pm Friday
SFLORIDA
FAU
 
1:00pm Friday
WRIGHTST
NOTREDAME
 
2:00pm Friday
MICHIGAN
BRADLEY
 
2:30pm Friday
STONYBROOK
NCSTATE
 
2:30pm Friday
TEXAS
OREGONST
 
3:00pm Friday
INDIANA
RADFORD
 
3:30pm Friday
ULLAFAYETE
RICE
 
4:00pm Friday
LEHIGH
LSU
 
6:00pm Friday
CANISIUS
SWMISSOURI
 
6:00pm Friday
CLEMSON
ARIZONAST
 
6:00pm Friday
MERCER
FLORIDAST
 
6:00pm Friday
MOREHEADST
LOUISVILLE
 
6:00pm Friday
VIRGINIA
USC
 
7:00pm Friday
FIU
MIAFLA
 
7:00pm Friday
FLAAM
FLORIDA
 
7:00pm Friday
MARYLAND
MISS
 
7:00pm Friday
SACREDHART
TCU
 
7:00pm Friday
STJOHNS
OKLAHOMAST
 
7:00pm Friday
TSOUTHERN
TEXASAM
 
7:00pm Friday
VCU
DALLASBAPT
 
8:00pm Friday
HSTNBAPT
HOUSTON
 
8:00pm Friday
LIPSCOMB
VANDERBILT
 
8:00pm Friday
OHIO
ILLINOIS
 
8:00pm Friday
TULANE
NWILMINGTN
 
10:00pm Friday
PEPPERDINE
FULLERTON
 
10:00pm Friday
SANDIEGOST
CSANTABAR
 
11:00pm Friday
CSBAKER
UCLA
 
Final
ROC 1
DUR 2
 
1:05pm Today
ROC
DUR
 
7:05pm Friday
SYR
DUR
 
6:35pm Saturday
SYR
DUR
 
5:05pm Sunday
SYR
DUR