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Aaron Schoonmaker

Season closes at DBAP with classic evening

Posted September 19, 2012

— After winning the Triple-A National Championship and getting showered by champagne, Reno Aces first baseman Mike Jacobs got the call to join the Arizona Diamondbacks. He has tasted the Majors before, but it was a small moment that punctuated a classic evening of America’s Pastime.

Everything that is right with the game of baseball was on full display at Durham Bulls Athletic Park Tuesday for the Triple-A National Championship won by the Aces, 10-3.

It was a late-summer game under the lights with meaning. Daytime storms had left the air cool and the freshly cut grass glistening - the DBAP crew and Bulls staff brought their "A" game. And two visiting teams were treated as if they were at home in front of 8,100 fans – many of which traveled a good distance to be there. Reno crowned Triple-A champs at DBAP Slideshow: Reno crowned Triple-A champs at DBAP

“It was exciting, we were all pretty fired up to come to Durham,” said A.J. Pollock, Aces outfielder and the game’s Most Valuable Player. “For us, it was cool to see a different place and it was a great atmosphere here.”

A teenager in the right field seats was pulling for the Reno Aces because they square off in the regular season with his favorite team, the Memphis Redbirds. A grade-school girl was cheering for the Aces because Wool E. Bull was their acting mascot on the night. A couple down the third base line was rooting for the Pawtucket Red Sox because they are life-long Boston fans.

Overflow media, scouts and other Triple-A coaches were also scattered around the lower level with the high-energy fans to take in the winner-take-all contest between the International and Pacific Coast leagues. Many were unidentifiable because on this night, they too were fans.

The crowd was in full cheer with the first batter in the bottom of the first as Pollock, the Reno lead-off man, tripled to right center. Four batters later, a Brent Cleven home run to dead center got another rise from the cosmopolitan of fans.

The famous red-eyed, snorting bull over the Blue Monster went off a few times on the night, each time the smoke hung around a little longer than normal in the moist air.

In a 7-0 game in the third, there were not ‘boos,’ but surprised 'ahhs' when Pawtucket right fielder Bryce Brentz, a recent Double-A call-up, dropped a fly ball. Brentz grossly misplayed another in the fourth and was greeted with a mock ovation when he finally pocketed one.

After 4.2 innings, Aces pitcher Trevor Bauer had reached the triple digit mark on pitches and was pulled. As a former Team USA pitcher who has spent a lot of time in Durham, Bauer walked off to the DBAP crowd applauding the effort with a standing ovation.

“I really appreciate the support of the fans that came out tonight,” Bauer said, also noting that his long-time host family on the East Coast was able to see the game. “We had a really good crowd, really into it. And it was a really tough day to watch baseball. It was raining all day and we didn’t know how many fans would actually get out with the weather, but the city came out and supported the game and it was great to see the fans come out and support the city.”

And as the night progressed, there was added support for Pawtucket to make an improbable comeback. They didn't, but the fans still got post game fireworks - good ones, too.

Players on their way out of the game, players on the rise, players just hanging on and players like Jacobs, fighting to get back to the Bigs, were all brought together to one stadium, away from home, to play one game. They were treated like the childhood heroes they once went to watch.

There were hot dogs, cotton candy, families and on-field games; walk-up songs and the 'YMCA'. Even after rain left the slides wet, Wool E. World was full of youngsters. There were those that over-indulged and those that responsibly gave home runs and foul balls to kids - in one case that person was one-in-the-same.

Then there was a matter of reunion in a game that so often sees career intersections. Pawtucket hitting coach Gerald Perry and Reno manager Brett Butler were teammates for the Durham Bulls in 1980 when they were 19 and 23 years old, respectively. On Tuesday, now much older and on to phase 2 of their baseball lives,they were again in Durham, this time in opposite dugouts trying to beat one another.

And no baseball game experience, especially at the minor league level, is complete without a famous person throwing out a first pitch. Enter American Idol winner, Garner native and former high school pitcher, Scotty McCreery to both throw out the first pitch and sing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' during the seventh inning stretch. His toss? A full-windup fastball from the 60-dot-6 rubber.

Much like the night as a whole: a perfect strike.

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