2014 was perhaps the most historic season in the 112-year history of the Durham Bulls, as the organization witnessed a renovated ballpark, All-Star Game, single-season paid attendance record, and of course yet another International League South Division championship. As the historic campaign has come to a close, take a look back at some of the highlights of one of the most memorable seasons of America's most iconic Minor League Baseball team:
Durham Bulls Athletic Park reopened its doors on Opening Day after undergoing a $20 million renovation in the offseason. The upgrades around the park included brand-new video boards, the PNC Triangle Club, added concessions, new seats, added space on the concourse, new lights and a new playing surface. In the very first game at the updated version of the DBAP, the Bulls scored a 7-6, come-from-behind victory over the Gwinnett Braves.
On April 26th, in the opener of a four-game set against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders at the DBAP, southpaw Mike Montgomery and right-hander Brad Boxberger combined for a no-hitter, the second the Bulls had thrown in as many seasons. After four pitchers combined to no-hit the Pawtucket Red Sox in 2013, Montgomery went the first 8 1/3 innings, tossing 106 pitches and striking out nine, before Boxberger came in to record the final two outs. Only a second-inning walk to former Bull Russ Canzler kept the Bulls from posting a perfect game.
Durham began the season with a 10-3 record through the season's first 13 games, the most wins in Minor League Baseball in that span. The team finished the month of April with an 18-9 mark, which gave them the most wins in the International League through the season's first month.
May the Fourth Be With You
On May 4th in front of 11,507 fans - the fourth largest crowd in the history of the DBAP - the Bulls defeated the Columbus Clippers 6-2 on Star Wars Day. Durham wore special R2-D2 jerseys, garnering national attention on such outlets as ESPN, Sports Illustrated and Good Morning America. The day featured a first pitch thrown by Darth Vader, appearances by Chewbacca and R2-D2 and a four-run victory for Durham.
The DBAP hosted the 2014 Cree Triple-A All-Star Game, the first time the Bull City played host to a midsummer classic since 1997, when it hosted the Advanced-A Carolina League-California League All-Star Game. The Bulls placed four players on the IL roster in pitchers Merrill Kelly and Mike Montgomery, outfielder Mikie Mahtook and infielder Wilson Betemit, along with manager Charlie Montoyo.
After All-Star Week kicked off with a Fan Fest and Block Party on July 12th, Las Vegas' Allan Dykstra earned the title of Triple-A Home Run Derby champion, besting Omaha's Francisco Pena in the final round on July 14th. Then in the All-Star Game on July 16th, the International League defeated the Pacific Coast League for the ninth time in the last 12 seasons with a 7-3 win. Buffalo right-hander Liam Hendriks started for the IL and tossed two scoreless innings to take home IL Top Star honors, while Tacoma infielder Chris Taylor went 3-for-4 with two doubles to earn Top Star honors for the PCL.
You're A Good Man, Charlie Montoyo
Durham manager Charlie Montoyo entered the season just 56 wins shy of passing International League Hall of Famer Bill Evers for the most wins in franchise history. On June 14th, Durham's eighth-year skipper earned his 600th victory as manager of the Bulls with a 9-2 win over the Indianapolis Indians. Then on July 21st, Montoyo led Durham to a 5-1 win over the Rochester Red Wings in front of the hometown crowd at the DBAP for his franchise-record 614th victory at the helm of the Bulls. In the eight seasons Montoyo has been at the helm of the Bulls, the team has won seven South Division titles, gone to the Governors' Cup Final six times and won two Governors' Cups.
Business as Usual
On August 25th Durham wrapped up its seventh division title in the past eight seasons via a 4-2 win over the Gwinnett Braves at the DBAP. Since the Bulls joined the International League in 1998, it marked the franchise's 12th division title and 13th playoff berth after the 2004 squad captured the Wild Card.
So Very Close
After defeating the Columbus Clippers three games to one in the First Round of the Governors' Cup playoffs, the Bulls faced the Pawtucket Red Sox in the Governors' Cup Final for the second straight season.
After winning two of the first three games in the series, the Bulls were within one strike of clinching back-to-back titles, but the PawSox tied the game in the top of the ninth and went on to win Game Four in 13 innings. Pawtucket defeated Durham 4-1 in the decisive Game Five, preventing the Bulls from winning two straight crowns for the second time in team history (2002, 2003). With the championship berth, manager Charlie Montoyo has now appeared in six Governors' Cup Finals, the most of any skipper in league history.
Shake it Off
Everyone knows the Diamond Cutters at the DBAP, but the Bulls' famous dancing grounds crew shimmied their way into the National spotlight in late August with a routine set to Taylor Swift's mega-hit "Shake it Off." A video of the performance went viral, accumulating over a million views on Facebook alone. The boys even earned some time on Good Morning America for their smooth moves.
History at the DBAP
On August 31st, the second-to-last regular season game of the season, the DBAP welcomed 11,104 fans to break the franchise's all-time single-season paid attendance record with 525,199 fans. A day later the regular season closed with an attendance of 7,834, bringing the final paid attendance to 533,033, shattering the previous record of 520,952 in 2007.
Even more impressive is the fact the 533,033 fan total does not include the Triple-A Home Run Derby or Triple-A All-Star Game, which drew 10,160 fans and 10,274 fans respectively. Additionally, the 2007 record was set in a season in which the Bulls had all 72 openings, compared to this season in which the Bulls lost both a Thursday and Saturday contest.
Road to the Show
15 players were promoted to Tampa Bay from Durham this season, including five players who made their Major League debuts. Infielder Vince Belnome was promoted to the Rays on Opening Day for his first Major League service time, while left-handed reliever CJ Riefenhauser also got his first cup of coffee in April. May saw infielder Cole Figueroa promoted for the first time, while closer Kirby Yates was called up in June, followed by catcher Curt Casali in July.
Reliever Brad Boxberger has been a fixture in the Tampa Bay bullpen since his call-up in early May, while outfielder Kevin Kiermaier has been an offensive and defensive standout in the Rays lineup since his promotion in late May.
Swipe It Like It's Hot
In the regular season the Bulls were 87-for-114 (76%) in stolen base attempts, the best success rate in the International League. Mikie Mahtook led the squad with 18 swipes, while Justin Christian's 16 steals were his most since 2011. Despite playing just 34 games, Kevin Kiermaier ranked fourth on the team with 11 stolen bases.
Durham dominated its division rivals in 2014, posting a cumulative 38-26 record against the Charlotte Knights (12-9), Gwinnett Braves (12-9) and Norfolk Tides (14-8). The IL South's .467 winning percentage was the worst among full-season Minor League divisions.
If You're Not First, You're Last
Durham spent 145 of 153 days with either a tie or sole possession of first place in the IL South in 2014, including holding sole possession for the final 102 days of the season. Despite going just 41-46 from June 1st through the end of the season, Durham's division lead was never smaller than 3.5 games the rest of the way, and after the All-Star Break the team's lead never shrunk below 6.5 games. Dating back to the start of the 2013 season, the Bulls have held either a tie or sole possession of first place in the IL South for 272 of 304 days.
Year of the Punchout
This season Bulls pitchers recorded the most strikeouts in the league (1,220) while Bulls batters struck out the most in the league (1,198). Durham's 1,220 strikeouts on the mound were the most in the IL, and fourth-most in all of Minor League Baseball.
SAVE the Date
Nine different pitchers recorded a save for the Bulls this season, led by Kirby Yates (16), who was promoted to Tampa Bay on June 7th. Josh Lueke (12) and Jeff Beliveau (11) also recorded double-digit saves, while Durham's 49 as a team were tied for the most in Minor League Baseball.