Watch how Durham Bulls’ infielder/outfielder Richie Shaffer prepares for a game, including putting in time in the weight room, the batting cage and more.
On Thursday, May 19, the Bulls honored Charlie Montoyo as he was inducted into the International League Hall of Fame and had his No. 25 jersey retired. Charlie meant a lot to the entire Bulls organization, and here the front office congratulates him in a letter.
A huge weekend of Bulls baseball kicks off Thursday night at the DBAP. In case you needed an incentive to go, we got you covered.
1. Charlie Montoyo’s Return – Thursday, May 19
This offseason, former Durham Bulls manager and current Tampa Bay Rays third base coach Charlie Montoyo was inducted into the International League Hall of Fame. On Thursday, Montoyo will return to the DBAP for a Bulls game for the first time since he was promoted to Tampa Bay following the 2014 season. The team’s legendary skipper, who left a lasting impact on the Bulls and the community, will address the crowd pregame as the team celebrates his franchise-record 633 victories, Triple-A National Championship title, two IL Governors’ Cup titles and seven IL South Division crowns.
2. $1 Concessions – Thursday, May 19
Also on Thursday, come crush some hot dogs. Thursday’s game features $1 Concessions, so hot dogs, soda and popcorn are just a buck all night long. Shout out to anyone who crushes hot dogs like this:
3. Two Fireworks Shows – Friday, May 20 and Saturday, May 21
Fireworks on back-to-back nights. Whether you’re bringing the family out, looking for a date idea, or just love fireworks, we got the best. FIREWORKS FOR EVERYONE.
4. Two Diamond Cutters Performances – Friday, May 20 and Saturday, May 21
This weekend, the fellas are gettin’ down not just once, but twice. Will we be treated to a dazzling dance to Pitbull’s ‘Fun?’ Maybe the guys will inexplicably dance to ‘Whoomp There It Is.’ Or maybe we’ll see a classic like ‘Beat It.’ Regardless of what we see, we’re sure it’ll be… interesting.
5. Long Haul Bombers – Saturday, May 21
6. Bull City Blues Uniform Debut – Saturday, May 21
After a long wait, the Bulls will wear their Bull City Blues uniforms for the first time on Saturday, May 21. A tribute to the past, present and future of the City of Durham, the unis will be worn on all home Saturday games moving forward.
7. Wool E. Bull’s Birthday Party – Sunday, May 22
8. Kids Run the Bases – Sunday, May 22
We wrap the homestand Sunday night, when Kids Run the Bases. A billion kids running full speed around the DBAP infield. Yup, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds. Let’s hope no one gets trampled though.
Looking for tickets? Look no further: click here.
Recently, Hit Bull Win Blog sat down with Durham’s 23-year-old infielder/outfielder to discuss his on-field play, traveling, history and playing for Craig Biggio.
How has the early part of the season gone for you?
Had the ups and downs. Started out doing well, now I’m kind of struggling a bit, but it’s a long season so I’m staying positive.
Did you expect to be in AAA this season?
I felt like I had a good year last year, and once you get to the Triple-A level it all kind of depends on who makes the big league team. I thought I deserved to be here, but it depends on who makes the team. In the end I’m here.
What has it been like playing at a different level every season?
At 19 years old I was in the Appalachian League with the Royals and that was fun, fun year. Then I got traded in the offseason and the next year went to Low-A with a whole new group of guys. There was an adjustment period and you know it was a great year there. Then in 2014, in High-A, it was the same group of guys and Jared (Sandberg) was our manager. That was a good year. Then last year in Double-A pretty much same group of guys and new manager with Brady Williams, that was a good year again. It was a good league, and I got to play in Jacksonville, my hometown. Now in Triple-A, and we’re already a month in. I remember just getting here. I remember it being spring training and wanting the season to start, now we’re here.
What was it like playing in Australia? Was that a crazy experience?
That was a lot of fun. That was 2013-14, and we had me and some guys I got close with on the Hot Rods (Rays Class-A affiliate), so that was fun. We got to travel the entire country, my parents came out there and we went to the Great Barrier Reef. That was really cool. We flew everywhere. Flew all over the country playing, so it was a great time for three months or so.
Was that your first time in Australia?
Yeah, that was my first time outside of the country other than some cruises and stuff. Then this last offseason I went to Europe.
Where did you go in Europe?
I went to England, Scotland and Ireland. My uncle got married in Northern England, so we kind of made a vacation out of it for 10 days. His wife is from Aonach, Northumberland in Northern England, so that was where they got married. It was a whole family thing. There were probably 10 of us who flew into London, we were there for a couple days, and then we drove up to Northumberland. Then we went to Scotland, went to the Loch Ness and saw that. Then flew to Dublin, Ireland and stayed there for a few days.
Where do you want to visit next?
I don’t know, I really enjoy travelling and seeing new places. I’ve always wanted to go to Germany. I took a class on the Holocaust in high school, and I’ve always found that part of history interesting, so I think it would be intriguing to tour the concentration camps and stuff like that. I know that’s not up some people’s alleys, but I’m intrigued by that stuff.
Do you consider yourself a history buff?
History was always my favorite. Math and history were always my best subjects in high school. I watch a lot of documentaries and stuff like that.
Was history something you wanted to study if you had gone to the University of Georgia instead of being drafted?
I think I’ve acquired that taste in history more over the years. In school it wasn’t something I was big into, the only thing I cared about was baseball then. But I think more since I’ve been in pro ball I’ve been intrigued by it.
You’ve played in the Durham area before with Burlington. Did you get a chance to explore the area?
I’ve never been to Durham before, I’ve been to Cary before, but not Durham or Raleigh. I enjoyed Burlington, it’s kind of a small town. I like North Carolina, I have a lot of family that lives outside Charlotte, and so I’ve been there plenty, but never Durham. I like it, it’s awesome so far.
Do you have a pre-game routine or any superstitions?
Yeah, starting last year around the first series of the second half, some of the guys didn’t think I could do 20 pushups in a row. I said, “I’ll do it, and if I hit a home run today I’ll do it the rest of the season,” and then I hit a home run, so I did it the whole season and carried that into this season.
What would you be doing if you weren’t playing baseball?
Well, I like to travel, and you have to have money for that, but I would probably do something like study or something with history. That’s what I do when I’m at home. When I don’t have anything to do I watch documentaries, so probably researching old historical sites or stuff like that. Some people might think that’s boring, but I like it.
You played under former Houston Astro and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio in high school. What was that like?
That was awesome. I moved to Houston my senior year for my dad’s job, and then we went to St. Thomas where his two kids went, so I played for Craig and that was awesome. I learned a lot of the mental side, because I was only 18, so I learned a lot then and a lot of infield stuff and mental side of the game. Craig helped a lot, and we were blessed, we won the state championship that year, so it was fun. Craig’s a great guy.
What is the biggest thing he taught you that has really stuck with you?
I’d say just playing the game hard because he was always about going out there and giving it everything you can because no one can ask more. You’re not going to get a hit every time, you’re not going to win every single game, but as long as you go out there and try to play to the best of your ability every day, no one can ask for more than that.
What has been your favorite memory from playing baseball?
The closest I got to winning a championship was my first year in the Appalachian League. There’s only three games in the series and all three games went to 13 innings, and we blew a five-run lead in the ninth inning with two outs. But I mean, it was awesome getting all the way there. Winning the high school state championship my senior year in Texas sticks out, too. And then in big league camp this year, I hit a home run in one of the games and that was awesome.
Being in the same minor league system as top prospects like Blake Snell, Taylor Guerrieri, Jacob Faria and Brent Honeywell, it could be easy for a pitcher to have trouble gaining some notoriety. One easy way to stand out could be striking out 22 batters in your first two Triple-A starts, like right-hander Austin Pruitt did this season.
But Pruitt’s strong start in Triple-A shouldn’t be too much of a surprise after all of the success he has had at each point in his career.
Pruitt went undrafted out of high school and went to Navarro College for junior college. His second season with Navarro, the team won the 2011 Junior College World Series.
“Being at JuCo, man, I had a great time there,” Pruitt said. “It was probably the best baseball years of my life. Great group of guys.”
Again, Pruitt was undrafted and went to the University of Houston for his final two seasons of eligibility.
“U of H was good,” he said. “My first year we had 56 games and only won 18, so it was a rough year.”
But his second season with the Cougars was much better. In 2013 Pruitt was a semifinalist for the Gregg Olson Award for Breakout Player of the Year and led the team with 10 wins, a 2.55 ERA and 92 strikeouts.
This time Pruitt caught the Rays’ eyes, and was selected in the ninth round of the 2013 draft.
He’s taken the past two seasons one level at a time, taking one full season at each High-A, and at Double-A. But he has never had the high strikeout rate, with a career strikeouts per nine innings pitched rate of 6.73 coming into 2016.
Because he also has a great career groundout per flyout rate of 1.16, Pruitt has always been profiled as a groundball pitcher. So his high strikeout total (up to 33 through five starts) was a bit of a surprise this season.
“I’ll pitch to contact, without question,” Pruitt said. “Sometimes they’re groundballs, sometimes they’re not. But [the strikeouts], that’s completely abnormal. I don’t know where that came from. But it’s really cool. I’m just executing, that’s all.”
His newfound affinity for strikeouts may be out of the ordinary, but the 26-year-old believes he can’t accept all of the glory.
“It’s really just execution and some great game managing behind the plate,” he said. “[Luke] Maile caught my first two starts, and he’s done a great job. Then [Mayo] Acosta caught my third and [Carlos] Corporan caught my fourth, but they’ve all done a great job.”
Pruitt maintains that this superior game calling and executing his pitches is the true reason behind his additional success this season. He mixed three pitches throughout college, with a fastball, curveball and changeup, so he feels very comfortable with those pitches. But it’s the new one that he’s relying on more.
“My cutter is the newest pitch,” he said. “I learned it in the Florida State League a few years ago and used it a bit last year. It’s been a secondary pitch, but I’m throwing it quite a bit this year. It’s an out pitch for sure. I’ve got a lot more empty swings from it, which has been nice.”
Another factor in his success could be a better comfort level. This is his first Triple-A action, and sometimes it can take players a month or so to adjust to the higher level of play. Pruitt hasn’t had that problem.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot to adjust,” he said. “I’d say Double-A to Triple-A is pretty close, but now you get some big leaguers and ex-big leaguers you have to face.”
What may not be the biggest change, but perhaps the most noticeable to the naked eye, is Pruitt’s changed facial hair. For the past two seasons Pruitt has rocked a full mustache, a bit of a throwback. This season, he has a full beard.
“Whenever we couldn’t have a beard, I would grow a mustache because we could have one,” Pruitt said. “I grew a pretty good mustache, I feel like. But now we don’t have to shave. The first year at U of H, our coach didn’t allow us facial hair, but then he loosened up and I grew out the beard.”
But don’t rush to judgement about a connection between Pruitt’s facial hair and success on the mound. From junior college to Triple-A, Pruitt has had some form of success at every level. His first professional season he earned a promotion from Short-Season to Class-A. His second season of pro ball, Pruitt led the High-A Charlotte Stone Crabs with nine wins and 106 strikeouts. Then last season he led Double-A Montgomery with 10 wins, and even pitched a three-hit complete game shutout with five strikeouts and no walks in just 90 pitches.
If Pruitt figured out some secret to improving enough to have success at each level, he can’t put his finger on it, though.
“You just have to adjust,” he said. “You have to learn the game and learn the ropes of each level and how to get people out. It’s kind of the same thing playing at each level: you have to execute pitches and follow your game plan, know the hitters and how they’ve been swinging and stuff. Catchers like we have now know that and have a good game plan coming into the game, so it’s a lot easier to listen to those guys. But yeah, it’s all about executing pitches.”
Bulls fans will have to wait to see how good Pruitt’s season is overall, but the early returns and his track record suggest that this great start is just the beginning of another good year.
Take a peek at how Tampa Bay Rays’ top prospect Blake Snell prepares for a start, beginning from the time he leaves his apartment to the time he takes the mound.
In the latest episode of ‘Ask Me,’ Richie Shaffer sits down to talk about hitting homers, Cal Ripken Jr., and the DBAP faithful.
Three players in Durham Bulls history have won both the USA Today and Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year awards in the same season: Andruw Jones in 1996, Jeremy Hellickson in 2010 and Blake Snell in 2015.
That’s already pretty impressive company, but how about this: Snell’s 1.41 ERA in 2015 was the lowest in the minors since Justin Verlander had a 1.29 in 2005.
He’s garnering a reputation in the International League, too.
“He has a power fastball from the left side and that always plays,” said Kyle Roller, who played with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2015. “I never faced him, and I’m glad I didn’t have to. I’m glad he’s on my team.”
He is also the second-ranked left-handed pitcher in the minors, according to Baseball America, and the consensus No. 1 prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.
So after all that Blake Snell accomplished in 2015, it’d be easy to think he should keep doing the same thing he did in preparation for last season to continue that success. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Or maybe he earned some time to coast and enjoy the success he already accomplished. Snell had other ideas. On top of his usual offseason training he tried something new — an improved diet.
“It was more I just started eating healthier foods,” Snell said, “and I dropped the soda, the ice cream, all the bad food I just dropped out and made it every day I was eating healthy and pretty much only drinking water. That was more of a good mix and I felt really good every day.”
Jettisoning the junk food might not have added five miles per hour to Snell’s four-seamer, but he already noticed having more energy, feeling better every day, and never having a day where he feels like he’s dragging.
“It was [tough] at first because I like drinking soda pretty frequently, and eating ice cream and that food pretty frequently,” he said. “But after a while I got used to it.”
Another unique offseason training technique was perhaps more tied to Snell’s offseason location. He spent the fall and winter in his hometown of Shoreline, Wash., just north of Seattle, where he had easy access to a plethora of hiking trails in the nearby mountains.
“I went hiking a lot of places, but my favorite was Lake Blanca,” Snell said. “I want to say it’s a 14 or 12 mile hike, and you go all the way up the mountain. It’s just all repetitive, and you’re like, ‘Am I there yet?’ I was getting bored so I started running up the mountain and it felt like I got nowhere.”
You won’t hear of many pitchers running up a mountain as part of their offseason training. But Snell said he remained focused on the prize at the end, and the long combination of trail running and hiking was more than worth it.
“Out of nowhere you get to a little valley and over that is Lake Blanca, which is all glacier water and it’s like the most beautiful water I’d ever seen,” he said. “It was pretty cold, but I told myself I had to get in it. So I got in, not my whole body, but at least half my body, so I was excited about that.”
Another product of his successful 2015 season was an invitation to Spring Training with the big league club. There he got to share a locker room with Tampa Bay Rays aces Chris Archer, Drew Smyly and Matt Moore, among many others.
“I would say I learned a lot of stuff,” Snell said. “Not like pitches or anything like that, but I learned just watching the big league guys and how they carry themselves, how they go about their days. It’s not like you get to big league camp and you learn so much, there’s just little by little that you learn, and I learned some pretty cool things from watching.”
Snell got a taste of how the big leaguers carry themselves when Matt Moore came to Durham on a rehab assignment in 2015, and Moore again caught his eye in Spring Training.
“He’s taught me more than he can imagine just in certain situations on the field, pitch count, just more of nothing to do with a pitch, just when to throw it, how to throw it,” Snell said.
One other change he noticed in himself after spending part of the preseason in Major League camp was his aggressiveness in workouts, Snell said. He’s taking each workout and training session more seriously and being intentional about what he does between starts.
He’s not only working harder, Snell has his sights again set on high goals. After such a successful season in 2015, he’s not pausing or coasting to enjoy the limelight.
“It’s weird because I did win all those awards, but I never really felt it,” Snell said. “If I don’t feel it, I don’t know how to show it. So I was excited about it, but I don’t feel it in that sense because I’m the kind of guy that feels like I always have something to work on.”
Snell also isn’t the type of person who leaves a checklist of goals on his locker for all to see. He prefers to keep his aspirations for the season to himself and use them for personal motivation.
“I get up and think about it and say, ‘Ok you have to work to get to where you want to be,’” he said. “I don’t set goals that are necessarily easy. I really want to reach for the moon and go for it.”
So while fans may not know exactly what Snell is working toward, they can trust his training. It already led to wild success last season and improved energy, and there’s little doubt that what he accomplishes this season he was focused on the entire offseason.
On April 27 Justin Faulk, Jordan Staal and Brad Malone of the Carolina Hurricanes came out to the DBAP to take some batting practice. While there was some friendly trash-talking going on before they stepped to the dish, Faulk was the lone Hurricane to hit a homer. Luckily, we caught it all on tape.