Jose Altuve Records His 200th Hit of 2014

With a sharply hit ground ball that bounced its way into left field, Jose Altuve notched his name into the record books on Wednesday night, recording his 200th hit of the 2014 season. Just the second Astros player to ever reach that mark, and the first player in Major League Baseball to do so since 2009, Altuve is undeniably having a career season that many players only dream about.

Altuve leads all of the majors in hits (27 more hits than the next closest player), batting average (.336) and multi hit games. In addition, with his 52nd stolen base on Wednesday, Altuve also leads the American League in steals, and joins a rather elite group of players to have recorded 200 or more hits to go along with 50 or more stolen bases in a season, with Jose Reyes being the last to accomplish that feat back in 2008.

Although the Astros’ playoff drought continues, having not made the playoffs since 2005, Altuve has been one of the many bright spots on the team, with several players having standout years. While Altuve is having the best all around season of them all, players such as Chris Carter and George Springer are also having great years for the Astros, despite holding low batting averages.

However, low batting average is a major issue with the entire Astros team, with only two other players besides Altuve batting over .250 on the season. That’s something that will need to be addressed for next year, but with this being the first year since 2010 that the Astros are going to finish with a record of fewer than 100 losses, things are definitely moving in the right direction.

Jose Altuve reflected that in his comments on Wednesday, stating, “We win this game and get 200 hits and the momentum we’re having right now, it’s pretty special for me. The team is playing great. I couldn’t ask for more. We’re going outside, playing hard, we’re winning, and I think that makes me feel really good.”

While I don’t see a playoff push anytime soon for the Astros — playing in the difficult American League west division that includes a good Mariners, Angels, Athletics, and Rangers team (once they return to full health) — they could definitely make things interesting next season. With their offense clicking fairly efficiently, and their pitching doing terrific (Astros starters are now 6-0 with a 1.95 ERA in the team’s past 10 games), the Astros are certainly a team to watch.

Having won eight of their last ten games, over which Altuve has recorded 16 hits to make for a .390 average, the Astros are giving their fans something to get excited about for the first time in quite awhile. With Jose Altuve approaching the Astros’ all-time hit leader for a season, Craig Biggio, who recorded 210 hits in 1998, Astros fans should be excited about where this team is headed.

Though they may not be raising a World Series trophy anytime soon, they’re slowly but surely finding a way to win games against good teams. That’s something to look forward to seeing more and more as the seasons go on, with Jose Altuve leading the way.

Latest MLB Leaders (March 22nd – August 31st)

With the first five months of the 2014 MLB season in the books, I thought I’d take the first day of the new month to recap the season thus far. It’s been exciting, as well as disappointing — depending on how you look at it, and who you’re rooting for.

But instead of talking about the events that have taken place so far this year, I decided to make a list of different categories and beside them name the player(s) that leads that particular category.

The following lists are categorized into hitting and pitching, but not AL or NL:

MLB LEADERS (AL and NL) – HITTING

Most Games Played – Freddie Freeman, Evan Longoria and Hunter Pence (137).

Most At-Bats – Ian Kinsler (572)

Most Hits – Jose Altuve (189)

Highest Average – Jose Altuve (.336)

Highest OBP – Andrew McCutchen (.402)

Highest SLG – Jose Abreu (.602)

Most Runs – Brian Dozier and Anthony Rendon (97)

Most Doubles – Jonathan Lucroy (46)

Most Triples – Dee Gordon (12)

Most Home Runs – Nelson Cruz (35)

Most RBI’s – Jose Abreu (99)

Most Base On Balls – Carlos Santana (94)

Most Strikeouts – Marlon Byrd (161)

Most Stolen Bases – Dee Gordon (58)

Most Caught Stealing – Billy Hamilton (20)

Most Intentional Base On Balls – Victor Martinez and Giancarlo Stanton (23).

Most Hit By Pitch – Jon Jay (16)

Most Sacrifice Flies – Adrian Gonzalez (11)

Most Total Bases – Mike Trout (290)

Most Extra Base Hits – Mike Trout (72)

Most Grounded Into Double Plays – Casey McGehee (25)

Most Ground Outs – Ben Revere (231)

Most Number Of Pitches Faced – Mike Trout (2,664)

Most Plate Appearances – Nick Markakis (621)

MLB LEADERS (AL and NL) – PITCHING

Most Wins – Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Clayton Kershaw (16).

Most Losses – A.J. Burnett, Kevin Correia and Eric Stults (15).

Best ERA – Clayton Kershaw (1.73)

Most Games Started – Seven players tied for most (29).

Most Games Pitched – Bryan Shaw (68)

Most Saves – Craig Kimbrel (41)

Most Innings Pitched – Johnny Cueto (207)

Most Hits Allowed – James Shields (198)

Most Runs Allowed – A.J. Burnett (102)

Most Earned Runs Allowed – Edwin Jackson (94)

Most Home Runs Allowed – Marco Estrada (29)

Most Strikeouts – David Price (224)

Most Walks – A.J. Burnett (78)

Most Complete Games – Clayton Kershaw (6)

Most Shutouts – Henderson Alvarez and Rick Porcello (3).

Best Opponent Avg. – Johnny Cueto and Clayton Kershaw (.195)

Most Games Finished – Francisco Rodriguez (58)

Most Double Plays Achieved – Dallas Keuchel (30)

Most Wild Pitches – Garrett Richards (22)

Most Balks – Roenis Elias (4)

Most Stolen Bases Allowed – A.J. Burnett and Scott Feldman (29).

Most Pickoffs – Drew Smyly (7)

Most Batters Faced – David Price (822)

Most Pitches Thrown – Johnny Cueto (3,122)

Heading into the Final Month of the 2014 MLB Season

It’s hard to believe, but the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season is almost over. Today marks exactly one month until the final games of the season, on September 28th, and teams are making their final push towards the postseason, with every player doing their best to finish out the season strong. With all of this going on, I thought I’d post an entry on the five main storylines I plan to watch throughout the final stretch.

200 Hits for Jose Altuve

7848827Leading all of baseball in batting average (.332) and with 14 more hits on the season than the player with the second most hits, Jose Altuve is well on his way to recording his first 200 hit season of his career. With 181 hits this year, Altuve should easily make it to what has become a somewhat rare achievement.

The last time any player recorded 200 or more hits in a season was back in 2009, when Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Ryan Braun and Robinson Cano all did it. For Altuve, he’s set to become only the second Astros player to ever record 200 hits in a season, with Craig Biggio, doing so in 1998, being the other.

Though Altuve is too far back to break Ichiro Suzuki’s all-time hit record for a season of 262 hits, it should be interesting to see how many hits he can amass in this final month.

Race for Stolen Base Lead

After Billy Hamilton set the all-time single season stolen base record for the minor leagues back in 2012, stealing 155 bases that year, many people began to proclaim Hamilton as the next Rickey Henderson. Those are some lofty expectations that Hamilton hasn’t quite been able to live up to, with Hamilton sitting on 50 stolen bases (the youngest Reds player to ever reach 50 stolen bases in a season) for the season and Rickey Henderson having stolen 100 bags in his first full year.

Hamilton currently sits eight stolen bases back of the leader, Dee Gordon, so he definitely has some work to do if he wants to finish out the year on top. But despite not running away in the stolen bases category like many people initially believed he would, Hamilton has done a phenomenal job of making adjustments this year. After a horrid start to the season, Hamilton has really turned things around, and if he can continue to get on base, he has the potential to rack up a ton of stolen bases in a short period of time.

How Jose Abreu Finishes the Year

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City RoyalsProving to have been one of the most valuable offseason pickups, Jose Abreu is posting one of the best rookie seasons we’ve seen in years.

Currently sitting on 33 home runs (he has a good shot at winning the home run crown, tied with Chris Carter and Giancarlo Stanton, and one back of only Nelson Cruz), 96 RBI’s and a .312 batting average, Abreu has done nothing but produce all season long, leading many to believe that he has the American League Rookie of the Year award completely locked up.

At one point in time, there was a good chance that Abreu would break the all-time home run record for a rookie, set by Mark McGwire back in 1987, when he blasted 49 home runs. But Abreu will inevitably come up just short of that mark, due in part to a brief stint on the disabled list earlier in the year.

Even so, Abeu will likely wind up with around 40 home runs for the season, and will be a major asset for the White Sox for years to come.

American League West Division

It can’t much tighter than it currently is in the American League West, as the Angels lead the Athletics by a mere game in the standings. With just a few more weeks of games, this is undoubtedly the division to watch most closely throughout the rest of the season. However, the wild card spots are looking to be just as intriguing, in both leagues.

On the American League side of things, whichever team doesn’t win the AL west between the Angels and A’s will end up taking the first wild card spot, but the Mariners, Tigers and even the Yankees are going to be fighting hard for that second wild card spot. In the National League, the Cardinals hold a slight lead for the first wild card, but the second one is anyone’s for the taking between the Giants, Braves, Pirates and Marlins, if they can keep pace through the month of September. It should be interesting to see which teams get the job done.

Derek Jeter’s Final Month of His Career

Derek JeterAfter having a disastrous 2013 season, in which he was injured and posted measly stats, Derek Jeter announced at the beginning of the year that 2014 would be his last. Therefore, all eyes are on Jeter to see how he performs in the final month of his farewell season. So far, Jeter isn’t doing terrible, but he’s not doing all that great either, batting just .267 with 3 home runs and 36 RBI’s.

But although Jeter isn’t producing all that much, he will still go down as one of baseball’s all-time greats, with over 3,400 career hits.

The one thing on everyone’s mind, however, is whether or not the Yankees can make the playoffs to give Jeter the chance at a sixth career World Series title.

Sitting 2.5 games back of the second wild card, there’s still a shot that the Yankees make it in, but it’s going to take a good amount of terrific play for them to reach the postseason.

Wil Myers Returns to Durham for Rehab Stint

Over a year since leaving the Durham Bulls to begin his major league career, Wil Myers is returning to Durham. After injuring his wrist back in late May up at Fenway Park in Boston, Myers is set to serve as the Bull’s designated hitter tonight against the visiting Buffalo Bisons, in game one of his rehabilitation process.

vertical-wil-myers-apWinning the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year award by a wide margin, after putting together a season of 13 homers and 53 RBI’s to go along with a .293 batting average, Myers got off to the start that was to be expected out of a top five prospect. At just 23 years of age, Myers is looking to make his way back to Tampa as quickly as possible to continue that great kickoff to his career.

But first, as stated, he’s going to spend a bit of time with the Bulls, which is quite fine with me. After seeing Myers play in half a dozen games in 2013 at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, I’m looking forward to seeing him again. As luck would have it, I had already planned to attend tonight’s game around a month ago. It just so happened that Myers is starting his rehab today.

Although I got Myers’ autograph three times while he was with the Bulls last year, after winning the rookie of the year award, and with a bright big league future still ahead, I’m going to be trying again. While the visiting Bisons have a decent team, including manager Rich Hebner, outfielder Kevin Pillar, and pitcher Sean Nolin, no one on the entire team comes close to the talent level that Myers possesses.

Though there have been rumors that Wil Myers could be sticking around in the minors for around two weeks, this is the best chance I’m going to have to once again snag his autograph in the foreseeable future. The Bulls head out of town after this weekend, and when they return the following weekend, despite the fact that Myers could still be a part of the team, the visiting Charlotte Knights are a too good of a team to pass up. Therefore, I’m going to be trying for their players and not Myers. It’s basically tonight or not at all.

Even if I don’t get another Wil Myers autograph, seeing the most recent rookie of the year after the fact is still something of significance that I’m looking forward to. Assuming it doesn’t rain out the game, tonight is going to be a fun night.

Latest MLB Leaders (March 22nd – July 31st)

With the first four months of the 2014 MLB season in the books, I thought I’d take the first day of the new month to recap the season thus far. It’s been exciting, as well as disappointing — depending on how you look at it, and who you’re rooting for.

But instead of talking about the events that have taken place so far this year, I decided to make a list of different categories and beside them name the player(s) that leads that particular category. I’ve done this for the past two seasons and it was well received, so I wanted to continue to do it for this season as well.

The following lists are categorized into hitting and pitching, but not AL or NL:

MLB LEADERS (AL and NL) – HITTING

Most Games Played – Melky Cabrera, Freddie Freeman and Hunter Pence (109).

Most At-Bats – Melky Cabrera (448)

Most Hits – Jose Altuve (151)

Highest Average – Troy Tulowitzki (.340)

Highest OBP – Troy Tulowitzki (.432)

Highest SLG – Jose Abreu (.636)

Most Runs – Paul Goldschmidt and Anthony Rendon (75).

Most Doubles – Paul Goldschmidt (39)

Most Triples – Dee Gordon (10)

Most Home Runs – Jose Abreu (31)

Most RBI’s – Jose Abreu (83)

Most Base On Balls – Jose Bautista and Carlos Santana (73)

Most Strikeouts – B.J. Upton (135)

Most Stolen Bases – Dee Gordon (48)

Most Caught Stealing – Billy Hamilton (16)

Most Intentional Base On Balls – David Ortiz (18)

Most Hit By Pitch – Russell Martin (13)

Most Sacrifice Flies – Doug Fister and Zack Wheeler (9).

Most Total Bases – Jose Abreu (236)

Most Extra Base Hits – Jose Abreu (60)

Most Grounded Into Double Plays – Casey McGehee (20)

Most Ground Outs – Elvis Andrus (182)

Most Number Of Pitches Faced – Mike Trout (2,112)

Most Plate Appearances – Nick Markakis (492)

MLB LEADERS (AL and NL) – PITCHING

Most Wins – Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Adam Wainwright (13).

Most Losses – Kevin Correia and Eric Stults (13).

Best ERA – Clayton Kershaw (1.71)

Most Games Started – Fourteen players tied for most (23).

Most Games Pitched – Brad Ziegler (56)

Most Saves – Craig Kimbrel and Trevor Rosenthal (32).

Most Innings Pitched – David Price (170.2)

Most Hits Allowed – Brandon McCarthy and James Shields (159)

Most Runs Allowed – Justin Verlander (84)

Most Earned Runs Allowed – Edwin Jackson (77)

Most Home Runs Allowed – Marco Estrada (27)

Most Strikeouts – David Price (189)

Most Walks – A.J. Burnett (64)

Most Complete Games – Clayton Kershaw (5)

Most Shutouts – Henderson Alvarez (3)

Best Opponent Avg. – Johnny Cueto (.183)

Most Games Finished – Francisco Rodriguez (49)

Most Double Plays Achieved – Dallas Keuchel (24)

Most Wild Pitches – Garrett Richards (19)

Most Balks – Roenis Elias (4)

Most Stolen Bases Allowed – Tyson Ross (24)

Most Pickoffs – Madison Bumgarner and Drew Smyly (5).

Most Batters Faced – David Price (689)

Most Pitches Thrown – David Price (2,564)

Home Run Derby Participants Seeing A Hitting Slump

It’s been the topic of discussion for numerous years.

According to the statistics and the players themselves, a good percentage of the sluggers who take part in the annual home run derby tend to see a major plunge in their numbers to begin the second half, with the majority of those poor stats holding at that subpar level for the remainder of the season.JoshHamiltonHomeRunDerby08b_thumb

It’s happened in the past to power hitters David Ortiz, Ryan Howard, Josh Hamilton, Chris Davis and many, many other sluggers who have taken part in the derby only to see their pre All-Star break numbers vastly overshadow the statistics they posted in the second half of the year. And once again, it’s happening this season.

How much of this apparent trend is actually a pattern and how much is due to a player’s career law of average just showing up (for example, a 30 home run player who hits 20 home runs before the All-star break only to fall into a “slump” and hit 10 after the break is still holding to their average) is vastly debated.

Some people claim that there is a major impact to a player’s swing after they do nothing but aim for the fences when crushing balls in the home run derby. For that very reason, Ortiz and Hamilton have declined any derby invitations they’ve received since their initial derby appearances, with the most recent example being Jose Abreu, who didn’t want to show off his power up at Target Field this year for fear that it would mess up his swing.

But that’s just one side of the coin.

On the other side, people seem to believe that the second half numbers a player produces after a derby are just a player returning to the previously mentioned law of averages — after all, every player goes through a slump at some point every season. However, now that two weeks have passed since the derby, with multiple players who were in the 2014 home run derby currently struggling, I’d have to go with the theory that a player’s swing is affected by the derby, at least in the short term.

Justin Morneau was a participant in this year’s derby, but he’s yet to play in any games since that point, so there are no numbers to go by, though he was batting .312 with 13 home runs and 60 runs driven in before the derby. Fellow derby and Rockies teammate, Troy Tulowitzki, is also currently injured, however he took part in two games before hitting the disabled list, recording no hits in 5 at-bats, after batting .345 with 21 homers and 52 RBI’s over the first half.

While there are no true numbers to look at for either Morneau or Tulowitzki, and thus no way to know how each player would be performing, a couple of injuries after the derby isn’t exactly a positive thing.

Of the players who aren’t on the disabled list at the moment, Brian Dozier has seen the biggest fall in numbers of them all. After getting off to a career season to get the year started, with 18 homers and 45 RBI’s, the lone hometown player to take part in the derby is now batting a mere .125 with two RBI’s on a single home run since the second half began. Also joining him with a .100’s batting average since the derby is Todd Frazier (batting .154), who has hit just one home run after slugging 19 throughout the first half.

Adam Jones and Giancarlo Stanton 53c4b41cbd0b5_preview-300are also sharing in the same fate, with both batting in the .200’s since the All-Star break.

Jones posted a .301 batting average with 16 home runs and 54 RBI’s to begin the year, and despite having fallen a bit in batting average since, he’s launched 3 homers and amassed 10 RBI’s since the break — not jaw dropping, but also not terrible.

Stanton on the other hand is doing much worse, having slugged just two home runs since the derby — a derby he lost, even though he was the heavy favorite to win — despite hitting 21 before the All-Star break.

But as has held true throughout derby history, not all players are seeing a slump.

Although he hasn’t found his power swing since the derby, Yasiel Puig is still hitting for average, having batted .333 in the past couple of weeks. However, with no home runs and just two runs batted in, after blasting 12 before the break and driving in 52 runs, he’s still not the Puig everyone has come to know.

Jose Bautista has fared fairly well since the derby, batting .333 with 3 home runs and 7 RBI’s, after batting .292 with 17 homers and 54 RBI’s in the first half, which holds fairly steady with his average pace over his career. Hitting .324 since the derby, Josh Donaldson is also holding his own, having hit a couple of homers in the second half after batting .238 with 20 homers over the first portion of the season.

The player who seems to have experienced the least amount of problems with his swing is the winner of the derby, Yoenis Cespedes, who actually looks to have improved. After batting just .254 to begin the year, Cespedes is batting .324 over the course of nearly 40 at-bats since the derby (admittedly, a small sample size). In addition, Cespedes has slugged 3 homers and driven in 10 runs in this second half, however, seeing an increase in stats after winning the home run derby in 2013, it would seem that Yoenis Cespedes is the exception to the overall derby rule.

2014 Triple-A All-Star Game

While Monday night’s Triple-A Home Run derby was extremely exciting, with Minor League Baseball’s top sluggers putting on a home run hitting show, Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star game was the event that everyone had been waiting for. With the stars of tomorrow from both the Pacific Coast League and the International League set to take on each other in what was sure to be a thrilling game, many people (myself included) showed up to the ballpark fairly early.

Normally I’d be getting to the ballpark early because I was going to try for autographs. But thanks to an autograph session that was held at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Tuesday afternoon, I was able to get an auto from every player that I wanted, and thus, it wasn’t a top priority at this game. Even so, I still arrived to the ballpark right before the gates opened, getting inside in time to watch the last portion of the Pacific Coast League’s batting practice:

DSCN7230Down on the field (as seen in the picture) was Stephen Piscotty (in the batting cage), Andrew Susac and Max Stassi, among others, with numerous players in the outfield shagging balls. With me not trying that hard for autographs, I wasn’t down near the dugout at this point, but after seeing arguably the best player of both teams, Joc Pederson, gesturing that he’d sign autographs after he came back out of the clubhouse, I decided to head down to the field anyway.

Despite having gotten Pederson’s autograph the day before, with him being listed as the number 30 prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com, it was worth another shot. Unfortunately, although he kept his promise of signing autographs once he came back out, Pederson signed for everyone but me. Skipping over me twice, apparently he remembered me from the day before; at least, that’s all I can think of. But that was okay.

Although I would’ve liked to have gotten his auto again, seeing the future Dodgers’ star outfielder (assuming they can figure their outfield situation) up close was cool in itself:

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After failing to get an autograph from Pederson, I made my way to my ticketed seat (the same one I had for the home run derby) to watch the pre game introductions. While every player seemed thrilled to be there and honored to have been selected to participate, no other player seemed quite as happy to be taking part in the All-Star game as the Clippers’ first baseman, Jesus Aguilar:

DSCN7256If that’s not pure excitement by Aguilar, I don’t know what is.

Shortly after all of the players had been introduced from both the Pacific Coast League and the International League, and after a flyover during the National Anthem, . . . . :

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. . . . the 2014 Triple-A All-Star game got underway.

The starting pitcher for the International League, Liam Hendriks, had been fantastic heading into Wednesday’s game. Having gone 7-1 with a 2.19 ERA so far this season for the Buffalo Bisons (Triple-A affiliate of the Blue Jays), Hendriks picked up right where he left off, keeping the Pacific Coast League off the board in the top of the first inning.

On the mound for the opposing Pacific Coast League was Elih Villanueva, who didn’t fare nearly as well. In the bottom half of the first inning, Wilson Betemit drove in a pair of runs, taking the score up to a quick 2-0 International League lead. Then, in the very next inning of swings for the International League, Jhonatan Solano (with a man on base) blasted an impressive shot over the left field blue monster, bringing the score up to 4-0:

DSCN7277Not surprisingly, that’s as far as Villanueva was allowed to go, being replaced by Spencer Patton after 1.2 innings pitched:

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Patton would finish out the inning, with the Pacific Coast League once again bringing in another pitcher for the third, in Kyle Hendricks, who was finally able to keep the International League off the board, after they had scored a couple of runs in each of the previous two innings.

Neither team would score for the next few innings, with the first run of the game for the Pacific Coast League, and the first run of the game since the bottom of the second inning, coming in the top of the sixth inning thanks to a Joc Pederson home run. Pederson, who had struck out in his first two at-bats of the game, took out some of his frustration, absolutely demolishing a ball deep into the right field stands:

Having attended dozens of Bulls games, I’ve never seen a ball hit that well to right field. For that matter, I’m not sure any of the participants in the home run derby a couple of nights prior hit a ball quite that deep. Though I’d heard a lot about the extreme power that Pederson possesses, I was still amazed at how far the ball traveled.

Getting back to the All-Star game, which, on a side note, was being broadcasted live on MLB Network with Darryl Hamilton and Paul Severino doing the play-by-play, . . . . :

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. . . . despite Pederson finally getting the Pacific Coast League on the board and bringing the score to within three runs, the International League would ultimately put the game out of reach in the bottom of the sixth. A two-run triple by Felix Perez, followed by a double from Steven Souza Jr. that scored Perez from third, took the score up to 7-1 in favor of the International League.

Though the Pacific Coast League would attempt a comeback, scoring a run in the top of the eighth as well as the top of the ninth, Merrill Kelly was able to record the final out of the game to secure the 7-3 win for the International League, which has now won seven of the last ten Triple-A All-Star games:

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For their contributions to the game, Liam Hendriks of the International League and Chris Taylor of the Pacific Coast League were named the “top stars” of the game. Hendriks’ two shutout, one hit innings, in which he struck out four, got the International League off to a great start, which they were able to continue. Taylor, going 3-4 with a couple of doubles, was one of the few bright spots for the Pacific Coast League (other than Joc Pederson), being one of only three players from either side (Jose Pirela and Ivan De Jesus were the others) to record more than one hit.

Though I’ve never attended a Triple-A All-Star game at any other ballpark, it’s hard to imagine that it could’ve been done any better than the one on Wednesday in Durham, North Carolina. The entire week — from the home run derby, to the autograph session, to the All-Star game itself — seemed as though it was planned out specifically with the fans in mind. While it will likely be a long time before Durham ever hosts these events again, after the experience from this week, whenever it returns to the Bull City, I’ll certainly be sure to make the trip.