Kevin Costner may some find some nasty voicemails from Thom Mount and Ron Shelton, the creators of Bull Durham, who joked that he had “no good excuse” for missing the Durham Convention and Visitor’s Bureau’s luncheon in their honor. While Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, the film’s other notably absent stars, sent their regrets for being tied up on movie sets, Costner was “probably off fishing somewhere,” Mount and Shelton declared.
Bull Durham, beloved by Durhamites and ESPN magazine as the best sports movie of all time, celebrated its 20th birthday Wednesday when nearly 700 city boosters and local leaders paid $58 a head to attend a luncheon at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. Although Coach K wasn’t in attendance either, Duke president Richard Brodhead sent a video greeting from Washington, D.C.
The event honored the film’s producer Thom Mount and writer/ director Ron Shelton for making a movie that was a nostalgic, romantic valentine to minor league baseball, but also was raw and true to the city. But, increasingly, the film also functions as a snapshot of a quiet Southern town that had yet to undergo the downtown renovations that are dramatically reshaping the city.
Mount, a Durham native who became head of Universal Pictures at age 26 and went on to produce hits like Natural Born Killers and Can’t Buy Me Love, has fond memories of the town before its urban makeover, when it was considered the “black sheep of North Carolina cities.” Shelton said he was drawn to that grittiness while scouting places to shoot the movie, especially the image of the old baseball stadium standing like a “chalice of hope” amid tobacco warehouses and urban neighborhoods.
Coincidentally, this morning there was a groundbreaking at the old Durham Athletic Park, where baseball scenes in Bull Durham were filmed. Mayor Bill Bell, City Manager Patrick Baker, Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner, and Jim Goodmon, CEO of Capitol Broadcastingwhich owns the Durham Bullswere scheduled to participate in ceremonies to launch a $5 million renovation of the historic facility that inspired Shelton’s screenplay. The aging stadium was retired in 1994 but is still a venue for Durham festivals and ballgames.