Nine games in eight days, the Bull City Summer pilot project, or test run, is complete, capped yesterday by “the most important win of the season,” everyone agreed including manager Charlie Montoyo, Bulls’ radio broadcaster Neil Solondz, and Bull City Summer’s Adam Sobsey. Yesterday also included announcements that Bulls’ outfielder Russ Canzler won MVP of the International League and that the DBAP would host the AAA National Championship game in September 2012. Good news all around.

If/when the Bulls have playoff games this year, there will be new work by Adam and perhaps by photographers Frank Hunter and Leah Sobsey. But I’ll be in New York and photographer Kate Joyce returned to Chicago today. The 5-person team that gathered at DBAP for these nine games won’t gather again until spring 2012, either at spring training in Florida or, more likely for all of us, here.

A project I began as part of this test run, but won’t finish until next year, is a profile of Charlie Montoyo.

I interviewed him three times and found him to be fascinating and engaging. I interviewed several players about him, plus pitching coach Neil Allen and hitting coach Dave Myers. I’ll interview Tampa Bay Rays’ farm system director Mitch Lukevics, and Rays’ third base coach Tom Foley, who gave Charlie his first break as a manager fifteen years ago when Charlie made the rare transition from minor league player (he had only five at-bats in the big leagues) to manager (of class A Princeton, WV). He’s won everywhere he’s managed and he’s close to winning his fifth consecutive division crown with the Bulls. Charlie lives with his family in Tucson, AZ in the offseason and there’s a good chance I’ll be heading to Tucson this winter to conduct more research in the W. Eugene Smith archive at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona (I’m currently working on a new book about Smith for Farrar, Straus and Giroux). I’ve been there a couple dozen times over the past fifteen years. I’d like to see Charlie out there. I’d also like to go with him to visit his parents in his hometown of Florida, Puerto Rico, if I can get somebody — perhaps a national magazine – to help me fund the trip.

Charlie Montoyo and Sam Stephenson in Bulls dugout, March 29, 2012
  • Photo by Frank Hunter
  • Charlie Montoyo and Sam Stephenson in Bulls dugout, March 29, 2012

So, my first piece for Bull City Summer next spring might be a long profile of Charlie. Nationally, he’s most known for the adversity faced by his family — his son Alex was born with what was thought to be a terminal heart defect — and that’s an important, moving story (documented by HERE), but Charlie’s got a philosophy about managing in the unique and fluctuating atmosphere of a AAA baseball team that I find universal. I’m hooked (there’s a reason why baseball has been the subject of more literary writing than any other sport, including Adam Sobsey’s three years of Bulls’ game coverage).

Last night when I left the Bulls’ locker room after the game, I walked out through the lobby of the front office. There were four or five people huddled around Darlene Clayton’s computer at the reception desk, looking at the slideshow of photos made by Bull City Summer photographers Frank Hunter, Kate Joyce, and Leah Sobsey. A new picture emerged on the screen every few seconds and comments followed, “That’s a good one…that’s a good one…Oh, that’s a good one.”

Mission accomplished. It was a good start to Bull City Summer. Now, we have to use our materials and learning experiences to build a sustainable season-long project in 2012, if we can.

We are grateful to the Independent Weekly for hosting this trial run, and we are grateful to the Bulls and Capitol Broadcasting for opening their doors and arms to us over the past eight days.