DURHAM — The Durham Bulls have a familiar face on the coaching staff this season.
Hitting batting practice grounders with a fungo bat and patrolling the first-base coaching box during games is former Bulls player Quinton McCracken.
McCracken played 85 games for the 2000 International League South Division champion Bulls, scoring 54 runs and stealing 13 bases.
At the time, McCracken was a 29-year-old veteran of six Major League seasons. Two years before, he’d been the first batter in Tampa Bay history. Still, his time with the Bulls had an impact on him.
“It feels great to be back,” he said. “The place has changed over the last few years, but it’s great to be back. It’s familiar territory, a familiar stadium, same franchise affiliate. It’s good to be back on home turf.”
While the Bulls’ first Governors’ Cup (awarded to the International League champion) wouldn’t come until 2002, McCracken was part of the franchise’s third straight divisional title, helping to establish a tradition of dominance in the I.L. South that has continued to this day. McCracken is part of a new coaching staff, one hoping to continue the team’s string of two straight Governors’ Cups.
“The Bulls are one of the truly historic franchises in minor league baseball,” he said. “To be part of it as a player and then to come back and be part of it as a coach is truly something. We’ve come back full circle.”
While he was only a Bull for part of one season, McCracken’s roots to the area are much older and stretch much deeper.
McCracken went to Duke, following a high school career at South Brunswick that earned him a spot in the Greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame. He was a two-way player for South Brunswick’s football team, starting at safety and running back. He also started at point guard for the basketball team, and he led the baseball team to a 29-0 record and No. 5 national ranking his senior year. Plus he ran track in his spare time.
With Duke, McCracken limited himself to two sports. He played safety on the football team, returning 54 kicks for 1,230 yards, including a touchdown his freshman year. He also had five interceptions on defense.
The diamond was where McCracken truly excelled at Duke, however. He finished his Blue Devils’ career with the school’s baseball career records for triples (22) and stolen bases (98). A 1992 All-American, two-time All-ACC player and one of three Duke players named to the ACC 50th Anniversary team, McCracken led the Blue Devils in hits and steals all four years of his career.
“This is home,” he said. “This is the foundation for me. I was here from 1988 to 1992, I graduated in ’92. For D.U., this is home. This is where it all began. It’s good to come back home. The territory and people are familiar. We’re just excited. My family’s excited to be a part of it.”
McCracken earned two degrees at Duke, in political science and history. He has yet to use them, however, since a baseball life followed soon after graduation.
Chosen in the 25th round of the 1992 draft by the expansion Colorado Rockies, he made it to the majors in just over three years, debuting in September 1995 with the Rockies.
After spending three seasons in Colorado, McCracken found himself with another brand new organization, as he was chosen by the Tampa Bay Rays in the expansion draft. McCracken would go on to play 16 seasons as a professional, including 12 in MLB with the Twins, Diamondbacks, Mariners and Reds following his Rays tenure.
Since then, he’s worked in a variety of front office jobs for the Houston Astros, Miami Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks.
His job with the Bulls will be his first return to the field since his playing career ended in 2007. It seems an ideal way to return to the majors, as several of his recent predecessors on the Durham coaching staff, including hitting coach Ozzie Timmons, pitching coach Kyle Snyder and manager Jared Sandberg, have all found their way into the big leagues.
For now, however, McCracken is happy to be toiling in the minors, on familiar turf.
“We’re excited with the players we have here,” he said. “We’ll be helping them develop their careers and help them get up to Tampa Bay to help us win some big-league games at the top for the Rays. And hopefully, we’ll win a few games down here for the Bulls and continue that winning tradition.”