Brett Bartles: Blue Devil with red hopes
Brett Bartles hangs out in the dugout with the Mustangs prior to a game against Idaho Falls at Cobb Field.

Dukie, as those who attend Duke University in Durham, N.C., are known, is either loved or hated. The intensity depends upon where you are.

Brett Bartles is a Dukie.

"Outside North Carolina most people say, 'Oh, you're a Dukie. That must be crazy, what's that like?' " said Bartles, a 30th-round draft pick in June of the Cincinnati Reds. "Back in North Carolina, it's an

entirely different response. They say, 'Oh, you're a Dukie. I don't want to talk to you, get out of here.' Most of it's just kidding around. But everybody's one or the other in North Carolina. There's hardly anybody that's indifferent."

There shouldn't be any indifference for Billings Mustangs fans when it comes to Bartles. The outfielder/third

baseman/designated hitter began hitting the first day of his professional career, starting with the Gulf Coast Reds

earlier this summer, and continuing right up until Friday night, when he tripled and drove in a run in his first at-bat against Idaho Falls.

Going into Saturday night's game with the Chukars, Bartles, who left Duke as a junior, was hitting .324, getting at least one hit in 28 of his 36 starts in both the GCL and the Pioneer League. He plans to return to Duke following the Mustangs season to finish his history degree in just 31/2 years at the school.

Here's what he had to say on a few other topics.

Duke is in the heart of the Tobacco Road country, a famed stretch of road that connects Duke, the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and North Carolina State (Raleigh). Or is it a famed stretch of road?

"I don't really know if there is a Tobacco Road, it's like mythical. I know tobacco's everywhere and Durham is the tobacco capital of the world, but I don't see any road signs that say Tobacco Road. But it's a lot of fun. UNC, Carolina, is real close. We're like five miles, seven minutes away. NC State is 25 minutes down the road and Wake Forest is 45 the other way. There's a bunch of young people and college spirit everywhere you go. For me basketball season is the greatest time of the year. Every car has a flag coming out of it, every house has something. It's a great college atmosphere."

Bartles started this season with the Gulf Coast League Reds in Sarasota, Fla., a league where games are played with no fans, no stadiums, and at the hottest part of the day - noon. Bartles played just nine games in the GCL, collecting at least one hit in his first eight games and batting .379 overall, before being promoted to Billings.

"If you play in the Gulf Coast League, you've got to love the game. You have to love baseball. I was just shocked how it was in the Gulf Coast League. But it's also good. I got to learn how to play pro ball and what early work means. It was good for me and I'm glad I got out of there as quick as I did. I'm glad I had the experience, but I'm even more glad to be up here in Billings under the lights."

Bartles batted .293 at Duke this spring, hitting seven home runs and driving in 48 runs in 49 games. He credited the hitting system employed by Reds hitting coordinator Ronnie Ortegon with getting him off to a good start in the GCL and with the Mustangs.

"In college, with aluminum bats, I was always tempted to try to hit a home run every single time. And I didn't even hit that many, that's the funny thing. With the wood bat, you just have to relax and stick to your approach. So far, I've had some success with it and hopefully I can continue to improve."

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