It’s time for another installment of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explain what they love about their favorite team and why. Today’s guest writer is Michael James, who lived in Asheville in the summer of 2012 and quickly became enamored with the Tourists and their home of McCormick Park. James is now based in Baltimore; his travel blog can be found HERE.
(all photos courtesy of Michael James)
Why I Love the Asheville Tourists, by Michael James
I first experienced one of the coziest stadiums in all of professional baseball during the summer of 2012, when I arrived in town as a curatorial intern at the Asheville Art Museum. Soon, I found myself making the quick drive to McCormick Field on a daily basis, seeing the likes of Trevor Story, Taylor Featherston, Sam Mende, and Will Swanner bludgeon the baseball night after night while getting just enough pitching — led by Tyler Anderson — to produce an overall 88-52 record. This memorable regular season campaign was punctuated by a South Atlantic League championship over the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Managed by the fiery, infamous Joe Mikulik, that team set numerous offensive records, batting .278 and ripping 127 home runs and 335 doubles over their 140-game regular season.
The Tourists’ offensive numbers were inflated by the extremely hitter-friendly dimensions of McCormick Field – just 297 feet to right and 373 feet to center. Lazy fly balls hit to right would either clear the 36-foot high wall, which is cut into a hillside that serves as the parking lot for players and fans alike, or bounce high off the fence for a double. Hard-hit shots that would be doubles in almost every other park would become singles due to the short throw back to second base for right fielders, who routinely played near the warning track. In the Colorado Rockies’ farm system, numerous players have put up huge numbers during their stints in Asheville. A truer test of those players’ abilities has usually come the next season, while playing for Modesto in the Class A Advanced California League.
I went back to Asheville for a weekend last July and took in two more games at McCormick Field, bringing my total to 28 games there over the two and a half months I’ve spent in that city in total. The 2014 team would again go on to win the South Atlantic League title, posting a superior 89-49 record, including a 43-26 mark at home. I was in attendance for Games Three and Four of their championship series in Hagerstown against the Suns, though, to my extreme annoyance, I was not able to make it to the decisive Game Five. That team featured some of the system’s top prospects, including Ryan McMahon, Raimel Tapia, Correlle Prime, and Antonio Senzatela. I loved seeing the Tourists so much that now, as I currently live in Baltimore, I went to watch them on the road in Lakewood, New Jersey, as well as Hagerstown and Salisbury (home of the Delmarva Shorebirds), both in Maryland. I’ve now visited six of the 14 South Atlantic League stadiums, all in my support of the Tourists.
The baseball itself is one thing. It’s a major thing. More than that, though, it’s the overall experience that keeps me coming back. It is a difficult thing to convey in words, even for someone who prides himself on his writing, the feeling that one gets when taking in a game on a warm summer’s night. Is there anything better than spending three hours in the fresh air enjoying cheap nachos and even cheaper beer amongst like-minded fans, who are all there to enjoy the fellowship and camaraderie of the ballpark?
It’s the people.
It’s the entertainment and smiles produced by the PA announcer, Rick Rice. Asheville has one of the best in the business in Rice, whose humor and wit makes every between-inning promotion and on-field game a sight to behold. It’s the way the Tourists’ Spirit Squad gets the crowd on its feet to perform “YMCA” during the seventh-inning stretch. It’s the way the Tourists’ mascot, Mr. Moon, constantly engages the youngest fans and makes them jump up and down and run through the aisles to give him a hug.
It’s the way every usher at McCormick Field would work feverishly to towel off the bleachers after one of Asheville’s notorious summer rain showers, and the way every ticket-taker treated fans with kindness and genuinely asked each one of them how they were doing, wishing them a good time at the game.
It’s the way I sat behind the Tourists’ entire front office at Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown last September, after they made the 453-mile trek up I-81 from Asheville. Right next to the visitors’ dugout on the third base line, players and staff interacted with each other so warmly. It’s the way Correlle Prime signed every autograph, flashing his huge smile and laughing with opposing fans.
That, to me, is the beauty of baseball. No other sport allows you this daily interaction, this sense of community and togetherness that is fostered night in and night out from April to September. Has it helped that the Asheville Tourists have been great during the two seasons I’ve been able to watch them? Of course. Everyone loves a winning team. But McCormick Field is so beautiful, and Asheville is such a great town, that it would be a privilege to spend three hours every summer night there to watch the 2003 Detroit Tigers.
I urge everyone to visit McCormick Field at some point. It made a cameo appearance in Bull Durham. It has hosted the “Sultan of Swat.” Its venerable history more than makes up for whatever it may lack in modern and cutting-edge amenities. Go on a Thursday night – it is the original home of “Thirsty Thursdays,” a promotion many teams have emulated over the years. Your experience there will be one you remember; I can assure you that.
Thanks to Michael for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here is my 2013 blog account of my visit to McCormick Field (one of my Top 10 favorite ballparks): Part One/Part Two.