On the Road: A Tourist Visits the Tourists in Asheville

I arrived at McCormick Field at about 6 o’clock on a rainy Friday evening, and I must have been in a rush as it appears I didn’t take any shots of the stadium before entering. The saga begins, photographically, with this:

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That’s none other than Mr. Moon, who was introduced as part of the Tourists’ re-branding campaign prior to the 2011 season. I wrote an article about it at the time, which included the following quote from (then) new president/ownership group member Brian DeWine.

“We had the desire to change and wanted something fun and exciting that told the history of baseball in Asheville,” said Tourists president Brian DeWine. “The original [professional] team in Asheville was called the Moonshiners, and that got us thinking about the moon and how many people have watched Tourists baseball under the moon through the years….Plus, we always joke that the moon is the ultimate Tourist destination.”

Good to know, but that begs the question: Why is this team called the “Tourists” in the first place? DeWine explained that one to me shortly after I arrived at the stadium:

“The name was first used in 1915….Everyone on the team was from out of town, so the locals said ‘Well, we’ll call them the Tourists, then.”

And here we are, 98 years later, and the team is STILL the Tourists. Meanwhile, they’re playing in a stadium that’s almost as old as the team name. McCormick opened in 1924, with Ty Cobb playing the outfield on Opening Day. By my reckoning that makes it the second-oldest Minor League stadium, behind only Vermont’s Centennial Field.

But anyway — I fear that this early influx of words has caused me to lose a sizable portion of my readership. Here’s a picture:

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The above photo is by no means a good one, but it illustrates three things:

1) It was a pennant giveaway night, which is what Mr. Moon was brandishing in that first picture.

2) The main entrance is on a residential street. (Depending on one’s perspective, it would be either really cool or deeply annoying to live so close to a stadium.) This is indicative of the extent to which the field is tucked into its surroundings, with no room whatsoever to expand.

3. As a result of some long-ago architectural misfire, the ticket window is located inside the stadium. That leads to the rather awkward entrance set-up, in which fans pass under the archway, advance to the ticket window, and then proceed through a small opening in the improvised barricade.

The view on this overcast evening, immediately after passing through said barricade:

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 I soon made it on to the field and, uh, what’s this?

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To answer a question I already knew the answer to: That is a zipline, extending from the backstop some 300+ feet all the way up to a hill overlooking left field. Before every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday contest the game ball is delivered by a fan via the zipline.

Unprecedented!

From my recent Tourists-themed MiLB.com piece: 

This endeavor is sponsored by Asheville Zipline and Canopy Adventures, one of the region’s many providers of outdoor entertainment. The company’s employees are on hand to set up and take down the zipline (DeWine boasts that it can be done in six minutes flat), and also accompany the chosen fan on the 300-foot journey homeward.

“The first year we did [the zipline] 70 times, but found that it got a little repetitive, so now we save it for the bigger games,” said DeWine. “On Boy Scout night, the kids will do it until midnight, when we finally have to curfew them.”

I went up there to check it out.

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Soon enough, I was invited by the friendly zipline guides to give it a try for myself. All I had to do in exchange was sign my life away.

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Ready!

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Set!

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Go!

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It was fun, although our combined weight was a little above optimal and we didn’t quite make it to the designated target laid out just to the right of home plate. (I am, as I type this, the fattest I’ve ever been in my life). Upon landing my guide and I looped back up to the top of the hill, and I am including this picture of our walk partially as a means to convey just how verdant McCormick’s surroundings are.

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 Upon arrival, I handed off the zipline reins to the fan who had been chosen (via a concourse raffle) to deliver the game ball. She was psyched. (I apologize that I do not have her name, nor the name of my zipline guide. My excuse was that it had started to rain by this time, and I didn’t want to get my notebook soaked.)

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Want to see the zipline in action? Here’s my Vine video, which, like all Vine videos, is six seconds long.

Usually the game ball delivery signifies the start of the game, but the rain was coming down hard enough that its start was delayed. So, more pre-game wandering was destined to occur.

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It may be a bit difficult to see, but here there are two things I’d like to point out.

1). The right field fence is only 297 feet away. This is certainly tempting for left-handed batters, but home runs are harder than they appear because what the fence lacks in distance it makes up for in height. At 36 feet, it is just a foot shorter than Fenway’s iconic Green Monster.

2). The scoreboard reads “Visitors” and “Tourists.” Never not funny.

This shot of the visitor’s dugout also provides a good view of the roof, which is held up with imposing concrete slabs that convey a sturdy masculinity.

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McCormick was originally a largely wooden edifice, but has taken on a more concrete form after renovations in 1959 and (especially) 1992. Its old-time charm is completely intact, however, as I hope these pictures have shown and will continue to show.

Signage!

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This picnic area, located down the third base line, was pretty sedate on this drizzly evening.

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If I had been at McCormick Field just one day earlier, however, it would have been a far different scene. For Asheville is the original home of the Thirsty Thursday promotion, and it remains the most popular night of the week. I wrote all about this in my aforementioned MiLB.com article; click HERE to read it.

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Trademarked!

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Next to the picnic area is the visitor’s dugout, where coaches and players (and what appears to be a cop) were waiting out the rain delay.

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That mural may look familiar, as it is featured in the movie Bull Durham. Crash Davis ends his career as a member of the Tourists, and a scene was shot at McCormick. WATCH!

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Want an idea of just how long McCormick Field has been around? This photo hangs in DeWine’s office, taken during the 1924 season. As was standard practice in the South at the time, the seating areas were segregated. Behind home plate was for whites while black fans had to watch from down the third base line.

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Meanwhile, here on a Friday evening in 2013, the skies had begun to clear.

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Get out to the grandstand, Mr. Moon. It’s almost game time!

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As you may have been able to guess, this post is going to be a two-parter. If Mr. Moon could talk, he’d surely tell you to  check back soon for the riveting conclusion of this McCormick Field saga.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

9 Comments

Great post, Ben. I just got back from the Carolinas and watched 11 games in a week’s span. McCormick was one of my favorite ballparks on the trip. One question though-do you have an extra pennant I could buy from you? I collect pennants from all the teams I’ve seen, and Asheville is the only one so far that didn’t sell them. Just wondering. Sweet you were able to so the zip line!!!
-Mike

http://minoringinbaseball.com/

Thanks, Mike. If I had a pennant I’d just give it to you, but I declined at the gate and forgot to grab one later on. So, I am pennant-less. You might want to contact the team to see if they have any left over from the giveaway.

Thanks, Ben! I’ll give it a shot. Not having any luck on eBay finding one either…
-Mike

Did they ever play the OAR song “Mr. Moon?” Its a bit of a downer but extremely relevant to the team…and damn good!

I don’t think they did. I was advocating that they play The Who. You know, in honor of Keith.

Interesting pics. I remember fondly going over the mountain in 1960 with my dad and friends to watch that great pennant winning team.We had young stars like Gene Alley, Bob Bailey, Jesus Mcfarlane, Tommie Sisk and a young rightfielder named Will Stargell who used to hit them onto the rightfield hill where that zipp line is now, hence the moniker “on the hill, Will”. I imagine Will’s shots were more exciting than riding the zip. McCormack had wooden stands and green grass and no frills.Fans came for the baseball, not the amenities. Progress?

I think if there is any park where fans still go for the baseball, it’s McCormick. I’ve been to all the parks in the Carolinas (and plenty of others from Everett WA to Rome GA), and they don’t come much more “no-frills” than here. This is my favorite park in the Carolinas.

As the PA/music guy at McCormick Field (in year 14), I enjoyed reading about your ballpark experience, and look forward to part 2.

Pingback: On the Road: Moon Pies and Clear Skies in Asheville « Ben's Biz Blog

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