It’s summer in Asheville, and that can only mean one thing: tourists — and lots of ’em.
Sure, the bulk of them come to Asheville for mansion worshiping and hippie-spotting (“Look, Marge, dreadlocks!”). But not all tourists are the same.
Summer, in fact, brings us an entirely different kind — one that’s beloved by locals and is an integral part of the city’s own history: The Asheville Tourists baseball club.
For well over 75 years, locals have converged on McCormick Field on the outskirts of downtown to watch our very own Boys of Summer wage battle with bat and ball. The roots of professional baseball in Asheville can be traced back even further, in fact, to the dawn of the 20th century.
And luckily for baseball fans and history buffs alike, local author Bill Ballew set out to blaze that trail through time.
Arcadia Publishing has just released Ballew’s Baseball in Asheville, a collection of more than 200 vintage images that capture the storied history of the nation’s pastime as it developed locally. Ballew, an avid fan of the game who’s authored several books and contributed articles to Baseball America, scoured the archives of the Asheville-Buncombe Library system, the Asheville Citizen-Times and several private collections to assemble an exhaustive montage of Asheville-baseball snapshots.
From the woolen uniforms of the early days to the bad hairdos of the ’70s, one can’t help feel a sense of civic pride in the big “A” that adorns so many of the players’ caps, regardless of the decade. Ballew’s images are as much a celebration of this town as they are a tribute to the young men who’ve summered here and entertained us.
Pictured are some of the biggest names in the game: a boyish Babe Ruth leaning against the dugout wall at McCormick, a confident Willie Stargell at batting practice and a cucumber-cool Eddie Murray proudly displaying his Asheville “A.” But also included are shots of players who never reached The Show — players whose names are but a footnote in a ledger. They’re now captured in Ballew’s book forever in their minor-league prime, with sinewy arms and eyes ablaze with ambition.
If there is an error in this book, it’s the way it leaves the reader wanting to know some of the stories behind the images. In one photo caption, we learn that a 53-year-old groundskeeper at McCormick once pitched five shutout innings in a game against the Smokies. No further explanation is offered. This is the stuff of sports lore, and Ballew merely teases us with this mere smattering of fact.
Baseball lovers, after all, need to get beyond second base.
Bill Ballew will sign copies of his book Baseball in Asheville from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, June 19, at Mountain Lore Bookstore (555 N. Main St., in Hendersonville; 693-5096).