The very first opening day at a newly constructed McCormick Field, nestled midway up a hill on the outskirts of downtown Asheville, was in 1924. Through multiple upgrades and renovations, the Great Depression, World War II and other nation-rattling events, the ball field has hosted one every April since.
But in 2020, there will be no umpire roaring “Play ball,” no pitcher rearing back to hurl a fast ball from the mound, no thud of ball in glove, no crack of the bat, no home runs soaring over the outfield fence, no stolen bases, no impossible catches, no runners racing toward home, no seventh-inning stretch and the crowd singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” It is a sorrowful summer for baseball fans in general and Asheville Tourists faithful in particular.
“We closed our offices on March 15,” says team President Brian DeWine. “We hoped we might start playing in July, but as we saw what was going on around the country, we knew the chances were growing smaller, so it wasn’t a surprise when we received word June 30 there would be no minor league season this year. It really leaves a void in this community. For staff and fans, the absence of baseball in this time has been devastating.”
To help satisfy the community’s craving for the game, the Tourists staged a pop-up concession stand, dubbed Summer Grill, the first weekend in July, serving ballpark favorites such as the Tourists Dog, chili cheese dogs, bratwurst, soft-serve ice cream and, because it’s Asheville, craft beer. Guests entered the park wearing masks, stood distanced in line, ordered and paid at the counter, then were escorted to a table on the diamond or a seat in the stands.
“Who doesn’t want to eat lunch on second base?” DeWine asks rhetorically. “So many of our fans showed up wearing Tourists jerseys and caps. We’ve had groups of friends who come just for a beer and sit in the stands. No one can spread people out better than we can.” This ability to host spread-out gatherings was apparently behind the thinking of the people who rented the facility for a memorial service and others who have inquired about moving their weddings to this field of dreams.
Summer Grill has popped up at McCormick Field several weekends following the inaugural event, but Friday, July 31-Saturday, Aug. 1 is expected to be its final run; DeWine notes that plans are subject to change. Before heading to the park, look for updates on Facebook or Instagram or check the Asheville Tourists’ website at milb.com/asheville.