Beachy baseball

On a recent blustery March day, Asheville’s McCormick Field looked like a giant sandlot: From the center-field fence to home plate, it was covered in white sand, six inches deep.

“It’s a big beach, isn’t it?” jokes Jim Duyck, chairman of Mountain Youth Baseball, a local nonprofit group that calls McCormick home field for its American Legion high-school boys’ team. McCormick, he explains, is a field-in-progress: Several months ago, Asheville Tourist representatives complained to Buncombe County (the stadium’s owner) about flooding problems on the field, and threatened to pull the minor-league team out of the park.

“Drainage was an issue. Basically, there was no drainage,” explains Rhett Langston, Buncombe County Recreation Services administrative officer. Buncombe County commissioners, anxious to keep the Tourists, subsequently committed almost $500,000 to repair the field.

Engineers recommended a complex system of trenches laid with drainage pipe and filled with stone. Over that layer goes more stone, a filter cloth, and a layer of finely crushed stone, and then the sand, says Bud McGovern, a subcontractor whose crew is doing the job. Once the sand is leveled and prepared, Bermuda grass will be planted. “This field could take 10 inches of rain — then, an hour later, be dry enough to play ball,” says McGovern, who has topped many major-league spring-training fields in Florida — plus the Carolina Panthers’ football field in Charlotte.

“When [the project is finished], it’s going to be a first-class field,” promises Duyck. For the past two years, his organization has put together what could be a first-class team to match. In the 1920s, the American Legion — organized by veterans who had served overseas during World War II — sponsored youth-baseball teams all around the country, Duyck recounts. But there hadn’t been a team in Asheville since 1954, as best as he and fellow MYB board members could discover. So, two years ago, they worked with American Legion Post 70 in Asheville to develop a team, in an old-fashioned effort to mold young men into fine athletes.

“Our purpose is to get these boys ready for [playing] college baseball or going to the pros,” says Duyck. With donations and sponsorships pulled together by MYB, “These boys don’t have to pay a penny to play,” Duyck reports. Several players have also received college scholarships from MYB. The 20 hand-picked players come from Buncombe, Madison, Henderson, Transylvania, Yancey and Haywood counties; since 1997, the team has played about 10 home games at McCormick Field each spring, starting in May after the high-school baseball season ends. The new and improved field, he figures, will be a dream to play on.

Langston agrees, explaining that the field is available primarily for Asheville Tourist play and practice, but that it can be leased to groups for special events, in addition to hosting the American Legion team. Already, the Western Carolina University baseball team is set to play Georgia Southern at McCormick, and Warren Wilson has a scheduled game, as well.

“This will probably be the Cadillac of minor-league fields,” declares Langston, surveying the sandy surface.

But you’ll have to wait till April to see if the field hosts the Cadillac of teams.

Season tickets for both Asheville Tourist and American Legion games are available at the McCormick Field box office (call 258-0428 for details). Duyck notes that MYB seeks donations and sponsorships for its players, equipment and travel costs; give him a call at 298-1279, if you’d like to help. The Tourists opener is April 8, and the Legion team starts play in May.

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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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