With two outs, runners at first and second are wary, anticipating a pickoff attempt. The Asheville Tourists are down by one run in the bottom of the ninth. Tourists right fielder Kyle Parker, once the starting quarterback for the Clemson Tigers, digs in and glares at the pitcher. The first pitch is a fastball, low and outside, and the 21-year-old Parker checks his swing. Ball one. The second pitch is a hanging curve ball, about belt high. Parker drills it into the gap between center and left.
The base runners take off, the lead runner cruising into home plate. A great throw by the center fielder is cut off by the shortstop and relayed to the plate, just as the second runner slides by, just tapping the edge of the plate with his left hand before the catcher can sweep around and make the tag. The umpire sweeps his hands across his chest.
The Tourists have beaten the Hickory Crawdads on Parker’s two-run, walk-off double.
Not every game goes to the wire, of course, but the possibility that it could — that's part of what brings people out to historic McCormick Field to watch Asheville’s beloved baseball team.
Set into the side of a hill just off South Charlotte Street, McCormick Field has been home to minor league teams since 1924, many of them known as the Tourists. The current team, in Asheville for the last 35 years, has been a Class A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies since 1994.
But the history here is much deeper. Baseball, after all, is filled with the ghosts of its own past, and big signs adorning McCormick Field’s brick façade feature pictures of the greats who’ve stepped into the batter’s box or toed the pitching rubber here. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripkin Jr. are among those who’ve played at McCormick Field, making it a living testament to the history of the sport that still serves as a proving ground for tomorrow’s stars.
Once inside the gate, a souvenir shop on the immediate right (appropriately named the Tourist Trap) gives guests the opportunity to buy a cap, T-shirt or jersey. To the left is the main concession area, unusual in that it's below the main seating area. Besides the more traditional roasted peanuts, hot dogs and sodas, the concession area offers such specialties as deep-fried MoonPies and local craft beers from Highland and French Broad brewing companies.
The field has its own unique qualities. The right-field wall is a scant 297 feet from home plate, but it’s 36 feet high — a mere 2 inches shorter than Fenway Park’s famed Green Monster. In classic minor league fashion, the outfield wall is crammed with ads for local businesses, including one for Asheville Radiology that promises, “Umps’ heads examined free.”
On any given night, the crowd is an eclectic mix. Armed with scorecards and headphones, hard-core fans occupy the box seats down front, listening to the radio broadcast even as they watch the game. In the bleachers, families and clusters of friends casually take in the game, the sweet evening air and the laid-back social scene in equal measure.
Between innings, there’s the usual hijinks found in minor league ballparks: mascot races for the kids and trivia questions for the adults. The Tourists’ own Mr. Moon provides comic relief as he joins the mascot race, plays tag with a kid around a Smart Car and otherwise clowns around.
All in all, it’s easy to see why attending Tourists games is such a popular getaway. It really is the full minor league baseball experience, and a great team in a great park is always a winner. Even when things don’t go the Tourists’ way around the diamond, there’s still plenty of fun in the stands.
The Tourists' next game is scheduled for Thursday, June 23. To view their schedule, go to http://avl.mx/3j.
— Christopher George can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 140, or at email@example.com.