Asheville has its very own “Field of Dreams,” a true monument of days gone by: Just south of downtown, McCormick Field is where Babe Ruth and many other baseball legends have left their footprints. Home to the minor-league Asheville Tourists, it’s our Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.
So when it was announced last week that Palace Sports Entertainment had sold the ball club to the DeWine family from Ohio, many likely wondered if this city’s minor-league treasure would be uprooted. Asheville’s Class A South Atlantic League team has played 89 seasons here in the last 112 years, and the DeWine family has chosen to come here rather than take the ball club elsewhere.
“This is a dream come true,” said Brian DeWine, who will become president of the Tourists once the sale officially closes in March, pending approvals from the South Atlantic League and Minor and Major League Baseball. “I was looking for a city to raise a family and own a team and this was the perfect place.”
Joe Kremer, the long-time general manager of the AA Carolina Mudcats, assured Asheville that this is a positive step in the right direction. “Asheville’s team is in very good hands,” Kremer said.
The DeWine family owns a large international seed company in Ohio, and Mike DeWine — the new owner’s father — is a former two-term U.S. senator from Ohio. Brian and his wife, Kali, are in the process of moving to Asheville, where they will greet the arrival of their first child later this month.
“This is such a perfect match for us,” DeWine told Xpress. “We wanted a team with not only a rich baseball tradition, but also one located in a community where my wife and I could raise a family — a place that fits our values and views baseball as an integral part of the community, just as we do. We found all those qualities with the Asheville Tourists. We are honored to be a part of the strong baseball tradition that exists in Asheville.”
DeWine has spent the last 10 years working in the business side of professional and collegiate sports, attending his first Tourists game last May. Soon after, discussions ensued toward a transfer of ownership. Palace Sports Entertainment never looked to sell the ball club, he says. From the beginning, the courtship was purely initiated by his family.
Palace Sports purchased the tourists in 2005 from long-time owner Woody Kern. Under Palace Sports, the Tourists posted four of their highest attendance numbers in franchise history. DeWine sees the future only getting better and better for this organization.
“We will not make any major changes this year,” he said DeWine. “I want to feel a full season and go from there.”
As the Class A team of the Colorado Rockies, the Tourists shine. “The Rockies have enjoyed the support of the Asheville community for 16 seasons, and we look forward to a continued partnership with the DeWine family for years to come,” offered Marc Gustafson, the Rockies’ director of player development.
Part of the sale agreement allows present employees to retain their jobs, if they choose, through Oct. 1, 2010. This includes President Mike Bauer. General Manager Larry Hawkins and assistant GM Chris Smith have long-standing local ties and have been with the Tourists for more than 10 years. Further, the Tourists signed a 10-year lease with the city in 2005 to continue playing at McCormick Field, and that same year the Colorado Rockies signed a four-year extension to keep the team in Asheville through 2012.
The Tourists open their 2010 season April 8.
— Rick Goldstein, Xpress sports correspondent