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The Asheville Tourists, the Colorado Rockies Single-A affiliate, are worth traveling to see

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An Asheville tourist goes to see the Asheville Tourists

Eric Garcia McKinley

I’ve been to Asheville twice in my life, and both times I visited I ran into someone I know who, like me, does not live there. Tourists, indeed. My most recent trip to Asheville was to be a tourist around town and to see the Tourists play baseball. Traveling to a city one doesn’t call home to take in a baseball game is the best sort of fandom because the experience isn’t confined to the ballpark.

Asheville seems the perfect place to house a Colorado Rockies affiliate. Asheville is a mountainous town that would not be unfamiliar to the Colorado native. Imagine Manitou Springs and Old Colorado City made into a fluid blend with a sprinkling of Colorado breweries, and you have Asheville. Coming from Colorado, I’m prone to scoff at the idea that any mountain ranges other than the Rocky Mountains are real mountains. That might be a defensible position while at the foothills—there aren’t any ominous peaks in the Appalachians that I’ve seen—but when you’re in the mountains, you don’t feel it. You’re just inside an unmistakably mountainous city. Not only that, but scoffing at terrain is as pretentious as the modern day beer-store clerk.

Like its much younger and much bigger sister, Coors Field, the home of the Tourists, McCormick Field, is a gem. It’s in the midst of the city’s downtown. But at the same time, the field gives the impression that it’s a natural formation—as if the diamond were a natural and perfectly designed flat space in the otherwise undulating landscape. From any point in the grandstand, which also feels as if it was carved out of the mountain, you see the waving hills beyond the outfield fences.

Tourists

Photo: Eric Garcia McKinley

McCormick Field’s aesthetic charm is equaled by the goods and services available within. First of all, McCormick Field has a better beer selection than most major league ballparks I’ve visited, including Coors Field. It embraces the beer culture that characterizes the city and offers a wide selection of local brews. The one that bolsters the Colorado link is Oskar Blues, which originated in Colorado in the late 1990s but expanded to North Carolina in 2012. Not only that, but McCormick Field offers in seat service, so you don’t have to miss a pitch to get your food and drink.

And you won’t want to miss a pitch—baseball is the primary draw, after all. While this year’s version of the Tourists haven’t played as well as the 2014 team, which won the South Atlantic League championship, they include intriguing names that will play a role in some future Rockies’ team.

Speaking of names, I admit that I have a hard time keeping minor league names in my head. My emphasis as a writer and a fan is mostly with the big league club. I pay attention to the Rockies’ farm teams, but it’s mostly the big name prospects. I do have some words of actual analysis to say about some of those big names, but first some whimsy.

I attended Sunday’s game with my wife. She’s a baseball fan insofar as she’s a fan of the atmosphere at the ballpark. She’s a bit less interested in the competition, and not at all interested in remembering things about the players. So, I thought it would be interesting to play word association with the names of Tourist lineup. Doing so gets at an outsider’s feel of the team. I said a name, and she said the first thing that popped into her head:

Ryan Castellani—cannoli

Max White—toothpaste

Shane Hoelscher—roast beef

Wes Rogers—cartoon duck

Forrest Wall—surfboard

Drew Weeks—Russian imperial stout

Josh Fuentes—bouquet of irises

Sean Dwyer—mattress salesman

Emerson Jimenez—World War I poet

There you have it—no need to hold Twitter polls about nicknames for these guys in the future.

★★★

They also played baseball on Sunday. I was drawn to three players in particular: Castellani, Wall, and Rogers.

Ryan Castellani started the game. He was never going to throw more than a few innings. Earlier this season, Castellani spoke with our Charlie Drysdale, and he indicated that he’s going to be limited to 130 innings for the season and no more than four innings per game during the season’s first half. He also told Charlie that he’s eager to show off his secondary pitches this season. On Sunday, Castellani pitched 2.2 innings, giving up a run on two hits while doing so. He walked two and struck out one. His fastball sat in the low 90s (according to the stadium radar gun), and his breaking balls and off-speed pitches were around 84-85 mph. From my vantage point, I couldn’t tell whether he threw the curveball, slider, or changeup the most. But I did get the impression that he had a much more difficult time locating those pitches. But that’s to be expected. Castellani is 19 years old, which is about three years younger than the average Single-A ballplayer.

Forrest Wall, also 19, struck me as a smart and instinctual baseball player. In his first plate appearance of the day, he watched the first three pitches sail by him for balls. The opposing pitcher worked the count to 3-2 after a couple of foul balls, but Wall ended up taking his base on balls. For the Grand Junction Rockies, Wall walked 14 percent of the time, which is excellent. So far in 2015, he has a walk rate of 11 percent, which is lower than 14 percent but still excellent. As a base runner, Wall also went first to third on an E5 that not every player would have made. His play at second base was uneven. He completed one very nice play but booted another routine groundball. Wall also walked the Tourists off on Sunday.

The third guy I was interested in seeing was Wes Rogers. Rogers wasn’t on my radar prior to this season, but then he started stealing a bunch of bases for the Tourists. The Rockies drafted Rogers, an outfielder, in the fourth round of the 2014 amateur draft from Spartanburg Methodist College. He’s separated himself by his base running. Last season, the Rockies assigned Rogers to Grand Junction. In 30 games, Rogers had a .362 on base percentage and stole 15 bases in 16 tries. Entering Sunday’s game, Rogers had 25 steals in 28 attempts to go along with a .336 on base percentage.

The stolen bases are fine, but the high success rate is what really stands out. It’s something woefully lacking from the major league team. In the smallest of small samples, Rogers reached base with an opportunity to steal just once on Sunday. The 6’3 21 year old took off once, but had to return to first base on a foul ball, but he later stole second during the same plate appearance. He was quick getting from first to second, but he took the bag because he was able to read the pitcher. Despite him not being a "top prospect," I am compelled to follow Rogers closely as he progresses. I won’t even need to think of him as "cartoon duck" to remember his name.

Most of the 2015 Asheville Tourists will only be around for the remainder of this season. Next year, they'll be graduated Grand Junction Rockies, Boise Hawks, and maybe some draft picks whose names we don’t yet know. McCormick Field and the mountain town that houses it will still be there though, welcoming tourists. Go be one, if you can.