The Colorado Rockies' Low-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League, the Asheville Tourists, open their home schedule tonight against the Rome Braves. The Tourists will be at home for the next week, then hit the road again, and go back and forth in that crazy minor league lifestyle for the next five months.
Asheville—and the Tourists' home park, McCormick Field—is an interesting place, as we've seen. Nearly a century old, the ballpark has quite the short porch in right field, sits on the side of a mountain, and has hosted some very notable players throughout its long history. It's also been recently renovated and remains one of the premier destinations to watch a baseball game in the South Atlantic League.
So to get to know a little bit more about Asheville's McCormick Field—just in case you decide one day soon to make a trek out to western North Carolina to see some baseball—I recently caught up with Adam Peterson (who is, coincidentally, Purple Row's newest staff member after joining us earlier this week!). Peterson has spent a lot of time watching baseball in Asheville, and I thought he might be the perfect guy to share some insider info on the Rockies' Low-A ball club.
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Bobby DeMuro: How do you recommend fans best experience a game at McCormick Field? Is there something a newcomer to the park should do/not do, or any tips people should know about?
Adam Peterson: McCormick Field is a small little ballpark—which makes sense because it serves a Single-A franchise and a town of about 85,000 people—so there's not a ton to take in. One of McCormick's great strengths, though, is that, because it is so small, it is easy to sort of get swept away into thinking that you're in a different time. The hills behind the outfield wall may as well be cornstalks considering the atmosphere it provides. That said, I think the best way to experience McCormick is to allow yourself to get immersed in that.
Dispatches From Asheville
Dispatches From Asheville
For example, it was a ten-minute downhill walk from downtown to the ballpark which, as a newcomer, really helped us to take in the surroundings. There's only one entrance, through the archway that's on the McCormick Field logo, but it makes even waiting in line a sort of communal experience. I would also say that because tickets are so inexpensive, it is absolutely worth it to sit in the covered areas between the bases.
They have an all-inclusive section right by the dugouts, which were unfortunately sold out for some private parties when we were there, but it puts you right on the field so it might be interesting. Personally, I like having a bit of an elevated seat in order to better see all the action, and take in the aforementioned view beyond the fence.
Almost all the beer and food sold in the stadium is from local restaurants and you only pay a slight in-park premium, compared to the 100% mark-up you get at professional events, so it's worth partaking. We got a BBQ sandwich and some ice cream that was delightful. Resist the temptation to talk/text/tweet, if you can; it helps maintain the anachronistic feel of seeing a game in such an old park. Finally, don't rush out after the final out is recorded. Some of the players hung around outside the dugout after the game ostensibly to see friends and family, but they still talked with some fans, especially the younger ones.
BD: What’s your take on McCormick, considering the history, compared to other minor league parks you’ve seen? How does it feel as a place to watch baseball, and does it seem like the facility fit for a minor league team like the Tourists, or is it constricting?
AP: I've been to about 15 major league parks and about six minor league parks and I enjoyed watching a baseball game at McCormick Field more than almost all of them. Other stadiums have more amenities, or better screens, or even more history, or offer better views of the field, of course. But for the pure and simple joy of watching a baseball game, McCormick is top notch. It got an upgrade back in the early 90s, but they've managed to keep it in good shape since then and, as I said, it serves their market very well. The stadium itself is great. I love the high archways around the concourse, the brickwork (which probably isn't original but you could convince yourself it was), and the seats were actually pretty comfortable.
I said this in my article but the best thing about the ballpark is that history. Because it seems that so little of the stadium has changed over the years it's not difficult to imagine mustachioed barnstormers running across the field in their flannel uniforms, even when you're watching two teams in bright, modern uniforms square off. The single level grandstand behind home plate and the large, plain outfield walls with the hills behind make it a bucolic, pastoral experience, beautiful in simplicity, like you're experiencing the roots of baseball.
BD: How does the right field short porch play: radically affecting the game, or just one of those weird minor league quirks that isn’t a huge deal? Does it (or should it) impact the Rockies’ perception of hitters’ power numbers?
AP: It could just have been the age and skill of the players, but McCormick feels like it plays pretty big. We saw big hits to the outfield but they merely short-hopped the wall. Granted it's all late summer, and it was pretty humid, so I'm sure the ball wasn't flying very well that night—sitting in a valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains can have that affect throughout the summer, I'm sure.
Though the right field wall is pretty close it's also very tall, so you still have to get a hold of the ball in order for it to sail over. From my knowledge of the development of Tourists players, I don't think there is much in the way of a net effect there.
More Asheville Tourists News
More Asheville Tourists News
BD: What was your feel about Asheville baseball fans? Good and knowledgeable? Did they know a lot about the Rockies specifically, or the Tourists’ prospects?
AP: There were two things that stood out to us about Asheville fans. One is that we saw a lot of Tourists gear around town, or at least more than you might expect. (We live in Memphis and you almost never see people wearing Redbirds gear unless they're going to a game.) It's clear that the long history the franchise has in that town has led to a loving relationship between the citizens and their team.
The second thing is at the park, where there were also a lot of people in Tourists gear, people were engaged with the game itself. There were at least two other people within just our section who were keeping score. One of those fans also seemed to have a notebook or binder with information about the team. (I seem to recall a Rockies logo somewhere on it.) The fans were involved in all the right points in the game and aloof in all the acceptable points. It really did feel like a baseball town to me.
BD: OK, since you're the Rockies’ resident minor league affiliate hat expert: what makes the Tourists’ logo/hat combo so strong? Why are you so firmly in the Tourists’ corner and what are they doing right designing merchandise like those hats?
AP: Minor League Baseball on the whole has really bought into the wacky mascot/logo trend (look at the newly rebranded Norfolk Tides, for example) and it's all based on trying to do something different, something that stands out. I think part of what worked for the Tourists is they kept their obscure nickname, and took their identity from boring to—there's not really another word to describe it—cool. So many other teams have interesting or fun hats but Mr. Moon is just plain cool. The various shades of blue, the sunglasses, the fact that he glows in the dark, it all adds up to give the new logo and uniforms a sort of gravitas that you can appreciate whether your'e into baseball or not.
Plus, the subtle nods to the Blue Ridge Mountains, the starry nights, the Asheville Moonshiner's history and even local architecture (all according to team president Brian DeWine) make it a distinctly Asheville logo set. As an outsider, it really paints a great picture of the city.
BD: On the other hand, I’ve heard from local fans that they miss the old Tourists logo with the bear — is the new logo/hat set popular there or did you get the sense the nostalgic Tourists still held Asheville?
When I was a little kid I tried to keep track of the minor league affiliations, so I knew about Teddy. Apparently he was so popular that they not only kept him around as a regular mascot but they even sell some old Teddy logo stuff in the gift shop. That being said, there was plenty of new logo gear around town, so if people were upset I figure they've grown to accept the new stuff by now.
BD: OK, anything I've missed? Final thoughts on Asheville?
AP: I could probably go on and on about Asheville. We loved it so much that, given the option, we would probably move there before moving back to Colorado. The culture suits us well, with it's small mountain town hipster vibe (but not so hip that you feel out of place if you don't wear weird hats or scarves in the summertime) where people love beer and the outdoors. And baseball! I think it would probably suit a lot of Coloradans well. That's part of the reason why I think the affiliation makes so much sense; in the same way that the University of Colorado culturally fits in better with the Pac-12 than the Big XII, I think Asheville fits well with Colorado culture and it's a match made in heaven.
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The Asheville Tourists' season opening homestead begins tonight; go to their season schedule for more information on home dates to see the ball club at McCormick Field, or visit their ticket page for single-game options.