baseball

Baseball Stadiums: McCormick Field

After a Wednesday night game in Kodak (read about it here), Katie and I headed for Asheville, N.C., to watch the Tourists.

The benefit of driving from Kodak to Asheville was getting to travel US-441 through Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  While I have explored the Smokies multiple times, Katie had never visited.  Unfortunately, the weather was overcast and we encountered a bit of rain during our drive.

Eventually as we arrived in Asheville, the rain cleared out as we made a stop at New Belgium Brewing’s new East Coast facility.  After checking into our hotel, Katie and I hit a few breweries en route to McCormick Field, but we will detail our brewery stops in a later stand-alone post.

So onto the stadium…

Main entrance.

McCormick Field sits on the southern edge of downtown Asheville, which can be a positive or negative depending upon your perspective.  The negative: a downtown ballpark almost always means there is limited parking.  That is definitely the case in Asheville.  The positive: the stadium may be walkable from nearby hotels and residential areas.  That is definitely the case in Asheville.  Katie and I stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton Asheville Downtown, which is about one mile – approximately a 20-minute walk.

After immediately walking into the ballpark, I found the two things I always try to photograph early in the night: the starting lineup and the league standings.

Starting lineups for the Kannapolis Intimidators and the Asheville Tourists.
South Atlantic League standings entering play on Thursday, May 19.

After stumbling upon the lineups and standings, Katie and I spotted the Tourists’ mascot, Mr. Moon walking by.  So I hailed down a nearby employee and asked him to take our picture with the mascot.

Katie and I with Mr. Moon.

I won’t go into detail about the history of McCormick Field (read it here), but because of its age and its location it is a smaller ballpark.  So it’s easy to check out all the concession stands and portable stations along the concourse.  Katie and I did that before taking our seats.

Concourse with games, concession stands, and portable stations.
Portable food and beverage stations along the concourse.

One of the best named concession stands was Crash’s Kitchen, which most baseball fans should know is named after the character Crash Davis from the movie “Bull Durham.”  For those unfamiliar with the 1988 cinematic classic, I can only suggest you watch it or read about it here.  I’ll come back to the movie later.

As it was a Thursday, the Tourists, like many other Minor League Baseball teams, was having its usual Thirsty Thursday promotion on soft drinks and beers.  The unique part about being in Asheville on a Thirsty Thursday is that the Tourists were the first team to use that phrase, and the team owns the federal trademark on it.  I tried to track down the plaque commemorating the trademark, but unfortunately it is in the press box so an average fan like myself is not able to see it.  If you want to read more about the history of the promotion, you can read Ben Hill’s piece on MiLB.com about it here.

After checking out a few stands to explore our food and beer options, we each got a fantastic local craft beer for $2 and took to our seats to watch the start of the game.  I got a Catawba Brewing Co.‘s White Zombie, which is a witbier.  I find that a witbiers is one of the best styles to have during the warmer months plus how does someone turn down a beer with such a great name?

I could drone on about the beer choices at the stadium, but will do my best to be concise.  Asheville has a lot of great local craft breweries and some regional craft breweries that have opened East Coast facilities nearby (like New Belgium, Oskar Blues, and Sierra Nevada).  So Thirsty Thursday at a Tourists game is like heaven because it’s cheap, but quality beer.

With beers in hand, we took our seats to watch the start of the game between the Kannapolis Intimidators and the Tourists.  What I didn’t know at the time was that I got to watch the Colorado Rockies‘ 13th rated prospect, Peter Lambert, start for the Tourists (see list here) along with shortstop Carlos Herrera (22nd), second baseman Jonathan Piron (24th), and first baseman Brian Mundell (30th).

Tourists starting pitcher Peter Lambert preparing for the first pitch against Intimidators center fielder Tyler Sullivan.
Intimidators starting pitcher Johnathan Frebis facing Tourists third baseman Mylz Jones.

While I didn’t take action photos of all the top-rated prospects for the two teams, I got to see the White Sox‘s 10th rated prospect (first baseman Corey Zangari) and 16th rated prospect (shortstop Johan Cruz).

After watching a few innings of play, we started exploring the ballpark, which allowed me to get a few different perspectives on the stadium.

The scoreboard in right field.
View of the grandstand from the third base line, which highlights the Bojangles Dugout Suite along the first base line.

Perhaps the most interesting sight at the stadium is a mural featured in “Bull Durham.”  If you watch the clip (see it here, thanks to Ben Hill for posting it), you will see the mural at about the 30-second mark.  Due to ballpark renovations the mural was relocated next to the concession stand along the third base line.

Mural featured during the waning minutes of “Bull Durham” that is preserved along the third base line.

After walking to one end of the stadium, we walked around to the other end and I watched Tourists reliever Drasen Johnson warming up.

The home team bullpen down the right field line allows fans to watch closely as pitchers warm up.

So after wandering around the stadium and debating the food choices, I finally settled on having the Bacon Mac and Cheese Dog.

The Bacon Mac and Cheese Dog.

The Tourists cover the basics when it comes to food at the ballpark, and have a few unique items like Roots organic hummus with chips, which may not appeal to most baseball fans, but would definitely appeal to the hipster/hippie/millennial demographic in Asheville.  However, the Tourists do not really have a “signature” food item that you just “have to have,” so I opted for what I considered to be the most unique item.

The mac and cheese was good.  Bacon, of course, is always good.  The dog itself was fine, but I it could be better if the bacon was cooked into the mac and cheese instead of simply being sprinkled on top.

Attending a Tourists game on a Thirsty Thursday was dumb luck on my part, but I’m thrilled that Katie and I got to experience it.  The beer selection is great, and you truly cannot beat the $2 price.  The food choices are good, but didn’t blow me out of the water.  Although I might feel differently if I had eaten the fried Oreos for dessert.

Most importantly, the ballpark setting is great.  The trees provide a great backdrop, and allow fans to forget that they are in the midst of a mid-sized city.  Despite its opening in 1924, McCormick Field has been updated on multiple facets and does not give off the vibe of an “older” ballpark, except for fans being close to the action no matter where they sit.

Final Score: Lexington 10, Asheville 7 (10 innings)
Box Score

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