Heading south from downtown Asheville, along bustling Biltmore Avenue, streams of people make their way to McCormick Field. It’s another warm, breezy day in Western North Carolina, with the Asheville Tourists getting ready to take the ball field.
“Baseball in Asheville is so historic,” said Larry Hawkins. “Each year, we’re ranked one of the best ballparks in America to see a game. The stadium, the crowd, the backdrop—it’s the epitome of beauty in this region.”
General manager of the Tourists, Hawkins sits proudly in the stands, observing his team as they do warm-ups in preparation for their game that evening, which was the South Atlantic League championship. For a team that was stumbled a bit out of the starting gate in 2015, the Tourists regained their composure for a late-season surge into the playoffs, onward to the title game.
“They struggled in the first half of the season, but they put it together by mid-June—these guys have a lot of heart,” Hawkins said.
Pitcher Jerad McCrummen had similar sentiments. “We’re a young team with our position players, but we’re a relentless bunch,” he said. “To see where we came from in the beginning of the season to where we are now, it’s about not giving up, not letting the little things get to you, continuing to fight for each other.”
And though it’s just another day “in the office” for the ballplayers and front office administration, what does remain is the long and storied history of Asheville baseball, something everyone involved with the Tourists is well aware of.
“It’s pretty great to tell folks that Ty Cobb once patrolled centerfield here,” Hawkins said. “You walk in here and there’s pictures hanging up of Cobb and Babe Ruth, and all these other legends who played here over the years,” added Team Manager Warren Schaeffer. “And anytime you can play a field like that, there’s a sense of history you can’t get anywhere else. It’s pretty special.”
Baseball first established itself in Asheville in 1897. With the 4,000-seat McCormick Field built in 1924, the Tourists (a team name from 1915-1971, 1976-present) have been a mainstay in the Southeast evolution of the game, where Hall of Famers from every era have passed through these gates. With a Class-A minor league status, they’ve been a Colorado Rockies affiliate since 1994.
“It means a lot to us to know we have that supportive crowd to play for every time — they truly do care if we win or lose.” — Jerad McCrummen, pitcher
“There’s nothing like summer and baseball in the mountains,” Schaeffer said. “I love it. I go out there hoping these guys will play to the best of their ability, that we’re ready and it’s their time to shine. It’s great feeling to hit that field and compete every night.”
At the core of the Tourists is their most valuable asset: the fans. Day in and day out, thousands of folks from around Western North Carolina and beyond show up to cheer on the home team. The team itself heads off the field often to help out with nonprofit organizations and community events. It’s a two-way street of camaraderie and appreciation that neither side (the Tourists and local residents) takes for granted.
“We’ve been to other ballparks that don’t draw the crowds like we do here, and it means a lot to us to know we have that supportive crowd to play for every time—they truly do care if we win or lose,” McCrummen said.
“The fans are incredible here. They always pack in, and it’s a big advantage to have a crowd that is loud and supportive behind you,” Schaeffer added. “All their cheers echo off the tin outfield walls, with every team who visits always talking about how difficult it is to play here because of the crowd.”
McCrummen noted the importance of the lessons learned on the field, those lifelong traits of hard work, determination, and pride that reside within the realm of sport, which seamlessly transitions into other career endeavors.
“It’s all about that daily grind,” he said. “Yes, at the end of the day it is just a game. But it’s also our profession, and we’re all trying to get to the next level. If anything, this is a place for us to come, learn, and grow, where in the bigger picture we’re all trying to make a positive impact on the community.”
And as early-bird fans have already found parking and are wandering into the ballpark, Hawkins can’t help but mention just how lucky he feels being part of the Tourists organization.
“It’s more than just baseball here, it’s about providing family entertainment and making sure people are having a great time,” he said. “It’s an incredible vibe, where the place is buzzing, the crack of the bat and ball, and you get goose bumps when 4,000 people are in here rooting for the same thing: baseball.”