Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains (literally built into the mountains) you’ll find McCormick Field, home of the Asheville Tourists. Baseball has been around in Asheville since the Asheville Moonshiners played in 1897 and McCormick Field has been a huge part of that rich tradition. The ballpark opened its gates in 1924 and has been home to baseball almost continuously since. Easily dismissed as a quirky, old Single A park with the benefit of a cool location, McCormick Field definitely requires a second look to see its best characteristics. Baseball history is engrained all around the park and is combined with a top notch minor league baseball atmosphere to make this park a must see for baseball purists, Saturday drinkers and Sunday families alike.
The Tourists are the Single-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, but have represented multiple organizations at multiple levels of baseball. Proudly boasting the Tourists name since 1924, the fans are so proud of the tradition that they once voted down an attempt to choose a new name in the late 50’s. McCormick Field also hosted a Negro League team for a stretch in the 40’s and 50’s, only adding to its strong tie to baseball lore. With alum like Lou Gehrig and Sparky Anderson, you can almost see the ghosts of legends that have played here in the past taking the field. It’s just one of those parks that represents why we love baseball.
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The food options are above average with excellent pricing. A Tourists Dog will cost you $3.50 and a large soda the same. Some of the specialty items on the menu include Roots Organic hummus & chips, Bojangles' chicken sandwiches, root beer floats and a southern delicacy, the deep fried moon pie (deep fried Oreos also available).
The real reason to experience the fare at a Tourists game is the craft beer stands offering a wide variety of local brews from one of the fastest growing brewing regions of the country. Some of the delicious stands include French Broad and Highland Gaelic (a personal favorite), but there are a variety of delicious options to choose from on a hot southern day.
McCormick Field draws a wide variety of fans to the games. The abundance of on-field promotions is great for the kids and families and makes for a fun family outing. On the other end of the spectrum you have the numerous craft beer stands behind home plate. One usher let me know that on Thirsty Thursdays there will often be more people around concessions area than watching the game. But even more than both of these options, the best part of McCormick Field is the general aura of baseball past. The iron wall in the outfield, the old hominess of the park, the pictures of Tourists through history, and the general surroundings combine to make this a baseball purist's perfect day of relaxation. Grab a box of Cracker Jack and a local beer and find a bleacher seat down the right field line. Is there anything better?
There aren't a whole lot of restaurants immediately around the stadium, but you don't come to the location for the food. McCormick Field is literally in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the fringe of town. Parking is actually elevated over the right field wall as the scenery rises into the foothills beyond the outfield. Inside the park you're exposed to the stone sides of the mountain as you walk the concourse. It's a very unique site. But if you're in town for the food experience, Asheville definitely doesn't disappoint. Downtown isn't far at all and has a culture all its own. Artsy bars full of craft beers and restaurants with unique food selections are available on practically every street corner in the city, and there's something for just about anyone. It's a perfect match for the Tourists overall atmosphere.
There's a variety of fans at Tourists game, and that can be good or bad depending on your motive for attending. On a Thirsty Thursday you may want to join the drinking crowd, but don't expect the same overall atmosphere and baseball knowledge as you'd get on a Sunday afternoon. If you're coming to enjoy the beer selection on a Sunday afternoon, partake in moderation because you may be one of the few sampling the wide variety. All of this works just fine in Asheville, because the common thread is that anyone you talk to loves the Tourists, even if their motives may vary.
Located about a mile from I-240 and just south of downtown Asheville, it's not overly difficult getting to McCormick Field. Parking can be a bit of a headache because there are only a couple of small lots around the field, and include an uphill walk for the most part. That's largely offset though because it's all free and there are attendants to help you get settled. The park is handicap friendly, but you should definitely evaluate the parking situation in that case because it may be difficult to navigate the terrain outside.
Ticket prices are pretty standard for minor league baseball, with general admission running at $8 and reserved seats at $11. There is a large clubhouse area in right field that can be rented and catered for groups as well. The concourse is largely outside the park without field views, so if you're going to indulge in the craft beers you'll have to plan your trips to the concessions accordingly.
Ticket pricing is about average and parking is free, but when talking return on investment you'd have to consider what you're getting back. The Asheville Tourists and McCormick Field offer a quintessential minor league baseball experience without the new super-park feel. It has that feel of home to the true baseball fan, but manages to do so without alienating the masses looking for something to fill their lazy Sunday afternoon. I'd definitely rate it on the must see list for ball parks and is well worth the price of admission.
The biggest extra at McCormick Field is less about what they've done and more about what they haven't done. This is a park that embraces their past and hasn't modernized at the expense of the old time feel. At the same time, you'll see things all around the park that identify with that history. You'll see Lou Gehrig and other famous names that have taken the field there pictured along the concourse, you can buy an old Moonshiners jersey in the gift store and you can buy Cracker Jack and peanuts at the concession stand. All in all, it's a great minor league experience.
Baseball and the city of Asheville, North Carolina have gone hand-in-hand for a long time, back to the late 1800's as a matter-of-fact. Baseball branded under the name 'Tourists' have gone together for much of that time, with the earliest usage of the Tourists name appearing in 1915. Over the years the leagues and classification levels which have called Asheville home have changed, but the constant of quality professional baseball being played in this jewel of a mountain city has not wavered. Constructed at a cost of just $200,000, and named in honor of a local biologist, McCormick Field would open to baseball in 1924 and be lit for night play just a few years later, in 1930.
Since 1976 the Tourists have made their home in the revered Class-A South Atlantic League. The team has been affiliated with the Colorado Rockies since 1994, with many former and current Rockies players having jogged up the vaunted McCormick Field steps during that time. Undoubtedly, future Colorado stars currently find themselves in the enviable position of spending the summer of 2011 in the cozy hillside confines of 4,000-seat McCormick. Those players are enjoying the chance to hone their skills in the crisp mountain air so common at this elevation, while their South Atlantic League brethren "suffer" through the often oppressive southern summer heat down the mountain.
In 2010 baseball in Asheville entered a new era as the team was purchased by former United States Senator, and current Ohio Attorney General, Mike DeWine. It only takes one visit to McCormick Field to see the commitment the DeWine family has made to this community, not just in regards to baseball, but also the commitment to being a responsible civic citizen. It is quickly evident that this is a town that loves their Tourists, and this is in-turn, an organization, that loves their town. With supportive owners, excellent front-office leadership, a strong relationship with the parent Major League organization, passionate fans, a venue of historical proportions, and history on their side, baseball's future in Asheville appears extremely secure.
McCormick Field is the perfect small town ballpark in a big time city. I was amazed how quickly I felt that I was transported back to baseball's modern roots of the 1970s as soon as I walked into the park.
While you are there make sure you don't expect much in the ways of 21st style and entertainment. This is baseball for baseball sake. Grab yourself some good food, a local beer, and a great friend or two, and enjoy baseball in the mountains.
42 Biltmore Ave
Asheville, NC 28801
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Arden, NC 28704