Brian’s At the Ballpark Archives

At the Ballpark – McCormick Field – Asheville, NC
August 4, 2010, 2:27 am
Filed under: 2010, Reviews

McCormick Field - Asheville, NC - click photo for more photos of this visit

Asheville, North Carolina and baseball go way back. For almost 150 years, this grand game has found a home in the beautiful North Carolina mountains, and 95 of those years have seen affiliated baseball. The South Atlantic League has taken up residence here for over 80 years. Asheville was even home to a Negro League team in the 1940s.

The history of Asheville baseball cannot be written without speaking of McCormick Field. Asheville’s grand old lady was built in 1924, and despite two renovations since, it still stands in the same location near downtown. With today’s trends leaning toward new downtown ballparks, this one is already in place.

Is this park kind to Tourists, or should there be a new trip planned in western North Carolina? Let’s find out.

Concessions: D-

The selection and prices are reasonably average. Most of the ballpark staples are available, and the prices are about as expected. There are combo meals available at some of the stands, and there are separate stands for things such as Dippin’ Dots and funnel cakes. This part was fine.

What was not fine – and really troubling, actually – was the actual execution of the concessions. I went to order a cheeseburger about 15-20 minutes before the game, which should be one of the busiest parts of the night. I was told that they were “out” of cheeseburgers, and – and this is the worst part – it would be about 20 minutes before they had any ready. I got some fries at this time, and only upon seeing me struggling to carry two orders of fries and two sodas for my party was I offered a tray. The fries then promptly spilled out of the tray.

I eventually got to sample the cheeseburger, a funnel cake and the aforementioned fries, and all were lukewarm and devoid of any flavor whatsoever. The other members of my party sampled some other items, including a hot dog, and all of those items were reported as being bland and tasteless, as well. The soda was really well-mixed, however, and quite good, so that was about the most positive aspect of my experience with the concessions.

Atmosphere: C

This grade is not made by the fans (more on them in a moment), but by the staff and what they have managed to create in this park. I arrived to the front gate of McCormick Field, only to be greeted by a long line of people waiting to get in. The line seemed to not be moving, for some odd reason, so they opened another line to process visitors and their tickets. I was quite surprised to get to the front of the line and notice that my ticket taker was none other than Brian DeWine, the president of the team. DeWine’s family bought the team this year, and this is his first year running the proverbial show in Asheville. DeWine was very jovial and nice, despite what had to be a frustrating situation at the gate, and quickly got the patrons processed and into the park. This kind of touch is what endears the team to the community, and vice versa, so it’s great to see DeWine out among the fans and making a connection.

The baseball experience itself is rather “uncluttered”, to be fair. There are some between-innings festivities, and those are among what you would see in any other park (frozen t-shirt contest, mascot race, etc.), but they are easily tuned out. The ZOOperstars were in the park on the night I attended, and this is another derivative promotion that always churns out a few laughs whenever they come to town. The sound effects, while corny (oh hey, broken glass sounds on a foul ball!), are not excessive, and the music soundtrack is quite good. I will say that I had a bit of a problem hearing the PA announcer on pitching changes and the like at times.

The fans, however, were a completely different story. A large majority of the people in the stands seemed completely oblivious to the fact that they were at a baseball game. A man in front of me must have taken 500 pictures of his granddaughter, and while I do not begrudge him the experience of spending time with her, he was constantly turning around, standing up and sliding down the bleachers to get pictures of her, even knocking the items of members in my party into the aisles without even stopping to apologize or help pick the items up off the ground. His entire party seemed content to sit and talk and drink beer as opposed to watching the game, and I have never quite grasped the concept of coming to a game if you are not going to actually watch the game. There was not a ton of crowd response to anything that went on during the game, and a lot of people seemed more concerned with socializing and doing other things. I know this is part of the “small-town” atmosphere that DeWine’s group is trying to rebuild, but it’s tough to build a fan base and a fun place to watch a game if very few people actually care about said game. Getting fans to want to be in your facility is an important thing, but getting them to buy into the product on the field helps, too. There’s always Starbucks to go and “be seen”.

Sight lines: B

As this is a small park (capacity is 3500), all of the seats are really close to the action. The furthest seat from the action in McCormick Field is closer than you may think, and as such, just about every play on the field is visible from your seat. There is, however, some netting down each line that can create a few vision issues. There is apparently a movement afoot to reduce or remove that netting, and this would be a welcome change.

One of the cooler features of this park also creates a concern. The concessions are actually, for the most part, located underneath the seating bowl. There are some rock formations at the bottom of the steps down to the concession area, and they are painted with various baseball-related designs. The grotto-like concession area, however cool it may be, has no view of the action going on at field level, so you are left to rely on the radio call of the game over the speakers, which is not easily audible.

Parking: F

Let me first say that, as has been mentioned several other times in different places, this park is built in an area with a really small footprint. The park itself is on the side of a hill, and parking is very limited. There are a couple of grassy lots near the park, but virtually no parking on-site. A lot of the (very limited) parking is on the hill, and with cars being parked facing downhill and very close to each other, this is a recipe for an accident.

This leaves patrons to park in one of these very limited areas or in the lots of several local businesses that surround the park. These lots are free, but there are a couple of implied risks. First, the possibility that your car may be towed is a very real one, and a lot of these lots require a sprint across a very busy city street in what I heard referred to by another fan as a “human game of Frogger”. Needless to say, I was quite relieved to a) dodge the traffic to return to my car and b) find my car still there. If you are attending a day game during the week, be extremely careful where your car is left.

Quality of baseball: A-

This seems somewhat confusing of a grade, given the final score that saw the homestanding Asheville Tourists (Rockies A) defeat the visiting Rome Braves (Braves A) 10-0. It should be noted, however, that nine of the ten runs scored by the home team were scored in two innings. Asheville did a lot of damage off Rome starter Willie Kempf, making his first start at this level, and reliever Wilton Estevez.

This game featured some outstanding defense on both sides, including what almost seemed to be a defensive HORSE game between Rome shortstop Edward Salcedo and Asheville shortstop Joey Wong. Both players showed tremendous range and great arms, and made some plays that just about any other shortstop at this level would not make. Aside from Salcedo and Wong, several great prospects were on display in this game, including Asheville 3B Nolan Arenado and P Chris Balcom-Miller, and Rome’s C/DH Christian Bethancourt, 1B Riaan Spanjer-Furstenburg and 2010 draft picks 3B Joe Leonard (3rd round) and 2B Phil Gosselin (5th round). The aforementioned two innings aside, this was a really well-played game, and was fun to watch.

Overall grade: C-

If we are grading strictly on the experience once you get to your seat, this park is right up there with most others. The small confines, beautiful surroundings and high fences (right field is only 297 feet from home plate, extending up to a 42′ wall) make this a really nice place to watch a game. The bleachers are tremendously uncomfortable, though, particularly for tall fans like your humble correspondent.

The problem, though, is that this is not the only criteria on which a park is judged, as you know. The first few seeds of the DeWine family plan are visible, but here’s to hoping that the improvements continue. There are plenty of places to improve the existing facility, if there is no ability to build what is really needed in Asheville, which is a new park.

How to get there:

Take Interstate 240 (Asheville downtown loop) to exit 5B (Charlotte Street). Turn right at the top of the ramp, then continue just under two miles to McCormick Place on the left. The ballpark is at the top of the hill. The physical street address is 30 Buchanan Street in Asheville. Be careful when leaving the park if you are headed west on 240 back toward interstates 40 and 26, as the left turn from Charlotte Street to the interstate ramp tends to back up at the stop light to enter 240.


1 Comment so far
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I knew this was going to be a less than favorable review,and I’m glad to see that you were right on target.One could compare this to Greenville,in the ‘socializing’area.The city could do themselves a big favor by building a new park away from downtown which offers better and more parking,and easier access.

Comment by jerry wilmer

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