It’s summer here in Asheville. The sun rises at five and the birds start our day early. The cool of the morning soon gives way to noonday heat and through the open window I can hear the hum of a lawn being mowed. I don’t know if it is because of the thick stucco walls or the many trees in the area but downstairs the house is cool and pleasant. This year summer has been delightful–lots of warm days (but not too hot) and cool evenings.
In the garden of our Asheville Bed and Breakfast, our tomatoes are starting to ripen, the nasturtiums form a riot of color, and the wild flowers we planted in May are starting to bloom. At night, the fireflies rise up from the grass like sparks from a bonfire.
All of this means, it’s time for baseball! And when it comes to baseball, Asheville embodies all that is good about small town America and its National past-time.
Baseball started here at the turn of the 19th century with teams that came and went until McCormick Field was built in 1924 as the home of the Asheville Tourists. In those days, Major League teams would return from their Spring training in Florida by train, stopping along the way to play exhibition games. In the first week of April 1925 the New York Yankees were supposed to meet up with the then-Brooklyn Dodgers in our new stadium. Babe Ruth had celebrated his 25th birthday in early February and had not been feeling well since. He had nevertheless continued to play, not wanting to disappoint the fans. As the train climbed over the steep mountain passes, twisting and turning through the many switchbacks needed to get to Asheville, Ruth was not alone among the players who felt unwell. Arriving at the station they were greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd. The Yankees AND the Dodgers–this was an event not to be missed.!n And Babe Ruth wasn’t going to be left out. In spite of his discomfort he waved at the crowd and descended from the train. Whereupon he promptly passed out.
The unconscious ballplayer was taken by taxi to a nearby hotel where he was seen by a local doctor prior to being sent home to New York the next day. Attempts to keep the story quiet resulted in the rumor rocketing around the country that Babe Ruth had died here! This was “the bellyache heard round the world”. Needless to say Babe Ruth survived and Asheville’s McCormick field became one of his favorite places to play. Five years later he and Lou Gehrig both hit home runs in a game at McCormick Field.
We don’t see much of such illustrious players these days but baseball still has a strong hold on our townspeople’s hearts, and home games on Thursday’s are a special tradition. The first “Thirsty Thursday” took place in 1980 and while it has been imitated at other ballparks, it has only truly been successful here and is firmly established. Whenever the team plays at home on a Thursday beer is $1. Since General Admission to the stadium is $3, you might think this would lead to a lot of people attending just for the cheap drinks, and while some do, by and large this is a family evening.
This last Thursday was a good example. We were greeted upon our arrival by another innkeeper who was enjoying showing off his baby grand-daughter to the crowd. After giving appropriate ohhhs and ahhs, we went to our seats: front row next to the visiting team dug-out. Best seats in the house, $10! Promptly at 7PM, we rose for the singing of the Star Spangled Banner performed by a high school senior. Facing the flag framed by the mountains in the distance I was amused by the interplay between a father and a son who was reluctant to remove his cap.
I wanted to take a picture to show you how close we were to the players so I went down to the rail just at the end of the protective webbing. A very nice guard came over and told me he was going to watch for balls for me because sometimes they come this way. (In fact, I was taking a photo of the batter so I would have had to be blind with the reflexes of an 80 year old to miss a ball coming in my direction but it was sweet nonetheless.) The game began and we settled into
our seats. The rest of the row next to us as well as the one behind us was taken up with the birthday party of a ten year old boy. Periodically the boy next to James would be alerted to the action by the crowd and ask us what just happened before returning to his sodas and popcorn. But they had to be paying at least partial attention because wheneverthe cartoon man on our not-so-Jumbotron asked for “noise” , they chipped in as if it were their civic duty to be heard.
One of my favorite parts of a Tourist game is the entertainment between innings and on Thirty Thursdays it is not unusual for them to cajole some Dad into taking part in a race which on another day he would think better of. A new race (to us) this Thursday consisted of a Toothbrush racing a tooth. There actually was a tongue too but I think he had costume issues as he was never truly in the running.
And then there was the baseball. This year the Tourists finished the first half of the season at the top of the South Atlantic League Southern Division, which guarantees them a spot in the Division play-offs, so we were hoping for some good baseball. They were playing the Rome Braves, all of whom looked older and bigger than our boys. I wish I could say it turned out well but by the end of the seventh inning the game looked pretty much irretrievable. Since our daughter was visiting us and she goes to the University of South Carolina, we decided it would be a good idea to leave this game and head to the Bier Garden Sports Bar and watch the semi-final of the College World Series before returning home to the Carolina Bed & Breakfast. In this way, we managed to eke out a victory as well as a good time!