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Rain & Quiet Bats Don't Stop Fans From Having Fun At Tourists Opener

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Matt Bush
/
Blue Ridge Public Radio
Karen and Gary Bartlett cheer during Tuesday night's opener for the Asheville Tourists at McCormick Field

The Asheville Tourists opened their season Tuesday night at McCormick Field. Friends, families and long-time fans dusted off their jerseys and waited six-feet apart to enter McCormick field. Greetings were shouted from afar as fans said hello to one another behind baseball-themed masks. The threat of rain didn’t scare away a sell-out crowd. 

It’s been 614 days without baseball in Asheville, but who’s counting? 

Gary Bartlett sure was. Gary and his wife Karen have been season ticket holders for 14 years, and they’ve sat in the same seats next to the dugout the entire time. 

Their house is typically bustling with Tourists players who stay with them during the season. But this year, they’re sending opening day wishes via text instead. 

“We have been excited but yet there’s a void there because we know we don’t have any guys in our house that we can nurture and take care of and pull for,” Karen Bartlett said.  

The entire 2020 minor league baseball season was canceled due to the pandemic. A lot has changed since the Tourists last took the field. The team is now a Houston Astros affiliate, they moved up a division, and they will play different teams than fans have seen in the past – including their opening night opponent, the Brooklyn Cyclones.

“It’s my favorite thing to do in Asheville.”

 

That’s Brandon Johnston. He’s an avid Tourists fan because he says the experience can’t be beat. 

“It’s some of the best ballpark food, ballpark beer and weather. You can’t beat it,” Johnston said. 

Fans have to sit in pods in order to maintain six feet distance in all directions. All unavailable seats were zip tied. That put the stadium at about a quarter of its capacity with fans peppered throughout the stands. Doug Maurer is the director of broadcasting and media relations. He says they’re prepared if new guidelines allow fans to sit closer together in the future. 

“If that social distancing is decreased to four feet, three feet, something like that. We have other models that are built, and will have closer pods and be able to incorporate more people,” Maurer said. 

Tickets for opening night sold out in less than 30 minutes. This season fans will see players that are closer to the major leagues and completely different opponents. 

“I mean, I’ve been here for 10 years and seen the same teams over and over. We have Brooklyn coming in to open up the season. We've never played Brooklyn before,” Maurer said. 

And an even bigger change came to the stands – fans can use an app to order food from their seats. Tourists president Brian DeWine is most excited with this change. 

“It just kind of like an Uber Eats style thing you get on there, click, click, click food is delivered to your seat. So I think that's the most positive change. I think people will like that. And I hope we can continue to do that post pandemic,” DeWine said.

All concession stands were still open, but there was hardly ever a line, even when a steady rain rolled in around the second inning. Brooklyn came out swinging, and the Tourists didn’t get a hit until Alex McKenna’s sixth inning single. Despite the lack of offense for the home team, the crowd was full of cheers and jeers.

Paul Michaels was just happy to see baseball back in Asheville.

“The particularly exciting thing is that Asheville still has a team because some cities don’t and we’re happy to have a team and we’re happy to have the Houston Astros here with us,” Michaels said. 

The Tourists did load the bases in the bottom of the ninth, but the next three batters struck out to end the game. The Tourists lost 8-2. 

 

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