Baseball fans everywhere eagerly await news of whether Major League Baseball will start play in 2020. Once MLB makes its mind up, then a decision on whether Minor League Baseball will play at all this year should soon follow. North Carolina is home 11 minor league teams, including the Asheville Tourists of the South Atlantic League. For one couple, the absence of the Tourists during the pandemic hits close to home.
The Bartlett residence is quiet. Too quiet.
“There’s just a void there,” Gary Bartlett said. Gary and Karen Bartlett are used to a packed house with a daily routine.
“They would probably be sleeping until about 10 or 11. And then when they get up for breakfast, that’s Gary’s lunch. Then we visit for a little bit and clean up. And then they head to the ball field,” Karen said.
For the first time in 13 years, the Bartletts aren’t following this routine. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, they never got to welcome three players from the Asheville Tourists baseball team into their home. The couple brings a group to live in their home rent-free every season. They’re the only family that offers this to players in Asheville. Together, they attend nearly every game at McCormick field. Karen sports a sparkly American flag cap and sits directly to the left of the dugout.
When one of them isn’t at a game, the players get concerned.
“They know that we’re going to be there night after night after night. If Karen’s not with me, there’ll usually be three or four guys that come to the end of the dug out wanting to know where Momma Karen is,” Gary said.
Without baseball, they have to find other ways to fill the void.
“We have pictures on our refrigerator of all the boys, and we look at them and talk about the seasons. We've talked to the boys just to check in with them,” Karen said.
When the tradition began, the Bartletts had no idea it would become such a big part of their lives.
“I miss having them around and getting to know them, watching them play ball and hearing the crack of the bat and the smack of the ball in the glove and just the excitement of everything,” Karen said.
The excitement was paused in the middle of spring training. Asheville Tourists president Brian DeWine says the players were sent home before the roster was finalized.
“When this all happened, we were about a month out from opening day and we were going full steam ahead and basically came to a complete stop, we totally shut down our offices,” DeWine said.
Regardless of the shut down, DeWine says players receive daily workout plans digitally to stay in shape for when they get the long awaited call for the season start. DeWine says the front office staff is prepared to work long hours to get the season rolling again.
“And I’m not just talking about my office – I’m talking about everybody – will be so excited to get back into the routine. I think if it takes working 14 hours days to get ready for the season, our staff will be ready for it,” DeWine said.
McCormick Field remains silent for now. Whenever it can reopen, DeWine says they’ll be ready to follow social distancing guidelines like credit card-only payments, limited crowd sizes and ensuring six foot distance between fans.
Karen and Gary Bartlett are waiting patiently.
“We call them our sons of summer. We tell them that we have met them because of baseball, but we love them for who they are,” Karen said.
No matter when baseball returns, both say they’ll be ready to welcome three new players into their lives.