A visit back to baseball's historic past

JUST RETURNED FROM a trip back in time, back to the historic grass roots of baseball. As the keynote speaker for the Class AA South Atlantic League All-Star game luncheon, I was in Asheville, N.C.

That gave me an opportunity to watch the game at McCormick Field, a step back in time of nearly 100 years.

McCormick Field is home to the Asheville Tourists, a team owned by the family of Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine. His son, Brian, is the team’s president/general manager. When Mike DeWine invited me to address the game-day luncheon I jumped at it because I’ve heard so much about McCormick Field. It was built in 1924 (and hasn’t changed much), tucked into the side of a hill, one of the few flat spots in the city, and surrounded by trees.

IT IS SAID THAT both Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth played games there so I made certain I at least walked on the field so I can say I shared the same turf.

Because of space restrictions, the place is cozy. The fence in the right field corner is only 297 feet from home plate and, well, it isn’t a fence, it is The Great Wall of China. It is 35 feet high and Brian DeWine said, “I wanted to make it higher, but in deference to Fenway Park (the 37-foot Green Monster in left field) we left it at 35 feet).” And the power alley in right center is only 325 feet. A high wall surrounds the entire outfield and every inch is covered in advertising.

With the short dimensions and an elevation of 2,134 feet, baseballs fly out of McCormick Field and disappear into the forest behind the walls. They held a Home Run Derby on game day and, as expected, a left hander won it. Ryan O’Hearn of the Lexington Legends hit 11 in 30 swings. The North beat the South, 7-5, in the game and four balls left the yard.

THE BEST RESTAURANT in town, the Corner Kitchen, is owned by a diehard Cincinnati Reds fan and several Reds fans were at the game and were kind enough to stop me to chat, pose for pictures and ask for my autograph. And four people had my book and asked me to sign it.

And sitting behind home plate was Reds Director of Professional Scouting Terry Reynolds. The Reds do not have a team in the South Atlantic League (the Tourists are a Colorado Rockies affiliate), so one must assume Reynolds was there scouting talent for that big trade involving Johnny Cueto or Mike Leake or, well, anybody.

The luncheon was a sellout, nearly 300, and they treated me and my wife, Nadine, like royalty.

AFTER ASHEVILLE, Nadine and I made a two-day pit stop in Cherokee, N.C. at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, the darkest place on the face of the earth. The casino is a huge maze and I was totally lost every time I tried to walk around. And it wasn’t just because I’m legally blind. Nadine got lost every time, too.

The blackjack tables were extremely kind the first day, then extremely ugly the second day, but I walked away with a $450 profit.

And God bless Nadine. The drive from Asheville to Cherokee through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was harrowing, a two-lane ribbon of road with so many ups and downs and twists and turns that we felt as if we were on The Beast at Kings Island. And because of rain, constructions and accidents, the normal seven-hour drive home took nearly 10 hours.

On the way home in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., we passed the Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Theatre. We didn't stop. I didn't want to run into any relatives

But McCormick Field and the blackjack tables made it a fun and somewhat profitable six days.

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