Archived Opinion

This must be the place: ‘A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz’

Opening Day at McCormick Field in Asheville. Opening Day at McCormick Field in Asheville. Garret K. Woodward photo.

It was a spur of the moment decision. Cold suds and hearty banter at The Scotsman in Waynesville on an otherwise quiet Tuesday evening. Leaning back into the bar stool, I suggested to my girlfriend that she and I should go see a baseball game. 

Although I had just kicked last week’s newspaper out the door earlier that afternoon, and even if I was still somewhat disoriented from a full day of travel from Dallas, Texas, to Asheville the day prior, three tickets were purchased for “Opening Day” for the Asheville Tourists.

It was also the first “Thirsty Thursday” of the season. Dollar beers and $3 hot dogs under the bright lights of McCormick Field? Sold. Count me in. As Humphrey Bogart once said, “A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz.” At $17.50 a ticket, I was able to find three seats right behind home plate, and eyelevel to the pitcher. Opening Day — Tourists facing off against the Bowling Green Hot Rods.

By Thursday afternoon, the initial forecast of dark clouds and possible rainstorms in the area soon shifted to an early evening sunset of red, yellow and orange explosions of color in the heavens above. The warmth of an impending summer also swirled through downtown Asheville and our trio made the trek to the stadium.

Cruising into South Slope, it was the usual zoo of people, places and things. Golden retrievers and beautiful folks aiming to be seen, either in-person or via social media. And just as I noticed a large pickleball court in front of one establishment, my girlfriend pointed out a business that solely offers board games and tables to play them on.

“I feel like every time I come to South Slope, I notice a half-dozen new things,” I said. “I mean, a board game spot? And it’s packed? Of course, it’s packed. Asheville — where any dream will stick to the wall so long as you’re passionate and pure of intent.”

Turning onto Short Coxe Avenue, the search for parking began. The once empty lots from years ago were now brand-new apartment complexes and shiny, crisp townhouses of modern designs. Old and abandoned buildings now long gone in the name of progress and visions for the future of Asheville.

“You know, where I first came to a game here over 20 years ago, we’d park in an empty lot that’s now that complex over there,” my buddy pointed to the left of the stadium. “Crazy how much this city has grown, and even in the last five years.”

Darting across the hustle and bustle of Biltmore Avenue, we lined up and awaited entry into McCormick Field. And, in that moment, a loud bang echoed across the stadium and through the parking lots. Apparently, a power outage occurred.

Though there was still power in the stands and concession areas, the scoreboard went dark and remained so throughout the entire game. It was uncertain how much longer the rest of stadium would remain lit as the darkness of Thursday night enveloped the city.

“Good thing the city finally made that agreement with the Tourists — this stadium doesn’t even meet Major League Baseball standards anymore,” a die-hard Tourists fan turned and said to me.

What the fan was referring to was the recent agreement between the Asheville, Buncombe County and the Tourists to make long overdue repairs to McCormick Field, the third-oldest minor league park in the United States. City leaders ultimately passed a measure for upwards of $37.5 million in upgrades to the beloved stadium and property.

Power outage? No matter. Underneath sporadic flickering floodlights, cheap suds and dogs were ordered with the help of a smart phone app. No sense in standing in line and missing parts of the game if you can use modern technology to your advantage, eh? FYI: the app is called “sEATz.” A few minutes later, a handful of beverages and steaming buns were handed over to our crew, smiles now ear-to-ear.

The crowd was restless without the scoreboard. It felt like the Twilight Zone. What's the score? What inning are we in? What's the pitch count? Halfway through the game, the power went out again, the baseball diamond going dark. The stadium announcer tried in vain to keep order in the stands. More beer and chaos.

Ultimately, the Tourists got their asses kicked, losing 10-0. The hit difference was 16-3. Brutal. At one point, I turned to the die-hard Tourists fan again and asked, "Is Bowling Green that good or are we just that bad?" The fan smirked with a hearty sigh, "We're just that bad."

Win or lose, every baseball fan, young or old, knows that the essence of going a game is to reconnect — with friends and family, with your childhood, and ultimately with yourself in this current juncture. Going to the ballpark reinvigorates the heart and soul.

Something about baseball slows down time itself, where you can actually focus in on “the now” and “the moment” at hand. Much like live music or disappearing into the depths of Mother Nature, baseball has that same effect on the mind and body, where you return to your truest self, the version of “you” that radiates sincerity to others.

Leaving McCormick Field, plans were already made to return to the stadium for another game in the near future, perhaps in the coming weeks. Why not? Let’s see if those seats behind home plate are still available. Heck, I’m already craving another hot dog and genuineconversation.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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