Baseball has officially been part of Asheville since 1915, unofficially longer than that. During that time period, the Asheville Tourists have been the icon of that love affair.
A lot has happened during those 100+ years, including two world wars and a major depression. Those events changed America and the Tourists, and both have grown and prospered.
There has been one constant for the team: Since 1924 the organization has played at McCormick Field, located at 30 Buchanan Place. But there have been many changes.
Over the years, the team has been part of many leagues, including the South Atlantic, the Piedmont, Tri-State and finally the Western Carolinas — renamed the South Atlantic League in 1976. For a number of years during the depression, the team did not exist.
Like most minor league baseball teams, the Tourists have been affiliated with a major league team. In fact, the team has been affiliated with 11 big league clubs over the years, most recently the Colorado Rockies.
That is about to change.
Beginning with the 2021 season, Major League Baseball will be implementing a major reorganization, dropping from 160 minor league teams to 120. Each of the 30 majors will select four teams to be part of their farm system. As part of the musical chairs exercises, 40 teams will be left out of game. The Asheville Tourists will not be one of those 40. They have been invited to join the Houston Astros system as an Advanced Class A team, a one step upgrade for the team.
In a recent press statement, the Astros and Tourist managements had this to say:
“The Astros are very excited about partnering with the Tourists franchise and setting up roots in the City of Asheville,” said Astros General Manager James Click. “Asheville is one of the most historic franchises in all of minor league baseball and we look forward to adding to that history.”
“We are thrilled to receive the invitation from the Houston Astros to partner with them as part of their organization,” said Tourists President and Owner Brian DeWine. “Baseball’s return to Asheville this spring will give us a season we will never forget.”
The coming season will have a significant impact on the city also. According to Sam Powers, Community & Economic Development director for the city of Asheville, “The economic impact of the Tourists baseball team is significant for the local business community in Asheville. Although not a direct major employer, the team annually utilizes hundreds of local residents as temporary seasonal employees to help make the trip to the baseball park for families a positive experience. The team’s economic impact can be expected to exceed $10 million annually, based on over 200,000 baseball fans attending a game in Asheville.”
The Tourists will have an even broader impact on the city, starting with a multi-year lease to use city-owned McCormick Field as their home. But its indirect contribution to the city’s economic future is even greater.
“Having the Tourists downtown helps in our continuing revitalization in the South Slope district, making additional walkable options for pre- and post-game food and beverage customers for our downtown businesses,” added Powers. “New capital investment and development continues to occur in the area near McCormick Field. It is great news for the city that the Tourists will continue to provide family entertainment and top-notch baseball, just as they have for a century.”
Other Astros’ picks included the Triple A Sugar Land, Double A Corpus Christi and Class A Fayetteville.
The invitation is just that — an invitation to sign a Player Development Contact (PDC). The details of the PDCs that will govern the economic relationship between the MLB franchises and the affiliates will have to be examined, a process that could take weeks. But things are certainly looking up for the Tourists and Asheville.