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Batter up: Asheville Tourists open season with Thirsty Thursday



3/30/2012 - Batter up: Asheville Tourists open season with Thirsty Thursday
by Entertainment - Asheville Citizen Times

 With Asheville's mild winter, spring's official return this month didn't generate much notice. But one timeless sign of spring's arrival in WNC takes place Thursday, when the Asheville Tourists take the field for their 2012 home opener.

 While some local minor league sports franchises have foundered over the years, fans return to McCormick Field to socialize and savor the joys of watching baseball in a classic outdoor setting.

"It's a great fan base -- they're loyal and they treasure McCormick Field," said Tourists president Brian DeWine, 32. "We're more than baseball -- we're a community gathering point. You can see your neighbors, or have a beer and catch up with a classmate. There is a lot to do besides baseball."

Here's a brief look at what to expect this season.

Thirsty opening night

The Tourists play 70 home and 70 road games, with opening day falling on a Thirsty Thursday. Kat Williams will sing the national anthem, and a yet-to-be-revealed local celebrity will throw out the first pitch. The team will also introduce its new and unique game ball delivery, which will be repeated throughout the season. "We'll be the only team in minor league baseball doing this," said DeWine, declining to be specific. "It will be unveiled on opening night."

The Tourists began their Thirsty Thursday promotion in 1983, and trademarked the famous phrase in '93. With a $1 bracelet (proceeds go to the team's children's fund), fans can buy 12-ounce domestic draft beers and Pepsi products for $1. Specialty beers are $2.

Red, white and boom

This year's five fireworks' nights fall on May 18, June 22, July 4, July 20, and Aug. 3 -- all Fridays except the Fourth of July, which is a Wednesday. Look for a big crowd these nights -- the top drawing games in Tourists' history are fireworks shows, with July 4 selling out the 3,500-seat stadium the last few years.

Get your tickets

Advance purchase general admission and family section tickets are $7 and $6 for children, military and seniors. Box seats are $10 and $8. Day of game tickets are $1 higher. Tickets can be purchased online, over the phone (258-0428) and at the box office.

The team also offers a number of flex and group packages. New this year is the policy for the Clubhouse Suite, which is only available on a group basis -- it's a $200 flat rental for up to 50 fans plus meal and ticket options. For all the details, check the Tourists website. As always, on-site parking is limited, so look for free public spaces in the vicinity of the stadium.

Food lineup

The food service was overhauled last year, DeWine said, to significantly upgrade the offerings. This season, the Mexican food cart is back, along with a brand new Philly cheese steak cart and an improved pretzel cart. "We found a truly good gourmet pretzel that will be grilled on the concourse," he said "The idea is to see the food cooked and made in front of you." On the local menu, the BBQ sandwiches are provided by an area purveyor, and French Broad and Highland will both be on the specialty beer list.

Mascot love

Mascots Mr. Moon and Ted E. Tourist will be at every game. Mr. Moon was added because Ted. E. couldn't be on both sides of the stadium at once, DeWine said. Ted. E. will also be honored with a throwback hat, featuring his classic logo and available in the Tourists store.

Play ball

The Tourists have about 40 alumni on major league rosters, and through the decades have fielded a host of big-time players and managers.

The team is the Class-A South Atlantic League affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, who set the local roster, which hasn't been finalized for 2012. Longstanding manager Joe Mikulik is back, who'll guide a team of new faces with a few returning players.

Game coverage

Monday-Friday games start at 7:05 p.m., with three 11:05 a.m. education day starts on April 11 and May 23 and 30. Saturday games have a family-friendly 6:05 p.m. start and first pitch on Sundays is 2:05 p.m. If you can't make it out, tune in to WRES 100.7-FM or the team's website for the radio broadcast of every game.

Promotions and more

The basic home game promotion schedule includes kids 12 and younger get a free pizza slice and soda Mondays, fans can buy one general admission ticket and get a second one free Tuesdays, seniors are admitted free Wednesdays (except July 4), the beverage special Thursdays, hot dogs are $1 Fridays, giveaway night Saturdays and kids run the bases and autograph session after the game Sundays. Check the website for all the promotion details.

DeWine said the team aims to offer up quality giveaways, from replica jerseys to pint glasses. A notable item is bobblehead night Aug. 18, featuring President Obama and the Republican nominee in a contest for Tourist electoral votes.

Despite being from a prominent Republican family (Brian's dad Mike DeWine represented Ohio in the U.S. House and Senate, and is now the state's attorney general), Brian isn't taking the party line.

"The great thing about baseball is there are no Republicans or Democrats," he said.


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