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Not just passing through: Tourists endure

Asheville's unique nickname dates back more than a century
The Class A South Atlantic League's Asheville Tourists trace their unique team name and diverse logo history all the way back to 1915.
May 20, 2020

With so much focus year after year on the newest and wildest rebranding projects in Minor League Baseball, takes a look at the flip side. This spring and summer, we will be profiling teams with some of the longest continually used nicknames in each league. Next up: the South

With so much focus year after year on the newest and wildest rebranding projects in Minor League Baseball, takes a look at the flip side. This spring and summer, we will be profiling teams with some of the longest continually used nicknames in each league. Next up: the South Atlantic League's Asheville Tourists. (Previous installments: Rochester Red Wings | Nashville Sounds | Harrisburg Senators | Chattanooga Lookouts)

Babe Ruth was a tourist. So was Michael Jordan. Zelda Fitzgerald and Bryan Cranston and Dave Chappelle, too. Tourists, all. Not ones with a capital "T," of course, but tourists just the same.

Snuggled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, the city of Asheville is as beautiful and picturesque a setting as any in Minor League Baseball. Long before MiLB existed, Asheville was a draw for visitors from all over.

"Asheville, beginning in the early 1890s, became a big tourist destination," said Bill Ballew, an Asheville-area baseball writer and historian. "That's always been the No. 1 industry. Lots of big hotels were built in the 1890s. Tourism has always been a big part of Asheville's history."

Some came for the outdoors. Some came for the city's therapeutic health facilities and resorts. Later, they came for music, dance and the arts. And along the way, they played ball.

"The team over the years, Moonshiners was the most popular name," Ballew said. "Newspaper writers gave the team their own nicknames. Teams really didn't ascribe to any particular (names) for the longest time. Moonshiners was a big one for a time. In the early 1910s, Mountaineers was a big-time name, and then 1915 was the first time Tourists was used, and it went back and forth for the next couple years.

"Skylanders was a bigger name, not so much Highlanders but Skylanders, and then we didn't really have baseball from about World War I through 1924."

The Tourists name was first used in 1915 to pay homage to the city's destination status. A decade later, Tourists baseball became a near-permanent fixture in Asheville.

"McCormick Field, the same place it is right now, was built in 1924 and the team was actually known as the Skylanders when they opened up," Ballew said. "The next season, they were the Tourists and they have been ever since, except from 1972-75 when the team was the Asheville Orioles."

Asheville's teams bounced from circuit to circuit in their early decades, including the Southeastern, Appalachian, North Carolina State and Piedmont leagues. Those loops have come and gone, but the nickname has remained -- except for those brief O's years, which came on the heels of frenetic affiliation changes. The Tourists were a co-op Phillies-Pirates team in 1959, a Phils farm team in 1960, a Pirates affiliate from 1961-66, an Astros club in '67, a Reds squad from '68-70 and a White Sox team in 1971.

"They'd kind of been an orphan team that was barely hanging on," Ballew said. "The ballpark wasn't the most inviting place. Baltimore needed a place for their Double-A team, so it was kind of an agreement that they would go all-in on the Orioles. They painted the seats all orange in the ballpark, and the seats were [still] wet when they had their first game, and they had to refund a lot, give people some money for their clothes and all that stuff."

He laughed.

"It was kind of a debacle."

Asheville's lone name change since 1925 came in the 1970s.Courtesy of Bill Ballew

For the only time since World War I, Asheville's team wasn't the Tourists. Cal Ripken Sr. managed the Asheville Orioles from 1972-74, losing in the league finals in his debut season. His sons, Billy and Cal Jr., were bat boys. Eddie Murray learned how to switch-hit in Asheville, and while the affiliation didn't last, it helped steady the franchise, which returned to the Tourists name in America's bicentennial year.

"In 1976, the Orioles left to go to Charlotte, little bit better ballpark, little bit bigger city, that kind of thing," Ballew said. "Asheville dropped down to Class A, where they are now in the Western Carolinas League, which became the South Atlantic League a couple of years later."

With Minor League Baseball headed toward its renaissance, the Tourists played a supporting role in the film that helped spark it. The fictional Crash Davis is remembered more for his tutelage of young phenom Nuke LaLoosh for the title team in 1988's Bull Durham , but he hit his Minor League record-setting homer for the Tourists after being released by the Bulls, a make-believe milestone Asheville -- both team and city -- has been proud to honor.

Kevin Costner's iconic Crash Davis character joined the Tourists at the end of his career in "Bull Durham".

Alongside the movie, new visual identities were beginning to sprout in the 1980s and '90s, helping to usher in the Minor Leagues' revolution. Like many teams before the boom, the Tourists needed a spark.

"When Ron McKee took over, he was the general manager from 1980 through the mid-2000s," Ballew said. "He had developed [a logo], it was 'Asheville Tourists' and a scene of mountains basically, and it said 'Baseball in the Smokies.' That was their logo, so to speak, with kind of a block 'A.'

"The same era with Chattanooga, '91-92, [the Tourists] decided they had always had a bear mascot. 'Baseball in the Smokies,' the Smoky Mountains have bears, so they had a bear mascot who kind of walked around in a cheap suit. Ron decided with some help from some other people that they would create a logo."

Kevin Costner's jersey from Bull Durham -- complete with "Baseball in the Smokies" sleeve patch -- is on display in the team's front office.

What resulted was one of the Minors' first iconic character marks of its resurgent age. Mascot Ted E. Tourist was immortalized in logo form. A smiling bear holding a suitcase and bat sporting spikes and a side-slung camera draped across his Hawaiian shirt became the graphical face of the Tourists.

Some of the Tourists' notable marks in the 1980s and 1990s.Courtesy, Asheville Tourists and Bill Ballew

"The fans liked it from the beginning," Ballew said. "They were very enthusiastic about it, and it was only the players that had a little bit of a problem with it. The fans were all in on it from the get-go. It was something new, something completely different, and between the (Carolina) Mudcats and the (Chattanooga) Lookouts and the Tourists and a couple of others, they were really kind of forerunners in all of this.

"They got orders from all over the country, and that was really unheard of at that time for a Minor League team. The Tourists got orders from when you had to pick up the phone and call and say, 'Do you all have any stuff for sale?' There was no internet back then. It became a decent revenue source that other teams kind of realized. Minor League Baseball had to put in a rule that you couldn't change your logo more than every so often so that teams wouldn't keep trying to build a better mousetrap and reinvent the wheel and get more souvenir sales every two or three years with a new logo."

Players were a different story at first.

"Initially, the players were not real thrilled," Ballew said with a laugh. "They thought they were wearing little cartoons. And my, times have changed. They were more used to seeing logos with basically the same thing or something very similar to a Major League team's logo, their caps with an 'LA' or an 'A' for Atlanta or an 'SF' for San Francisco or something along those lines. Asheville just had a block 'A' basically for years and years, and now they put the bear logo, the full-body bear, and it turned out to be very, very successful.

"During that first year, the players ended up really liking it because they had a lot of their friends asking for caps or things along those lines. They'd say, 'Oh, that's pretty cool. That's pretty different. Can you get me one of those hats?'"

Like their contemporaries wading into uncharted waters of the Minor League identity pool, Asheville was rewarded.

"It did create a good bit of souvenir sales for the Tourists, so it was very positive from that standpoint," Ballew said. "Chattanooga, Columbus -- who became the Carolina Mudcats -- the Asheville Tourists, they were really ahead of the curve with a lot of this stuff. Today, you almost kind of expect it. A lot of them don't really shock you like maybe they used to. At the time, it was pretty different with the players. I just remember talking to several of them, and a lot of guys didn't really like them at first but really grew to like them over time because they were among the first, and it attracted some attention."

The logo took hold as the Tourists embarked on an affiliation with the Colorado Rockies that is now one of the longest in the Minors, dating back to 1994. Ted E. survived as Asheville's primary logo until a mid-2000s ownership change. Palace Sports, then owners of the Detroit Pistons, Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Shock, purchased the club ahead of the 2006 season and moved away from the bear to a stylized "A" draped by a mountainous treescape with a baseball sweeping across its front.

Asheville moved away from Ted E. Tourist as its primary mark in the

"David King, who was the merchandise manager for the Tourists at that time, he was the one who pretty much came up with that," Ballew said. "It was not a big thing, getting an outside agency to do anything. It was just locally, in-house done.

"It sold some new hats and that sort of thing, but I wouldn't say there was a big rush to get it like there was maybe with Ted E. Tourist or the current logos and stuff. The diehard fans obviously were excited and liked getting it, but it was more of a minor change than a major shift, I would say. The Ted E. logo was used here and there in addition, but the primary logo was the mountains with the 'A.'"

The Tourists' muted era didn't last long. In 2010, the team was purchased again by the family of current Tourists president Brian DeWine. Immediately, it overhauled the club's look with links to its past and future.

"They worked with Brandiose -- or Plan B they were called at the time -- and they were trying to tie in the old Moonshiners name, tying in the moon and the mountains and all that," Ballew said. "They changed the color scheme completely, going with shades of blue and almost a teal."

The Tourists unveiled a total visual identity overhaul after an ownership change ahead of the 2010 season.

A new character, Mr. Moon, was front and center in Asheville's new look. In alternate marks, there was a hobo bindle. There were ribs. The team's "A" was totally different. Navy paid tribute to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The teal color is actually "Biltmore jade," a nod to the roof of local landmark the Biltmore House, which contains jade.

"Initially, some people were kind of confused, but over time, that year and the next year, it's become very popular," Ballew said. "People I think in general have grown to be very positive about it. I think a lot of people really like it. The merchandise sales are very solid, but I think initially there was a little bit of a disconnect because there wasn't the understanding about the past with the Moonshiners and that theme.

"Brian and the front office really toyed with the idea of considering going with Moonshiners (as a full rebrand), but it really wasn't -- trying to be a family promotion and really attract families -- maybe not the best name in the world. A lot of people say it's derogatory toward people who live in the mountains and that sort of thing, although I think it would've been incredibly popular if they had some logos like that."

In 2015, the team marked 100 years with its moniker through a series of promotional uniforms honoring various points in Tourists history. Even with its life-sized characters, the club united old and new.

"Now you have Mr. Moon, the mascot who walks around along with Ted E. Tourist, who's still there, and they act like brothers who are in a constant rivalry with each other, kind of a love-hate relationship," Ballew added. "At times, they can be very funny during games. Ted E. Tourist still has a presence in the ballpark, as does Mr. Moon, and over time they've really evolved into a popular twosome."

While remaining true to its naming roots, Asheville has taken advantage of its rich history with other special identities.

"Asheville has a very alternative scene, downtown Asheville. The ballpark is located just on the south slope of downtown," Ballew said. "They've tied in with Asheville Hippies. They've had Moonshiners a couple of times. They have tied in those names, and those are very popular. Some of the special jerseys from those nights have been very, very popular amongst the fans as well as the players."

McCormick Field is quiet now, waiting like all of us for baseball's return. Asheville does the same in anticipation of those who pass through its confines. When it all comes back, the Tourists will be there. All of them.

"I think for the people who are real knowledgeable about baseball in Asheville, there's a lot of love for the name," Ballew said. "People maybe who come in or are just looking at it, they might think, 'Well, that's stupid. They're the home team, they're not visiting.' The old scoreboard, before they had electronic scoreboards, it was 'VISITORS' and 'TOURISTS' on the scoreboard which was always kind of neat. People kind of get it then. I think the people that appreciate the history of baseball and understand Asheville love the name."

Special thanks to Tourists director of broadcasting and media relations Doug Maurer for his help with this story. Tyler Maun is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun.