BY CAROLYN LaWELL
ASHEVILLE, North Carolina | The Asheville Tourists staff stared at their moon-faced mascot as they discussed how to revamp their concessions’ menus. They tossed around ideas until finally it hit them: MoonPies.
“We went to the gas station and bought a MoonPie and tried it by throwing it in the deep fryer,” says Craig Phillips, the Tourists director of food and beverage. “We tried it with chocolate and vanilla, and the vanilla was so sweet. We went the double-decker chocolate route.”
The Tourists sold about 1,000 deep-fried MoonPies last season at their Sweet Spot concession stand. After about three months this season, they had already passed that number. “We noticed with all new items it takes a while to pick up,” Phillips says.
Phillips is employed by Professional Sports Catering, which partners with 14 minor league teams, including the Tourists and the Montgomery Biscuits, Phillips’ last stop. “We came here last year in January, because January is really when the season starts,” he says. “We rebranded and marketed the whole place down there.” The deep-fried MoonPie became just one of the new novelty items.
“When I got here in January, my homework was to look and see what the market has,” Phillips says. “Not only just us, but movie theaters, civic centers, and look at the price points.”
A harder part of the job — harder than the long hours, preparing the concession stands and corralling employees — is understanding the market, says Phillips, who studied marketing at Troy University and fell into sports while working for the city of Troy’s sports complex.
“The first time I ordered sliced tomatoes, I ordered five cases, which is like 2,000 tomatoes,” Phillips says. “Once we got going, I found out I only needed two cases to get me through a home stand. Different quantities, different-sized markets, that just comes with putting games under your belt.”
Beef prices went through the roof, so the Tourists added a veggie burrito. Other Mexican selections, a Philly Cheesesteak stand and a cart that sells popcorn and snow cones have also been added.
Phillips doesn’t plan to make any more major changes this offseason.
“We’ve done a lot in the last two years,” he says. “We don’t always have to buy a new cart to make it better. We can buy better bread or buy better cheese, just better what we’ve got. Digest and grow here, that’s the recipe to making anything better.”
Digest? Think he’s in the food industry?
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Time for minor league trivia. After arriving in Asheville to play an exhibition game against the Brooklyn Dodgers, this player collapsed at the train station. Rumors quickly spread that he died, but it turned out he suffered only from an intestinal abscess. A still-famous New York Tribune story by W.O. McGeehan called the incident “the bellyache heard round the world.”
The Tourists scored the game’s first run after Brian Humphries led off the bottom of the first with a double, then came around on a Tyler Massey single to centerfield, but they couldn’t keep their lead in a 4-2 loss to the Rome Braves. The Braves grouped a Tourists throwing error, a pair of singles and a double to score three runs — enough for the win. The Tourists did rally in the bottom of the ninth after a walk and three singles, but the next three batters went down in order.
Thursday is the popular night for teams to discount beer and attract college students and regular fans alike, all of them ready for the weekend. While most teams refer to the night as “Thirsty Thursday,” the Tourists actually coined the term. Ron McKee was the general manager when the team first used the alliteration in 1983. They trademarked “Thirsty Thursday” in 1994 and registered it in 1995. The patent has always stayed with the team — and they have a plaque to prove it in their front office.
The Tourists have been owned the last two years by DeWine Seeds Silver Dollar Baseball, which purchased the team in January 2010 as its first venture into the game. The DeWine name was known then in Ohio, where Mike DeWine was a former U.S. Senator and is currently the attorney general, but not North Carolina. Brian DeWine, one of Mike’s eight children, was named the Tourists president when the family purchased the team from Palace Sports. When asked about the similarities between politics and baseball, Brian DeWine just explained the pairing by saying, “How more American can you get?”
Fans were still filing through the turnstiles when the Tourists took the field. An announced crowd of 4,364 showed up for the game and Friday fireworks — the 10th-largest crowd in the 88-year history of McCormick Field.
Want the answer? It was Babe Ruth who was suffering from a fever and stomach cramps when the New York Yankees arrived in Asheville. He returned to New York to have surgery on the intestinal abscess and missed seven weeks of the season to recover. Wonder what they called the 60-day DL back then.
And in random statistical news, the game started zero minutes late — though not before the threat of an approaching rain cell pushed everything back 40 minutes — the first pitch was a strike, the first batter singled to short, and Vicky Garner sang the national anthem in 1 minute, 41.2 seconds. The Tourists sell hot dogs for a dollar on Friday nights, so we ate four of them. We wanted to try one of those deep-fried MoonPies, too, but the late-inning demand for fried sweets was so great that folks were waiting more than 20 minutes for funnel cakes and battered MoonPies. We opted to go back and watch the end of the game.
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