By Chris Jones
August 26, 2015
The Asheville Tourists, minor league baseball team and Colorado Rockies Class-A affiliate are getting hot at the right time of the season, just two weeks out from heading into the playoffs. Confidence is the key to playing well and the Tourists seem to have it in droves to conclude the season. In August, the Tourists have won series against the Rome Braves, Greenville Drive and the Kannapolis Intimidators twice. They tied a series against the West Virginia Power 2-2. They lost a series against the South Atlantic League leader Savannah Sand Gnats and a series versus the Augusta GreenJackets.
The team has its share of fans, including Asheville resident and longtime Tourists fan Jake Matthews.
“I watch every game I can. I go to the stadium in Asheville mostly every home game and watch the road games online on my computer,” Matthews said. “I’m addicted to the Tourists and every game is exciting, especially when they mean so much. I wear my jersey every game I watch. It’s sort of my good luck charm.”
The Tourists’ season has been backed by a strong offense. Asheville is third in home runs, second in RBIs, second in hits, second in walks, third in batting average and lead the South Atlantic League in stolen bases. Asheville third baseman, Texas-born Shane Hoelscher, is one player who has had a great offensive season for the Tourists. He is sporting a .315 batting average, has 92 hits, launched 10 home runs and drove in 51 RBIs.
Asheville center fielder, Venezuela native Omar Carrizales, has had a great season as well. He has a serviceable .315 batting average, 105 hits, slugged seven home runs, 41 RBIs, stolen 23 bases and only has four errors on defense all season.
Baseball enthusiasts from all over the country recognize the Tourists’ talents this season. One such fan is Belle Summers, a communication student at the University of Tampa.
“The team was very confident the whole time I was around them in the past month. They are playing great and having fun while doing it. I had a great experience interning with the Tourists this summer. I wish I could have stayed longer, but I had to go back to school,” Summers said. “They have great young players who are doing good on the baseball field and are impressing. I hope they can keep playing well and go far in the playoffs and hopefully win the championship.”
The Tourists bullpen has been impressive as well this season in helping close out games and keeping the score close enough for the offense to capitalize on. Asheville leads the South Atlantic League in total saves with 41 saves. Former Baylor Bear and Tourist relief pitcher and closer, Josh Michalec, is responsible for a majority of those 41 saves, claiming 28 saves of his own. The 23 year old closer has pitched 55 innings, allowing only 60 hits, 26 earned runs, one home run, walking 18 and striking out 51 batters this season.
The fan base has backed the team all year and it seems to be helping move the Tourists closer to the playoffs and hopefully faring pretty well when they get there. In-game food and beverage server Mary Swimmer, a nursing student, said she supports the team wholeheartedly.
“You always want to go to a game and see a good game offensively, defensively, and pitching-wise, and this year you have had both. I’ve had a bunch of fun during the games. I don’t get to actually sit and watch the games like a normal spectator would, because I am working at the stadium during the game, but the atmosphere around here is awesome and I love working here during the season,” Swimmer said. “I believe the fans of Asheville are some of the best around. They are always cheering and supporting the team by coming to the games each and every night. We have a bunch of regulars that come to every home game and sit in the same seats wearing their Tourists jerseys and are screaming loud and applauding every great play.”
The Tourists have three series and two weeks left in the season to solidify themselves for the playoffs. They are currently sitting in second place in the South Atlantic League and are up 5 games on the third place team in the Augusta GreenJackets. The way the playoffs work in the South Atlantic Division is the first half season best team in each of the two divisions gets a spot in the playoffs, then the second half season best team in each of the two divisions gets a spot in the playoffs. If the second half winner in either division is the same as the first half winner, the team with the next best overall record in that division will be chosen as the wild card team.
Since Savannah has the best record in the second half of the season in the South Atlantic League, that means the team with the second best record in the season will get the wild card, and that team right now is the Asheville Tourists.
As long as the Tourists can close out the season strong, they will make the playoffs. That is easier said than done, because this week they are hosting a four-game home series at McCormick Field versus the Savannah Sand Gnats. Savannah has the best winning streak in the conference, riding an 18-game winning streak and are coming to Asheville to try to continue that streak. Good news for the Tourists is that the last five games of the season are a series at home versus last place Greensboro Grasshoppers, so if they have a bad series versus the Sand Gnats, they could possibly make it back up against the Grasshoppers.
“I hope they can finish the season off and stay in their current standing so they can make the playoffs and so that I can go to a few more games,” Matthews said. “I just don’t want the season to end, its been a great one.”