July 14, 2020 (Asheville, N.C.)— With so much uncertainty at the major league level on the resumption of play, it seemed increasingly inevitable in June that any affiliated minor league baseball season would need to be scuttled. That inevitability became a reality on June 30 when MiLB announced that it was canceling the 2020 season.
Locally, that translates into the Tourists being sidelined for the summer. In the past week, the team made the most of an empty stadium and a challenging situation when they announced the opening of McCormick’s Summer Grill at McCormick Field. Fans can enjoy the rare opportunity to eat on a minor league baseball field without dodging liners and the team will offer a portion of its ballpark menu for diners.
College Football — Area college football (including Western Carolina, Mars Hill, and Brevard) will likely make initial decisions on the conference level as to fall play this season. Nationally, there’s been a steady stream of updates on anticipated play, including the cancellation of the Ivy League fall sports seasons. The PAC-12 and Big-10 have announced conference-only seasons, with that still subject to change. The New York Times recently ran an excellent article on the probability, or lack thereof, of college football this fall.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (June 22, 2020) — While its season ended in March, there is still good news coming from the UNCA baseball team, as senior right-hander Blake Brown signed a free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Phillies last Thursday. “We are very excited and happy for Blake and his family,” said Bulldogs’ head coach Scott Friedholm in a press release announcing the signing. “He has worked extremely hard over the past few years to put himself in this position. The Phillies are getting an extremely smart and competitive young man.”
Brown is the first Bulldog to sign a contract with an MLB team since pitcher Ryan Dullwas selected by the Oakland A’s in the 32nd round in 2012.
The righty from Dallas, North Carolina, made four appearances in 2020, all as a starter, and posted a 1-0 record, with a 1.89 ERA. He struck out 26 and held opposing batters to a .141 average. Brown struck out a combined 17 batters in his final two starts of the shortened campaign.
Brown will strive to become the fourth Bulldog to make the bigs as a player, following Ty Wigginton, Dull, and Kevin Mattison. Former Bulldog Mike Schildtis currently the skipper of the St. Louis Cardinals.
ASHEVILLE, NC (June 13, 2020) — Tourists Baseball — Minor League Baseball (MiLB) remains in something more troubling than limbo as 2020 continues with no sign of a return of baseball. At the game’s highest level,MLB and the MLB Players Association cannot agree on how or when to begin a 2020 season. Given that, there is nothing that MiLB teams can do to size up rosters that are effectively set by their major league affiliates.
Compounding that, this past offseason MLB indicated its desire to pare 42 teams (following the 2020 campaign) from the ranks of the 160 teams that currently comprise the affiliated minor leagues. The Asheville Tourists (as well as the Greenville Drive), fortunately, were not included on that list. That removes one layer of concern, but still leaves open the question of how long a minor-league team can exist without baseball. Teams in the greatest peril are those that funded recent expansions, or new ballparks, with bond issuances that they will have difficulty servicing.
College Baseball — More disappointing news for area baseball fans included the announcement in mid-May that Furman would be permanently discontinuing its program, as well as its men’s lacrosse program. The program dated back 118 years, and last advanced to the NCAA Regionals in 2005.
The program cuts were to reduce costs, as both baseball and lacrosse have (relatively) large rosters and are non-revenue sports. Reducing college athletic programs is occurring nationwide during the pandemic. It is an unfortunate development. University accounting departments often lack the ability to conceptualize and assign an intrinsic valuation to teams that serve as cost centers in operating budgets.
Football budgets, when treated as revenue centers at the Division I level, are much more readily understood by both internal staff and boosters.
ASHEVILLE, NC (May 2, 2020) — While there are certainly some good sports movies out there to pass the time, limiting yourself to a steady diet of them while confined to quarters might only make the pandemic feel that much longer.
An easy alternative is to rent the epic “1917”which made its way into theaters late last year and is now available to stream/rent for those who missed it on the big screen. The film won two Oscars and two Golden Globes and was directed and co-written by “American Beauty” and “Skyfall” director Sam Mendes.
Its premise is simple and proves the cornerstone of its overall strength. It begins with two short sentences, “Blake – Blake, pick a man. Bring your kit.” Blake is Lance Corporal Tom Blake (played by Dean-Charles Chapman), and the man he picks is fellow lance corporal, Will Schofield (George Mackay). In response to the abrupt order that awakens him from an open-field doze in northern France, Blake rouses a nearby sleeping Schofield and the two are quickly directed to General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to find out why they’ve been summonsed.
Erinmore informs the pair that they are to hand deliver an urgent message to call off a British attack planned for the next morning, one that has been baited by a refortifying German army feigning withdrawal.
The second battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, or “Devons” as they’re called among the troops, is under the direction of Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is planning the attack under the mistaken belief that he has the Germans on the run. The Devons are some nine miles from where Blake and Schofield are stationed, in woods just beyond the French town of Écoust and – critically – on the far side of what is believed by the British rank-and-file to be the German front line. The two need to reach Mackenzie by the following morning if they are to avert a looming massacre.
A slight insight as to why a general would randomly select a lance corporal for such a critical task comes when Erin tells Blake, “The sergeant tells me you’re good with maps.” Erinmore also chooses Blake as the corporal’s older brother Joseph is in the Devons, and is likely to die in the attack along with 1,600 other troops if it isn’t halted. That gives Blake ample motivation, coupled with an important working skill, to take on the nearly impossible task with the needed zeal.
With that scene, Mendes quickly puts the audience on a soldier’s footing. For the remainder of the film, we only know what has just happened or what is unfolding at the moment. There are no long descriptions, no cutaways, no subplots developing elsewhere that are then woven back into the main of the story or that afford viewers some insight that the soldiers lack. Through the use of an innovative filming method, Mendes simulates a single, continuous take, and we move along with the two men immediately from Erinmore’s dugout and into the fray.
Shortly after their meeting with the general the pair encounter a grizzled and battle-weary Lieutenant Leslie played briefly (and perfectly) by Andrew Scott. Leslie’s job is to inform them of where the best spot is to go “over the top”, the WWI term for climbing out from a trench and into the cratered, barb-wired, and casualty-laden stretch of earth separating the stalemated British and German front lines known as “no man’s land.”
The lieutenant’s response to what he sees as a ludicrous request is first contempt and then resigned sarcasm. Despite both, Leslie maintains a practicality under duress that is far more valuable to the two than his lapses in social niceties are costly. He provides Blake and Schofield with critical information on what awaits them once they enter no man’s land.
The interaction with Leslie gives a glimpse into the heart of the movie, one which proves especially valuable in the throes of a pandemic and couldn’t possibly have been anticipated when it was being made. The success or failure of the two corporals on their mission to save the Devons ultimately falls not on their skill with a rifle or a map (although both help), but on their ability to read people who have lost or kept some semblance of grounding as the normal world abruptly gave way beneath them into the lethal unreality of World War I.
The simple structure of the plot and the movie’s unique filming leaves viewers with ample opportunity to focus fully on those moments when the two come upon others, without fear of missing some important thread of the overall narrative. It is through those moments that the message of “1917” is delivered, and to this eye it is done exceptionally well.
Nowhere is that better illustrated than through Schofield’s chance encounter with a young French woman (Clair Duburcq) and an infant hiding in the midst of a war-ravaged Écoust. The infant is not hers, nor does she know whose baby it is, but she retains the humanity that is fully absent from the horror engulfing her village and cares for it. We watch Schofield’s reaction to the woman and infant and wonder if his own trials in simply reaching Écoust have cost him the ability to extend kindness to the two.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (April 10, 2020) — Baseball – Greensboro’s Guilford College (pictured) and all the state’s college baseball diamonds closed for the spring sometime around mid-March due to the current COVID-19 crisis. While college baseball is officially done for the 2020 season, the status of the state’s minor and college summer leagues remains up in the air.
Books— With life as we’ve come to know it on hold due to the pandemic, a trip to a local Asheville bookstore to see what this spring’s new baseball books hold isn’t the easy thing it once was. To fill the gap, there are more baseball books than can ever be read already in print, many of them unfortunately worth missing. Such is not the case for The Classic Mantle by Buzz Bissinger which includes a plentiful serving of photos from Marvin E. Newman. With due deference to Bissinger’s well-paced storytelling, Newman’s photos make it worth the purchase. Here’s a review of the book from the summer of 2015, when I first came across the keeper.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (April 4, 2020) — With all sporting and other events involving a gathering of people cancelled at present, it comes as no surprise that Asheville City made the decision to cancel its 2020 men’s and women’s slate of games. The teams intend to return in 2021. During the offseason, the men’s side moved into the USL2while the women will continue to compete in the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL), next season, where they finished 4-4 in 2019 in league play.
College Soccer— In better news of soccer on the horizon, the Brevard College Tornados women’s soccer team announced its 2020 fall schedule. In addition to their annual slate of USA South foes, the Tornados will play area rival Warren Wilson to conclude their regular season on October 24. Brevard went 5-10-3 last fall.
On the men’s side, a familiar name to Asheville soccer fans, Mathes Mennell, took over as thenew head coach at Warren Wilson early in March. Mennell is the former UNCA head coach (2015-2019) and is currently on staff with Asheville’s ABYSA/Highland Football Club.
Books — As we make our way through an extended period of hardship and close quarters, a good book is one of the best alternatives to the sports we’d typically be enjoying here in Western North Carolina.
ASHEVILLE, NC. (March 4, 2020) — The Carolina Panthers have more unknowns than knowns during this offseason, including a new coach and the absence of a clear defensive leader after the early retirement of All-Pro linebacker, Luke Kuechly. I took a look at some of their offseason possibilities in a recent article for Forbes.
Local Preps – In football nearer at hand, Asheville School head coach Gus Schill announcedhis retirement in late January from coaching on the gridiron. He will continue on as head baseball coach and also a humanities instructor at the school. Schill led Asheville School to an NCISAA Division III state runner-up finish in 2018.
One month following Schill’s announcement, the Blues announced the hiring of Shawn Bryson as his replacement. Bryson played his prep football at North Carolina’s Franklin High School. From there he played college football for the Tennessee Vols from 1995-1998 and went on to become a third-round selection of the Buffalo Bills in 1999. Bryson spent time with the Bills and Lions and totaled 2,144 rushing yards and six touchdowns during his six-year NFL career.
“Coach Bryson has extensive experience at every level of football and has
earned a reputation for consummate leadership at every stop he has made. He will be a great asset to our school and our student-athletes,” said Asheville School athletic director Carl Boland in a press release.
College Lacrosse – Montreat, Mars Hill, and Lees-McRae are all underway in their 2020 men’s lacrosse campaigns. So far Mars Hill is proving the class of the group as they’re out of the gate with a 3-3 record, and on February 11 registered a 20-13 victory over the Bobcats in the only matchup between WNC teams. The Bobcats have played a challenging schedule to date and our 0-6 on the year. Brevard suspended men’s lacrosse play for the 2020 season and will return in 2021.
In Black Mountain, Montreat is 0-4 on the season and is scheduled to host the University of Cumberlands tonight at 5:00 p.m. in a matchup of NAIA rivals.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (December 17, 2019) — Tourists Baseball — As reported nationally last month, Major League Baseball (MLB) is considering a major realignment of its current network of 160 affiliated minor-league teams. Plans call for the potential elimination of 42 currently-affiliated teams following the 2020 season when the existing Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) expires. The PBA governs the relationship between MLB and Minor League Baseball (MiLB). Some leagues, such as the 80-year-old Pioneer League, would be eliminated from affiliation in their entirety.
The Tourists were not listed on the42-team “Hit List” (as it’s been informally dubbed) of teams targeted as candidates for unaffiliation. MLB cited multiple factors in their decision for which teams to potentially eliminate, including the proximity of a club to its parent organization.
The Colorado Rockies are the Tourists’ current parent, and the distance between Coors Field in Denver and Asheville’s McCormick Field is 1,447 miles, making speculation reasonable that the Tourists could align themselves with a new parent team following 2020. The 42-team list includes the teams directly above the Tourists (High Class-A Lancaster JetHawks) and a franchise below them (Rookie League Grand Junction Rockies), meaning in the very least there would be reconfiguring within the Rockies’ system. Even in non-PBA renewal years, a minor league team realigning with a new parent is a common occurrence for a variety of logistical and economic reasons.
Parent organizations typically pay for a minor league organization’s coaches and players, while the local franchise covers the cost of everything else (the field, equipment, uniforms, and travel, among other expenses). Teams eliminated from MLB affiliation would have the opportunity to join a proposed “Dream League” with rosters populated largely by undrafted and released players, and receiving a yet-to-be-defined level of support from MLB that would fall well short of the current financial arrangement provided with affiliation.
An additional alternative for newly unaffiliated teams would be aligning with existing independent leagues, such as the 21-year-old Atlantic League. Independent leagues formally operate outside of MiLB, however, they routinely interact as players are signed and released from team rosters, with independent league players typically seeking a return to the improved advancement prospects of MiLB.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (November 25, 2019) – College Football – The Brevard Tornados capped off WNC’s best college football campaign of the fall with a 42-28 win in the ECAC’s Scotty Whitelaw Bowl on Saturday. The victory over Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon (8-3) concluded what was the best season in the program’s 10-year history, as Brevard finished with an 8-2 overall mark under third-year head coach Bill Khayat. The contest was one of four NCAA Division III bowl games held annually by the ECAC and was the first-ever appearance in a bowl game for the Tornados.
Khayat played his undergraduate football at Duke, where he earned honorable mention All-American recognition (1994). As a player, he spent time in camp with the Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers. As a coach, he’s served on the staff of the Arizona Cardinals and Washington Redskins.
The Western Carolina Catamounts had a predictably long day on the road in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, falling to the FBS’s Crimson Tide (10-1) 66-3. With the loss, WCU concludes its 2019 campaign with a 3-9 mark and a 2-6 record in the Southern Conference.At the DII-level, the Mars Hill Lions concluded their season last week with a 64-34 loss to Wingate. On the season, the Lions finished 5-6 after going 4-6 in 2018.
Pro Football – The Carolina Panthers season may not be quite at its tipping point, but it is close, especially after yesterday’s heartbreaking loss to the Saints. At 5-6, and with the return of Cam Newton nowhere in sight, how they do for the remainder of their 2019 season will have a long-term impact on the team’s profile in the years ahead. Here’s a look at what’s at stakeover the remainder of the 2019 campaign.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (October 21, 2019) – Panthers’ quarterback Kyle Allen is deservedly receiving a lot of attention this season as he’s done yeoman’s work over the past month in relief of an injured Cam Newton. Allen has led the team to four straight wins, and will direct the team against the 6-0 49ers this upcoming Sunday. Here’s an article that I contributed to Forbes this weekend on the undrafted free agent making good on his first opportunity as a starter in the NFL.
College Football– Western Carolina’s 2019 struggles on the gridiron continued this weekend as they dropped a Southern Conference game to Wofford, 59-7. The Catamounts (1-6, 0-4) return home to Cullowhee for the first time in three weeks on Saturday to host Furman (4-3, 3-1).
Asheville City – Asheville City announced this week that its men’s team would be moving to USL League Two (USL2) from its current place in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL).Both leagues are typically considered at the third tier of the US Soccer pyramid, below Major League Soccer (MLS) and USL League One (USL1), respectively. The best place to follow Asheville City moves during theoffseason is on Twitter.