The Asheville Tourists are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year, and I’m posting an occasional series looking back at the team’s storied history in Asheville.
First, the above photo shows the 2015 pitching staff for the Asheville Tourists. The photo was shot by Asheville photographer Stewart O’Shields for Ashvegas. A big thanks to Stewart for the photo.
Now for a look back at three Asheville Tourists who went on to big league fame and glory. There were many, but we’ll start with Willie Stargell, Kenny Lofton and Dave Concepcion:
From 1997 Asheville Tourists anniversary program, on file at Pack Memorial Library:
He had Big League written all over him from the day he reported in 1961 says Ray Hathaway, who managed the Tourists to the Sally League pennant that year. The rallying cry was “On the hill, Will!” His favorite target was the light pole on the the right centerfield bank.
After struggling in 1960 in Grand Forks, N.D., he was assigned to Asheville. He went from 11 home runs to 22.
Erline and H.C. McQueen remember Willie Stargell as a very large person who was tender as a babe on the inside. The McQueens owned the Ritz restaurant in Asheville and have several rooms available for rent. Willie was like a son to them. His favorite dish was beef stew with rice.
Stargell reached the majors in 1962, become a regular player the next season. He played 21 seasons in Pittsburgh and retired as the Pirates career leader in 10 categories, including home runs and RBIs. Stargell named Most Valuable Player in the 1979 World Series.
Stats for Stargell in 1961
The Venezuela-born Concepcion played in Asheville in 1969. “I wasn’t in Asheville very long, but I was very happy there,” he said.
“I would sign autographs at a local high school whenever I could and the S&W Cafeteria was my favorite place to eat.”
For the Cincinatti Reds, he batted eighth. He made the All-Star squad nine times and won five Golden Glove Awards. He played on five division-winning teams, four of them capturing the pennant. He hit .266 in 20 World Series games.
Lofton, who played in Asheville in 1989, hit a home run in his first at-bat at McCormick Field. The speedy center fielder played 22 games for the Tourists after spending the first half of the season in Auburn, N.Y.
During the first five innings of the that Aug. 21 game, Lofton stole three bases and scored three runs to go with his home run. He learned batting basics in Asheville that stayed with him.