Dorland Winkler's seat has been front, center for last 44 years of Tourists baseball

·6 min read

Dorland Winkler has always been known as the Asheville Tourists’ No. 1 fan.

And everyone knows it: Even the players, coaches and umpires.

Never was this more evident than at a preseason exhibition between the Tourists and UNC Asheville several years ago.

On a bitter early April night with snow flurries, the weather forced Winkler to pack it up early at the end of the fifth inning.

The teams were scheduled to play seven, but as umpires and coaches got together, one person from UNCA said: “We should just stop right now. This is even too cold for Dorland and he’s left.”

Everyone looked stunned. Dorland is known to never leave his box seat behind home plate at McCormick Field, no matter the weather.

“If it’s too cold for Dorland and he’s left then we don’t need to be playing,” one of the umpires declared. And that was the end of that exhibition game.

'An inexpensive vacation'

Winkler has had a love affair with baseball dating back to his childhood in Lenoir. Rube Walker, a back-up Brooklyn Dodgers’ catcher behind Roy Campanella and later a successful major league pitching coach, was a family friend.

Dorland Winkler has had a front-row seat at McCormick Field for the Asheville Tourists for decades. He started as a season-ticket holder in the 1970s.
Dorland Winkler has had a front-row seat at McCormick Field for the Asheville Tourists for decades. He started as a season-ticket holder in the 1970s.

“I grew up hearing stories about those great Brooklyn Dodger teams,” said Winkler. “Those stories helped me get connected to baseball.

“I grew up in a great baseball town in Lenoir. I played some baseball myself but only enjoyed some fleeting glory and realized that I was going to be the best baseball fan I could be,” he added.

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Winkler’s family moved to Asheville in 1969 as he took a job at Vance Elementary School, beginning a 40-year tenure in the Asheville City Schools system.

Almost a decade later, another tenure began. He bought Tourists season-tickets in 1978, and has had them ever since. Winkler has missed few games during that time and there have been plenty of seasons where he didn’t miss any games at McCormick Field.

Dorland’s not just there to eat hot dogs and drink a cold beverage, though he freely admits he’s had plenty of both. He always brings along a big scorebook, charts pitches and looks over statistics provided by the Tourists’ media relations team.

“Going to a ballgame at McCormick Field is an inexpensive vacation. For three hours, I put the rest of the world in my rearview window and just enjoy watching the Tourists play,” said Winkler. “I just lose myself and I know that over the next three hours all I’m going to be doing is watching baseball.”

McCormick Field’s legacy in baseball history is secure. Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig lead a parade of Hall of Famers and legends that have appeared in Asheville.

But some of the names you might not know yet provide the highlights for Winkler in today’s game.

“I really enjoy seeing these young ballplayers, many of whom are away from home for the first time and to watch them grow up right before your eyes,” he said. “You see boys become men and then it’s fun to see what they do after they leave Asheville. Sometimes you’re surprised someone didn’t make it after a great season for the Tourists and then there are others you never dreamed would make the show. That’s part of the fun of coming to all the games.”

There was the addition of Craig Biggio after the 1987 draft. “He joined us at mid-season and made a good team great. That Tourists’ team may have been team I’ve ever seen. They were good at every position and had great starting pitching.”

And then there was the debut of Juan Pierre in 2000. “He was one of the fastest players I ever saw. He didn’t hit with too much power but if he got the ball on the ground, there was a good chance he’d reach first base safely. Well one night he came to the plate and he connected on a pitch and hit his first home run of the year over the right-field fence. It was a grand-slam home run that won the game for us and I never saw a team so happy and excited when the ball slipped over the wall.”

Watching the game expand

When Winkler started to attend games in the late 1970s, he was among the few going to McCormick Field, or any other minor league stadium. The Tourists’ goal each year back then was to draw 50,000 fans a season. Sometimes they succeeded. Sometimes they didn’t.

He then saw minor league baseball, along with the Tourists, make a big comeback in the 1980s. Local resident Ron McKee became general manager of the Tourists, and some crazy ideas suddenly made the ballpark a place to go.

His most successful was the implementation of “Thirsty Thursday,” when you could get a big bucket of beer for $1. McKee ran the Tourists from 1980-2005 and built one of the top minor-league franchises in the country. Asheville went over 100,000 fans in 1986 and have been over 100,000 fans every year since.

“Ron became a friend and he was there to greet you when you walked into the ballpark and when you left McCormick Field,” stated Winkler. “I think he was a big reason baseball became more popular in Asheville and McCormick Field became a destination place for fans to come to and watch the game.”

Dorland is still enjoying the games at the age of 75. And while the Tourists are off to a rough start this year, he has enjoyed some of the experimental rules that the South Atlantic League is using this season to speed up games.

“I think it’s been good for the game and we’ve had a couple of games go only two hours this season,” he said.

But whether the game lasts two hours or 15 innings, one sure thing will be happening at McCormick Field. Dorland Winkler will be in his box seat keeping score, and there’s no where else he’d rather be.

South Atlantic League Standings

North;W;L;Pct.;GB

Aberdeen (Orioles);19;6;.760;--

Hudson Valley (Yankees);14;12;.538;5.5

Wilmington (Nationals);13;13;.500;6.5

Brooklyn (Mets);13;14;.462;7.5

Greensboro (Pirates);11;15;.423;8.5

Jersey Shore (Phillies);9;16;.360;10

South;W;L;Pct;GB

Bowling Green (Rays);16;10;.615;--

Winston-Salem (White Sox);15;11;.577;1

Hickory (Rangers);14;12;.538;2

Rome (Braves);14;13;.519;2.5

Greenville (Red Sox);13;14;.481;3.5

Asheville (Astros);6;20;.231;10

Asheville Results Last Week

Greensboro 8, Asheville 5

Greensboro 14, Asheville 3

Greensboro 13, Asheville 6

Asheville 6, Greensboro 5

Asheville 5, Greensboro 2

This Week's Schedule

Greenville at Asheville

Winston-Salem at Rome

Aberdeen at Hudson Valley

Wilmington at Brooklyn

Greensboro at Hickory

Jersey Shore at Bowling Green

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: This Asheville Tourists fan has held season tickets nearly 45 years