‘Welcome to the Circus’ On and Off The Field

ESPN’s McGee spotlights the magic, mayhem of a minor-league summer

Ryan McGee was like a lot of college graduates in the spring of 1994 – desperately in need of a job. 

Having bombed a job interview with ESPN, he rebounded with a gig that paid $100 a week, often featured low-level grunt work, and offered fringe benefits in the form of free leftovers from the concession stand. But he got to spend his time around minor league baseball in a beautiful stadium, and he acquired a lifetime of stories. 

Welcome To The Circus of Baseball is his new memoir of that time, when he worked with the Asheville Tourists, a minor-league franchise in his native North Carolina, while waiting to see if he could land his dream job of calling baseball games over the radio. 

He learned how to roll tarp on the field, how to fill up the beer tanks during low-priced “Thirsty Thursday” game nights, and how to keep up with his fantasy baseball team in the pre-smartphone era. He also learned how to navigate the often fraught relationship between the team owner and its assistant general manager, and how to make $100 a week stretch out with occasional $50 “tips” from the otherwise tight-fisted owner, the similarly named Ron McKee. 

The book is a love letter to McCormick Field, home of the Tourists and a landmark stadium that has hosted Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson, and other leading lights of baseball’s glory years. It’s also the place where minor-leaguers often learn if they have what it takes to make it to the “show” that is Major League Baseball. 

None of the players McGee met during his time in Asheville became huge superstars, though a few had fairly long tenures on the major-league level. But in most cases, many of the young players either spent the bulk of their careers in the minors or were out of the game not long after landing in the Tourists’ park one night at midnight to check out their new home. 

Colorful characters

McGee spotlights some interesting Asheville characters, including the used-car salesman who owned the team and kept a gun, a bottle of booze, and a nudie magazine in his desk drawer, and the local mountain man who went after balls lost behind the stadium because the owner was averse to spending money on new ones (and sometimes caught a snake or two along the way). He shared an apartment with a fellow intern, and they were literally the youngest people in the complex since it was a retirement community and also the cheapest place they could afford.

Food could be had with some creative “accidents” when the concession workers cooked too much, so of course McGee and his fellow interns would help get rid of the excess nachos, hot dogs, and burgers. And Alabama’s “The Cheap Seats” became the soundtrack of that summer, no matter how tired McGee and everyone else got of hearing it. 

McGee would go on to work at ESPN after all, covering NASCAR and college football, and serving as one-half of the “Marty & McGee” radio show. He learned some practical lessons about working a concession stand and what not to do when trying to fill the ice cream machine, but the main thing he got from the experience was a sense of family with his co-workers, many of whom he still keeps in touch with. And with his dry sense of humor, he shows how a wide-eyed young man could do his best to impress a date at a fancy mountain resort while also begging his friend to show up with some much-needed cash before the dessert menu arrives. 

Sprinkled throughout the book are some major news events in 1994, including Michael Jordan playing baseball for a season, O.J. Simpson’s infamous highway chase, and the looming threat of the strike that would ultimately lead to the cancellation of that year’s World Series. 

Life lessons in the madness

Welcome to the Circus of Baseball begins with the hilarious story of Captain Dynamite, a daredevil who repeatedly blows himself up for amusement of the fans, and includes several stories from McGee’s wild and crazy summer in the mountains of North Carolina, trying to keep his feet on the ground despite the best efforts of the tarp to send him skyward. 

It’s a fun, funny, and moving story of a young man trying to figure out what to do with his life, and getting some valuable lessons along the way. Plus, the story of the on-field mascot brawl that unfolded during the minor-league All-Star Game is worth the price of admission. 


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Trevor Seigler

Trevor Seigler is currently a substitute teacher (one of the cool ones) in his home state of South Carolina. He also spends a lot of time reading, hence his pursuit of English as a major in college. He's been going broke ever since.

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