Two baseball nuts. One week’s vacation. 4th week of October. Two glorious getaway destinations. Zero televisions. Whoa. What’s wrong with this picture? How ‘d that happen? Yes, I know. The 4th week of October is certainly an odd time for baseball fans to go on a week’s vacation, unless said vacation happens to involve following one’s team to various playoff destinations, I suppose. Yet, this is where we find ourselves. My husband’s industry requires everyone to take one week-long vacation each year and our’s was supposed to fall in midsummer, a decidedly less playoff-y time, followed by a long-ish weekend, this weekend, at the Paso Robles Harvest Festival we so adore. But work and family commitments prompted some pretty massive schedule adjusting and, so, here we are. I am not complaining at all – our vacation has been lovely so far! – just explaining how two baseball nuts wound up spending this of all weeks in two places – my inlaws’ Cambria house and their Yosemite cabin – with absolutely no televisions.
With the Angels sadly resting for the month of October, Seth and I figured, eh, missing a week of the playoffs isn’t that big a deal. We’ll be so busy, we won’t even notice we’re missing it, so let’s not bother trying to make plans to watch the games…and this would have been absolutely true if some of the games were on during the day. Night time, however, is a different story. Not a lot of biking, hiking and photo taking going on after the sun goes down. And so we found ourselves catching the NLCS Game 5 in a steakhouse bar in Oakhurst outside of Yosemite. Catching game 6 at the Chili’s in Paso Robles. And enjoying the fine hospitality of the Moonstone Bar and Grill for Game 7, where the food was infinitely better than Chili’s and the bartender did an admirable job of pacifying the Monday Night Football fans with two to three minutes check ins, so the rest of us could enjoy the game that really mattered. Bravo, good Sir, bravo! And all I can say about the game is holy outrageous comebacks, Batman! Congratulations to the NLCS Champion Giants who return from the brink of extension to win the series even better than the Cardinals.
Of course, even when Seth and I have been happily engrossed in purely vacation activities, baseball has a wonderful tendency to find us. Quick commiserations with transplanted Angels fans in the tasting room at Barrel 27 winery. Shooting the breeze with a transplanted Red Sox fan in the tasting room at Clavo Cellars – No worries, no trash talk involved. We all wisely stuck to the safe topics of shared annoyance with newer fans who weren’t around for the losing years and mutual dislike of a certain team in pinstripes. And then there was Chicago Ribs Night at Midnight Cellars.
Midnight Cellars was one of the first wineries Seth and I tasted at on our honeymoon back in 1999 and it was the first winery whose wine club we joined, ensuring many, many years of great wine and outstanding parties. Midnight is truly a family owned and operated winery. Every year for Harvest Festival, the family brings their native Chicago to California, with racks and racks of Carson’s ribs finished on Midnight’s BBQs complete with all of the fixings, live blues and more wine than any mere group of people could possibly consume – though we did put forth a valiant effort and at a minimum put a serious dent in the ribs supply. The end result is delicious, spirited, fun and, while I can’t speak to authenticity as I have yet to travel that far north, I can say that a surprising number of couples from the Chicago area, not all of them friends of the family, are drawn to California for this ribs night before they begin their wine country adventure.
Seth and I were seated at a table with two such couples, four friends enjoying a quick adults’ vacation away from the kids. One gent was asking Siri for the latest football scores on his cell phone. I mentioned I seldom follow football, but love baseball and he then asked how the Giants did last night because ‘I just can’t stand the thought of the Cardinals making it to the World Series again…’ Ah hah, Cubs fans! And they were pleased that we recognized them as such and knew about the Cubs/Cardinals rivalry. As usual, baseball proved to be an excellent icebreaker among fans and we had a lot of fun talking about all sorts of things peppered in between the wine, the ribs, the music, the ribs, the library wine, more ribs, the tequila shots (with the winemaker!!) and more ribs. And I have a feeling the foursome greeted Monday’s win with a little more wine to celebrate.
Anyway, quite the week “off” from baseball so far, wouldn’t you agree?
Waiting all day for a repairman to arrive in a paradisiacal place like Yosemite National Park – you know, just in case you were all wondering or anything like that – is no less annoying than waiting for one back home. Oh, the view from the kitchen windows is infinitely more gorgeous, but that’s about it.
Long story short, the stove in the cabin blew up. Yeah, no joke. Manufacturer’s defect. Gas build up while cooking. Boom. I wasn’t there, mind you, but I assume it was rather spectacular sounding. Fortunately there were no injuries. So, now someone has to be here for the repairman and the Brown Footed Loons happened to be on the verge of migrating again so, voila!, we added an odd detour redundancy to our vacation so that we could wait in Yosemite – before heading to Cambria/Paso Robles for the Harvest Festival and then back to Yosemite for the rest of the week – for a repairman who never showed…yeah, Sears is now a 4 letter word in my house.
While that was certainly a less than awesome start to our vacation – to put it mildly! – I’ll tell you what is awesome: baseball fans! Seth and I decided to give ourselves a treat on the way from Yosemite to Cambria and stop at a little steakhouse just outside the park we’d been dying to try rather than grabbing fast food. Well, wouldn’t you know it, this little steakhouse, it had a little bar. And in the little bar, it had a certain game on both TVs…and a large party of Giants fans, central California being no doubter Giants country, wearing their team gear with pride and rooting loudly. So we decided to kick it in the bar and catch a few innings.
Best decision all day! The food was excellent, the wait staff friendly and the company could not be beat. We sat down just as Buster Posey struck out in the 4th inning. So we were there for what happened immediately after. Hunter Pence’s comebacker hit. Lance Lynn’s errant throw the bounced off the bag. And the Giants’ 4th inning scoring spree. The bar went from sedate to very loud indeed and, even after we confessed our Angels fan status, our cheers were welcomed into the mix. Baseball fans appreciate other baseball fans, especially come playoffs time. Except for a few inevitable bad apples I have found this to be true again and again, a point that was underscored when the rest of the local crowd showed up. This is a very small town and this bar seems to be one of the preferred places from which to catch the game. Four local Cardinals fans wandered in wearing their team gear with pride, clearly transplants from a more birds on bats part of the country. The Giants fans at the bar and the Cards fans greeted one another warmly and, when there wasn’t quite enough room at the bar for everyone, seating arrangements were shuffled about to make sure the new arrivals weren’t sitting at nearby bar room table by themselves. All very companionable and sweet. Like I said, baseball fans are awesome!
The game itself was a breath of fresh air in what had previously threated to be a dull series. Sorry, Cards and Tigers fans, but sweeps and near sweeps are only desirable if you’re an existing part of the fan base of the team doing the dominating. For the rest of us, especially after getting thoroughly spoiled by the wild, tightly contested wonderfulness that was the Division Series X 4, quite frankly, the ALCS was kind of a let down and the NLCS looked like it was heading that way. Yeah, I was rooting for the Tigers in the ALCS, but I rather hoped the Yankees would put up a fight. I get that Derek Jeter’s injury was a crushing blow to team morale, but even before that they were not themselves.
Fortunately for baseball fans everywhere, especially those of us watching purely for love of the game, the Giants rallying after two straight losses to shut out the Cardinals and take Game 6 saved the NLCS from a similarly ho hum fate, no matter what happens tomorrow. And it was great to see Barry Zito going retro, channeling pitches from his own more lights out era. I love a good comeback story. They’re one of my favorite parts of the game…along with taut pitchers’ duels, stellar defensive plays, ballsy steals, and diverse groups of great fans coming together to bond over our shared love.
When last we encountered our heroine, her Angels were mired in distress, largely of their own causing, and she was more than mildly annoyed with the situation. I believe the term livid was bandied about? So she did what anyone who is that mad at a loved one should do – she stepped away until she could approach the situation more rationally. Specifically, she said she would avoid watching the Angels play for the duration of the weekend while she was biking, wining, snapping photos and generally goofing around on the Central Coast…
…Yeah, any guesses as to how long that lasted? Mmmm hmmmm…uh huh…well, then…I see…Okay, all of you who said first pitch on Saturday greatly underestimate the depth of my anger. Those of you who said first pitch on Monday greatly overestimate the strength of my will power. And as for those of you who said the beginning of the third inning on Saturday? Well, you know me pretty darned well and it’s not your fault that you didn’t know that my in laws’ place has no television and no internet connection sufficient for, say, streaming baseball games. We know. We’ve tried. The middle of the 5th on Saturday. That’s when my resolve broke and we watched the game.
We were picking up amazing barbeque from the Main Street Grill – seriously, you can tell when the tri tip and brisket are ready each day from two blocks away when the perpetual heavenly aroma of the smoke shifts from a wood smell, to that of wood and meat to that of beautifully cooked meat. Yum! …but I digress. As I said, we were picking up barbeque to take with us, when Seth noticed that the game was already on in the dining room, in the 5th inning and that the Angels were actually winning. Yeah, I know. Already on TV. In Giants country with a heavy dash of A’s! What are the odds? Clearly this was meant to be. 😉 We might as well eat here, Seth suggested, as the guy at the register laughed at us good naturedly. We could probably watch the rest of the game by the time we’re done. Can we say ‘enabler’? Also, ‘awesome’!
I’m glad we changed our minds. It was a good game, though the offense still needs a lot of work. And I am equally glad we really were too busy to watch the game on Sunday (Yuck!!!) but not Monday night’s game. (Overly exciting in the 8th but, still, yay!!!) Suffice to say, I may get mad from time to time, but I’m in it for the long haul and I have a handful of hastily snatched up cheap tickets to prove it, because I plan to be there as the Angels turn this around…a lengthy process I think just may have started already. We’ll see.
Besides, the Angels released Bobby Abreu and brought up Mike Trout! You’ve all seen my posts about Bobby. I appreciated his efforts for the team in ’09 and ’10, I admire his career and, quite frankly, I like the guy, but this was a move that needed to be made. Bobby can’t contribute on the field anymore and his bat hasn’t been helping much either. With Trout, we have a lot of possibility. Is he the answer? Absolutely not. The answer to the Angels woes is a lot more complicated than anything one 20 year old top prospect can solve. But bringing Trout up is a great start as is moving Jordan Walden out of the closer’s spot until he can regain some control. I think that crafty and reliable Scott Downs is an excellent temp or even temp to perm if it comes to that. Now, I’ve never been one to desire a gift gesture as a form of apology after an argument. But if the Angels were intending to offer one even so, this is an excellent start to getting the team back on the right track and oh, so much better than any old roses. Now can we just put all of our big bats in the lineup at one time, already? Pretty please with some of that wonderful Central Coast barbeque on top?
A belated Happy Saint Patrick’s Day from the Emerald Isle!…
…Yeah, I wish. 😉 Though as not-Ireland places for a St. Patrick’s weekend getaway go, Paso Robles, CA is plenty nice enough. And although the particular shades of green in this landscape are all wrong for Ireland, it is still quite lovely and the mist and rain were at least accurate. So what’s a diehard Angels fan like me doing in a place like Paso Robles when there are games going on Arizona, you ask?
Well, with Pujols-mania bringing folks out to Tempe in droves, hotel stays and such suddenly got more expensive and harder to book, so we decided to wait and go to Spring Training another year. Oh well, I was a little sad but that does mean more money for the regular season ticket budget, which certainly makes up for missing out…and, besides, it’s the Zinfandel Festival which means I just spent a lovely weekend going through my own little baseball blogger’s Spring Training, which came none too soon if you ask me. Between Albert Pujols heating up the lineup, the rest of the bats following right long, the starting rotation looking great and even more formidable with the addition of C.J. Wilson, and what is looking more and more like the very real possibility of Kendrys Morales returning to the 25-man roster, this could be a very special season in the making. A blogger’s got to prepare. Training and drills are a must.
Okay, training and drills. Fine, you say. But at a wine festival? Of course at a wine festival! Where else could I get all of this practice and prep in? Take photos, for example. If you read this blog last season – first off thank you! – you know I like to take photos when I go to Angels games so that I can pepper my posts with photos that are as much mine as the commentary. Well, taking baseball game photos can be tricky. There’s a lot of action. Your subjects are constantly on the move, sometimes in unpredictable ways. It’s all too easy for the rusty blogger to end up with a large collection of photos like this one, which I like to call Not-So-Still life with Aybar:
Or even this one. Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos were both well in frame and in focus when I started to take the photo…:
You’ve got to warm up for tricky action shots. Practicing on things that don’t move but require a lot of detail and focus can be helpful, like this vineyard (I love the gnalred, wintery vines and the lines created by the three distinct fields with vines running at three different angles):
Or this gorgeous tasting room:
Then you can move on to some simple action subjects, like these Paso Robles wild turkeys:
I say a simple action shot because, although this is an impressive little dominance display here, with a lot of action going on, turkeys (the real ones with feathers at any rate) don’t generally muck up photos by adjusting themselves. Still, although no Spring Training can ever replicate the real thing I think I have gotten enough “innings” in with the camera to be ready for the regular season.
As for the rest of my blogger’s Spring Training? Well, I got to study plenty of tasty treats in preparation for my Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels nights, like this glorious roast pork panini and sundried tomato salad from Farmstand 46. They call it The Goat:
…or the Zinfandel sliders, the tacos al pastor, the paella or any of the other deliciousness I was too busy nom-ing to take a photo of. Would I really make a roast pork panini or paella just for our Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels enjoyment? *laughs* Will Mike Scioscia change the Angels lineup a minimum of 60 times this season? Hell. Yes.
Speaking of Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels, what better place to stock up the old wine cellar than at Zin Fest? Yes, I think it’s going to be a beautiful season:
I even got my usual pre-season gabfest in with some of the Giants fans at the Barrel 27 pick-up party. Not surprisingly they are every bit as thrilled to be getting Buster Posey back as we are with the positive Kendrys outlook. Not to mention it was fun talking rookies and just barely not rookies with them. The Giants have some great younger players in the mix or soon to be in the mix too – one gent I was chatting with is particularly enamored with Baby Giraffe, Brandon Belt – so our two fan bases have some fun things in common.
So, I have my trusty camera at the ready, my Opening Day tickets in hand…er…inbox, plenty of wine options (seriously if I actually showed you the full collection of options, you would laugh at me!) and my typing fingers limber and warmed up. 19 days until Opening Day and I. Can’t. Wait!
All work and no baseball makes Kristen a sad girl…a most unacceptable state of affairs if you ask Kristen, I can tell you that. Lacking the ability to add baseball to the equation, clearly it was time to mix in a little playtime. It’s a three day weekend, so naturally Seth and I lit out for Cambria and Paso Robles the second we were both off work and packed up on Friday night. Yeah, it was a 4 and half hour drive starting at 8 p.m. So what? Brown footed loons are naturally nocturnal…and diurnal and crepuscular for that matter, whichever natural activity cycle is apt to lead to greater work productivity and/or a good time. We’re adaptable like that. Anyway, as we noted walking around town this morning, the Cambria/Paso Robles/long weekend/random weekend thing has been our thing for as long as there has been an us. Some years, I think we use the house more than his parents do…other years I know we do.
And after this many years of coming up here to California’s Central Coast wine county, I can tell you that that natural cycles of baseball and California wine mirror each other in so many different ways it’s a wonder they aren’t more closely associated than the more traditional pairing of baseball and beer. Just to name a few:
- In California, wine’s biggest event, its Fall Classic if you will, is the Harvest and crush (literally what it sounds like) which occurs in October. And, much like in baseball, you really want to get it over with before you hit November if at all possible.
- While wine blending, bottling and selling can occur all year long depending on what varietals a winery offers, the majority of the blending, the tinkering with the 25 man roster if you will, occurs in February and March and again in the early summer months.
- Rookie wines can be excellent right out of the bottle, or take several years of aging and conditioning before they really show their stuff, and the aging almost always improves the end result.
- Some winemakers rely on their own farm system, growing the majority of their own grapes. Others rely on the farm systems of their colleagues. Trades and outright “free agency” purchases are common.
- Many amateur aficionados think they know almost as much as or ever better than the professionals…and a lot of them have blogs. 😉
- Both the aficionados and the professional raters rely on often obscure numbers and statistics that are not necessarily what the actual wine makers, being more of a by taste, gut instinct and experience sort, rely on when putting together the finished product.
- And then, there is the fickle finger of fate thing. Just as really promising rookies may fail to live up to their potential or excellent ballplayers suffer career ending injuries, sometimes nature says “nope, I don’t think so” in the form of a drought, or quite the opposite, or any number of other minor disasters and the grapes just don’t live up to their potential either.
This last bit really speaks to what’s happening in Paso Robles and I would imagine the rest of California’s winery regions this year. California didn’t really have much of a summer in 2011. And, while consistent balmy mid 70’s weather is wonderful for tourism and fantastic fodder for any number of movies, it absolutely sucks for grapes which need hot days and cool breezes at night in order to fully develop the sugars that eventually ferment into the delicious nectar we enjoy. That kind of weather was in short supply this off season, much like free-agent starting pitchers of quality.
And, much like baseball teams with said starting pitchers, wineries tried different things to insure victory, from leaving the grapes on the vines an extra long time, risking catastrophic rain storms, to stripping the leaves off to give the gapes the full benefit of the sun, risking malnourishment and, should the heat wave finally come, scorched grapes. Just as in baseball, some wineries lucked out and some did not (the Angels clearly falling in the former category here). And it’s safe to say that in both worlds a lot of teams/wineries have rebuilding years ahead of them. But here’s the thing about rebuilding years in wine or in baseball that a lot of folks forget. Rebuilding necessities can lead to unexpected levels of creativity and take us in directions we never thought we could go. And, every now and then, this leads to an even better result than anyone could have possibly imagined. I can’t wait to see how the fruits of 2011 and early 2012 work out for everyone, on the field and in my glass. Cheers!