When February gives way to early March, few things capture the attention of a winter-weary world than baseball. It’s that magical time of the year when everyone has a clean slate; when everyone is undefeated, the pitching looks great and the hitting looks even greater. It’s the time of the year when kids who were in high school last spring are now playing for roster positions in “The Show”. For the fans, it’s an amazing time to watch spring training, watch spring training games and seek autographs from players who may or may not become the next Hall of Famer.
About a dozen years ago, before we left St. Louis, we remember the spring training that changed the Cardinals . . . there was a young hitter in the Cardinals organization who played third base, the outfield and first base. He was living in the Kansas City area, and even though he didn’t have a tremendous amount of minor league time under his belt, what experience he did have was used very effectively. It wasn’t his glove that made the coaches, manager and other players take notice. It was his BAT. At a tender age of 21, he wasn’t even supposed to be at the major league club’s spring training. But, one of the true beauties of American professional sports is the rite of spring training. It truly is a time when veterans and rookies can work in a totally different environment than during the regular season, and with that different environment, legends have been born.
And so it was . . . back in the early part of the 21st century when a young Cardinals hitter stepped up to the plate in spring training and within a short period of time cemented himself as a true Major League ballplayer. During his inaugural spring training, he tore up Grapefruit League pitching–singles, doubles, triples, home runs, runs batted in, high batting average. Each article that ran in the paper heralded this player as someone who could make a difference. That year. . .a legend was born in the Cardinals spring training complex in Florida. Albert Pujols was barely a blip on baseball’s radar screen before that amazing spring training, but by the time it was over, “King Albert” had already started the process of rewriting the Cardinals record books. Who would have known that in 11 seasons, he would go on to hit well over .300; slam more than 400 home runs and drive in thousands of runs–things like this ONLY happen in the movies, right? He was a big man with a bold swing and he lifted an entire roster onto his huge shoulders and for a dozen years, they rode the wave!
In deference to spring training and the refreshing start that it represents, we went back to an old favorite–only because we’ve enjoyed this wine before–and it was part of the big sale recently at Twin Liquors! Tonight we opened a 2009 Oak Ridge OZV (Old Zin Vines) Zinfandel. We’ve enjoyed this wine for many years–enjoying vintages in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and really enjoying the 2009 vintage. It’s a Zin-lover’s delight—lots of fruit on the nose and on the palate; gorgeous deep, dark purple color and a superb taste on the finish. For a $10 bottle of wine, you’re not going to stand up to the finest wine makers in Europe or even California, but with OZV, you’re getting a very drinkable, fruit-forward wine that’s both affordable and relatively easy to find. We paired ours with a homemade pizza complete with ham, green olives, yellow peppers, red roma tomatoes, fresh basil, prosciutto ham and a huge helping of grated cheese. It’s a great combination when enjoyed with a glass of wine!
Who knows what this year’s spring training class of rookies will yield down the road. It could be as simple as–no talent, no hit, no pitch and we’re done, or it could be a future fire-baller from the bullpen; a pinch-hitter deluxe or a position player with a great glove and a greater bat! And, because it’s spring training, we’re counting on the fact that during this magical time of the year–‘hope springs eternal’ as every major league ball club hopes to have all of the players it needs to win a Championship!
Before we get too far along in the spring training and World Baseball Classic season, remember to enjoy your favorite wine responsibly and recycle whenever possible.