Crack! The ball leaps off the bat and into the air. The heads of the fans turn skyward to follow the flight of the ball in the early evening dusk. It is another foul ball and all but the fans closest to where the ball will eventually come back to earth, due to the laws of physics, return to their conversations. We included. We are my sister, R, visiting from Montana, V, and myself.
V&I share the story of a bidding war on a “Star-Spangled Baseball Jersey” at a recent game as a charity fund-raiser and my wry sense of humor which gets me into trouble more times than I like to admit. The specific jersey we bid on was worn by the third baseman, Michael Benjamin. V&I are the first to bid then leave while the getting is good. Michael is a good player; leading the team as he does in RBI’s, he’s second in stolen bases, a great fielder, and he’s from Arizona. I also know the player is billeted by my companies’ Human Resources Manager and I surmised she and the family are in attendance as it is a special night. My intuition is correct. We go back during the sixth inning break and the HR manager, her husband, and a young lady are hovering over the bid sheet. They are warding off all who dare come near. The young lady turns out to be the player’s wife and she wants that jersey! The little joke plays out with them having to pay a little more than they should have courtesy of B&V and me wondering if I still had a job on Monday.
R and V discuss today’s shopping trip with mom. I keep my ears on that while my eyes are on the next pitch just in case the ball comes over to section “Q.” I am one of those guys. I bring a glove just in case, wear a game jersey from our single “A” affiliate team of the Colorado Rockies and “the special hat.” Always. The mitt is one I’ve had since the early 80’s and feels comfortable on my left hand, especially when I pound the pocket with my closed right fist. The hat was a purchase made in the fan store at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory in Louisville, Kentucky when V&I visited friends a few years back. It goes without saying that hat is a prized possession.
When the ladies are finished filling me in on the details of their excursion they ask about the day trip with the intern, Br. I was excused from shopping – there is a God in Heaven after all – because it was the intern’s last weekend and as a result of the transportation issue for all the interns, he is trapped in town. He was hoping to get to Seattle this weekend, but he had to settle for being stuck in The Tri. As his mentor, I took it upon myself to provide a diversion. I’ve been racking my brain for the past few days after discovering his dilemma, trying to figure out something special to do and nothing is coming to me. There is a distinct lack of activities this weekend due to what I call “The Water Follies Vacuum.”
As a community we all come together for the weekend of the Hydroplane Races then the ensuing week there is a big sigh of relief and a sucking sound westward as all the attention is focused towards Seattle which is the next stop of the racing boats and it seems there is “nothing to do” here. Maybe it is just everyone here is physically spent from the concerted focus and attention warranted by something on the scale of the annual race. Regardless, I decide to give the young urban fellow the “Rural Small-Town America” experience and he was amenable.
This time of year, this first weekend in August, the Yakima Valley is green and lush with the cherry trees which have given up their annual bounty and the apple, apricot, peach, and pear orchards, vineyards – wine and Concord, the hop yards, and other sundry growing things racing towards their appointed harvest. The first leg of our journey is on I-82 to Granger to look at dinosaurs. The talk between us encompasses his life growing up in the Deep South, the years that I spent in Virginia, and sports. There is plenty there to discuss, with the upcoming ban of baseball players who have been caught using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), football players using ethnically derogatory terms and having to leave their team for counseling, and basketball players and coaches changing teams. Good thing I keep up on stuff like that else there would have been extended periods of silence broken only by the soft snoring of the young fellow over in the passenger seat.
My explanation to the intern’s inquiry on why there are dinosaurs throughout the town of Granger coupled with a summary of how the Missoula Floods provide the foundation for agriculture here seems to suffice. The journey back in time complete, we wander a back road to Toppenish to look at the murals and the Yakama Indian Reservation life in general. Before that though we turn off the back road, into a dusty tractor path and a hops yard I know about, because this is my home after all. I want the intern to get a look at hops and how their growth is progressing this season. I explain how the Yakima Valley is home to about 75% of the United States hops crop and that this growing region is split into three distinct areas, like wine AVAs. The three areas are; the Lower Yakima Valley, The Yakama Indian Reservation, and Moxee. The hops yards seemingly are everywhere. He seems enthralled to get an up close and personal look at one of the main ingredients of beer. A college-aged guy and beer, what a stroke of genius on my part! Pressure is off me now and the trip is starting to be fun; my charge seems to be genuinely engaged in this activity. I start waxing nostalgic and fall into stories of how I worked in hops harvests during high school as we walk among the vines smelling that distinctive pungent aroma.
While some of the hops are just now developing; looking like little stars,others are very distinctive conesand well on their way towards helping brewers make some of the best beer on the planet. I think to myself, “That fact alone is something to indeed be proud of.” The information I provide him on the density of acreage planted in the Yakima Valley and surrounding area of Yakima seemed to ignite a flash of curiosity in my charge and after taking a couple of pictures of hops with his smarty-pants phone camera he starts looking up more information on the plant when we get back underway to our next stop, Miners Drive-In.
There is no way I could let him go home without experiencing a hamburger from that venerable establishment, could I? After ordering our meal and grabbing what appeared to be the last table outside, my protégé spies a couple of other interns who have a mentor as good as me and introductions are shared all around. They excuse themselves however, after a short period of time as they got their order to go and we in turn finish our meal. However, not without running into a cousin of mine, De, who lives in Yakima and seems to be having lunch there with a couple of gal-pals. To some people that may be surprising; I say, “That is just the way things are supposed to happen in Yakima.”
The plan after lunch then was to stop at Treveri, to taste their sparkling wine, Hinzerling in Prosser to taste their port, and then Fidelitas to bring it all together at Red Mountain, so to speak.
Treveri Cellars was extremely busy which I am glad for on some level. There were eight people standing at the tasting bar, and two others at one of the tables. Two of the standers leave so Br, and I take their place. Then 10 young ladies as part of a bridal, “One Fling Before The Ring” party noisily enter. As one might imagine, it took a while for us to even get through tasting four of the sparklers. Br likes the Blanc de Blanc Brut while I am a huge fan of the Pinot Gris.
On to Hinzerling Winery; or so I thought. I drive around and around and around, that is not an unforeseen circumstance when I operate a car, and can’t find the old house which serves as the tasting room and Bed and Breakfast. I look over at Br and say, “I’m kinda embarrassed here. I thought I knew where this place was. It has been four years or so since I’ve been there, it has been a viable winery for a number of years but stranger things have happened. I guess I should have checked a little better instead of relying on my memory. Let’s go over to Desert Wind Winery that we saw as we were driving to Granger.”
Desert Wind is as busy as Treveri was, but without the added commotion of a bridal party, thank goodness. Due to my ever present and firm grip of the obvious I said off-handedly to Br, “Wine tourism is thriving.” Br nods in agreement. During our tastings I have noticed Br liked the 2012 Riesling, 2010 Chardonnay, and 2011 Viognier wines. I think he like the “peachy” “peary” fruit the wines exhibit. Our tasting completed we popped into Mojave and said hello to chef Kristin and I introduced Br. On the way to the car Br takes pictures of the bushed grapes which line the entrance way. They are just coming into verasion and he also snapped pictures of pears in the nearby orchard. I think to myself, “Those are good things to show your mom you weren’t out getting into trouble.”
We press onward to Fidelitas and the greetings we receive there leaves Br thinking I am Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages; only a little older, a little fatter, and a little less hair as people recognize me and enthusiastically welcome us wherever we go. I look over at him and say “It is certainly nice to be received like that. Wouldn’t you agree?” His eyes wide with shock seem to validate the obvious. We taste through the White and Red Optus, then on to the 2009 Ciel Du Cheval Cabernet Sauvignon, and lastly the 2009 Red Mountain Red Blend. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “2009 and I are the bestest of friends.”
Br remarks to me that he likes the white wines he has experienced while here serving his internship. His statement substantiates what I have observed. As V and I don’t have any of the 2011 Semillon, I purchase four and press one into his hands as a parting gift. I also look him dead straight in the eyes and with all the seriousness I can muster provide him with a small piece of advice, “Of all the things I’ve shared with you during your time here this is likely the most important – When you get back home, plan a nice quiet romantic evening with your girlfriend using some of your culinary skills paired with this wine.” I hope he takes me up on that.
With that my little story of the day out with the intern is complete and out of the corner of my eye I see that R and V are laughing uncontrollably. Must’ve been the Tom Cruise reference and how spot on I was.
The ballgame being played out before us seemed to be well in hand. Another foul and the Eugene Emeralds third base coach catches the lightly rolling ball. I stand up and hold my glove up, make eye contact, and it gets tossed to someone way younger than me. “Maybe the next time.” I say out loud to no one in particular. I said earlier the game seemed to be well in hand but then in the top of the ninth inning the Emeralds come back and the game is tied and the fans get treated to extra innings. Three of them in fact, as the Dust Devils win the game in the bottom of the 12th inning on a RBI single by Michael Benjamin. What a monster night for him. Maybe I should have fought a little harder for that jersey, then again maybe it is the better part of valor to settle for a Saturday evening hanging out with the love of my life and my sister, summer evening small town America baseball, post game fireworks, a fond hope of a grand future for an intern, and a future autograph on a ball and a job on Monday.