The Cleveland Indians did us a great solid in the ALDS, so it is with genuine regret I bid them adieu from these October proceedings. We'll never forget the well-timed release of their flying insects and how they may have buzzed an entire immoral empire to its knees. Nice job, Tribe. You're welcome back in the postseason anytime.
For as long as I've been aware of them, the Indians have been approximately five parts ineptitude and one part heartbreak. All those years when Red Sox Nation (before it was incorporated as such) was whining about its record-setting despair, I always thought a fan base that had mostly winning marks compiled on its behalf didn't have nearly as much to complain about as those whose team was never anywhere near a pennant race. Having experienced the consecutive-year indignities of October 19, 2006 and September 30, 2007 has made me rethink that formula, but that's neither here nor there. The Tribe has come within eyelashes several times of reducing 1948 from millstone to milestone. Instead, people like my friend Jeff in Chicago and this fine blogger Joe Posnanski will have to endure a 60th anniversary of their last world championship in 2008. I feel very bad for people who have been loyal to a franchise their entire lengthy lifetimes (Jeff is 48, Mr. Posnanski is 40) with zero to show for it on the bottom line.
I feel bad, too, that Joel Skinner is a household word. No third base coach has ever or will ever become widely known for doing something that turned out well. Usually third base coaches are mentioned for sending a runner (or runners, as in the case of Rich Donnelly green-lighting Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew in Game One of the 2006 NLDS…ahhh). Skinner came up with his own excuse for ignominy by holding the swift Kenny Lofton at third while Manny Ramirez waited to play a bounce in left. Lofton probably would have tied Game Seven in Boston at three in the seventh and the Rockies might have been making different flight plans. Or the Red Sox would have won 11-3 instead of 11-2. Either way, damn shame for Cleveland.
Nice going for the Red Sox, however. If we can derive something parochially uplifting about their second pennant in four years (besides the inevitable phlegm globber in the face of an organization without any class whatsoever), it's that second and third acts do occur in baseball. If ever a franchise had a reason to wallow in disarray and self-pity, it was the Red Sox after the 2003 ALCS. I don't think my heart ever broke for another team the way it did when Aaron Boone denuded that knuckler from Tim Wakefield and cost Grady Little his posting.
We could have heard — as we have in the convenient mythology that trailed Mike Scioscia's home run off Dwight Gooden in 1988 — that the Red Sox went into a funk from which they never recovered, that it was a blow that cost Boston not just a pennant but its self-esteem and its future, that a promising era ended as soon as it began. But nertz to that, said ownership and management up north. They regrouped, made some moves, didn't give up, brought Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore together and broke their nagging championship drought. The Red Sox won a World Series, went to the playoffs the next year, overcame whatever ailed them in 2006 and are back in the Fall Classic this year. Memo to the Mets: Adversity doesn't have to kill you. It can make you stronger.
Somewhere Out West, in the meantime, there is a baseball team thawing out in anticipation of resuming its own great adventure. Remember the Colorado Rockies? Remember 7-0 in the postseason and 21-1 overall? Remember Kaz Matsui, Bob Apodaca, Clint Hurdle along with their non-Holy Books accomplices? Broadcast Network America is finally going to get to meet the National League champs. Will the Rockies be ready for their closeup? Why the heck not? They're 7-0 in the postseason, 21-1 overall. They've got Holliday and Helton and Jimenez and Tulowitzki and Taveras and Torrealba and Carroll and Corpas and Coors.
Plenty of Coors.
It seems like a million years ago, but it was only a dozen that I visited Coors Field for the first and, to date, only time. The Rockies were as big a deal in Denver routinely as they have been for the past month. They, like their ballpark (the National League's first retro number), were new and the novelty was alluring. Everybody wanted to go to a Rockies game in the summer of 1995. I wanted to go to a Rockies game. That I wasn't ordinarily in Denver didn't stop me because I had something going for me that I didn't often count as a bonus.
I worked for a beverage magazine. And beverage magazines run stories about beverage companies. And beverage companies that own a minority share of baseball teams and the naming rights for baseball stadiums…I couldn't discriminate against them, could I?
No, I couldn't. Coors Brewing deserved my close attention. They deserved to have me travel to Denver…to Golden, Colorado, actually. They deserved to have me tour their brewery. To interview their people. To check out their field.
Coors Field. Home of, yes, the Colorado Rockies, but also SandLot Brewery. It was the first microbrewery built into a ballpark in the United States. It was owned and operated by mainstream Coors but definitely tilted in the direction of the craft beer movement that was gripping everybody's imagination in the business in the mid-'90s (the Blue Moon brand was developed and launched at SandLot). Denver is a big craft beer town. It's home to loads of brewpubs and plays host every fall to the Great American Beer Festival. It was, thus, a natural to attach a working brewery/sports bar to Coors Field.
Only natural that I'd want to check it out. Just doin' my job, right?
Actually, I was doing my job back at the Golden plant when they took me through the inner workings, gave me a great overview, prepared me for my meetings the next day. They may have handed me a beer or two. I know I really wanted some water. I was thirsty in that way that only water can quench. Never did get any water between the time my PR guides drove me east from Golden to LoDo (lower downtown Denver), site of Coors Field.
I had grown only thirstier for water when we were met by the brewmaster of SandLot before that night's Rockies-Cubs game. The brewmaster was a serious fellow named Wayne. Brewmasters are all serious fellows. They make beer, but to them it's science. Wayne may have been brewing beer adjacent to the first base line of a Major League baseball stadium, but that was just window dressing. Ditto the happening restaurant that fronted his lab. Wayne's world was making the best beer he could.
Party on, Wayne.
Wayne showed us the works, explained how this was a fantastic developmental lab for Coors, how instead of the minute pilot brewery in which the company used to experiment, it now had the “pots and pans” to create beers on a practical level. In the midst of America’s fascination with craft brewing, Coors could have it both ways.
I really wanted that glass of water, but Wayne was on a roll. As we continued to wander backstage, I had tuned out Wayne's technical talk altogether and stopped taking notes for what wasn’t going to be more than a sidebar anyway. I wanted water and then baseball, in that order. Wayne wouldn’t pause long enough for me to get the first and I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever see the second.
There is, however an upside to being the audience for a brewmaster. He wants you to sample his work. And because sitting at the bar to do so would be too pedestrian, Wayne wanted me to try something out of the pigtail. The pigtail, so named for its resemblance to the tail of a pig, is a stop along the pipeline in a brewery. It’s where the brewer can drain a few drops to test out his recipe, make sure the batch is okey-doke.
Wayne grabbed a beer clean glass (they have to names for everything) and tapped the pigtail. He handed me my first beverage in hours, a fresh, cold Squeeze Play Wheat.
It was beer, it was there, I got used to it…and it was the single, best beverage I ever put tongue to.
Wayne went on about the merits of wheat beer, how it’s the perfect summer beer because it’s so refreshing. Wayne, my man, you’re preaching to the choir. With my beer clean glass suddenly beer empty, I tugged on the tail and refilled it. Wayne continued to explain the unique process behind making a wheat beer. Uh-huh. Oh yeah. I see, I see, I said.
Meanwhile, I thought, Ohmigod, this is fantastic. I love wheat beer. Wheat beer is the best beer ever. Screw water. Screw diet cola. Wheat beer is my beverage of choice from now on. And I’ve got my own personal supply right frigging here!
This pigtail was the greatest invention of all time, no doubt about it. It was better than a water cooler. The beer was so cold, so fresh, so refreshing, so life-affirming, so relaxing. Can I just stay here and you guys can pick me up later? Standing and drinking in Denver, this beer transported me to a whole other mile-high club.
Membership truly has its privileges. As a member in good standing of the beverage community — the brotherhood of bev — I could lurk in the crevices that mere civilians could only walk by unknowing. Poor fools, these mortals. They were not privy to the pigtail. They were up along the concourses laying down four bucks for a plastic cup of crude, mass-produced beer. Even the customers who had the good sense to drop by the SandLot before first pitch, they had to pay money to a bartender or a waitress for a beer. Not me. I had a pig by the tail, and I was not letting go.
Coors to you, Wayne!
I was pretty drunk. OK, I was probably just pretty buzzed, but it was as tangible as it was rare. I hardly ever drank to excess, not even to effect. But the Pigtail Accessibility Act of 1995 changed all that. Who in my shoes would resist?
Somebody noticed time was moving even if I had no desire to. Why didn’t I think to bring handcuffs so I could chain myself to pipe that led to the pigtail? C’mon Wayne, tell me about the brew kettles again, you old dog.
One of my PR guides looked at the tickets and said we should get going. Oh yeah, baseball. I liked baseball and I liked ballparks didn’t I? I sure did, but on that hot August night 5,280 feet above sea level and several Squeeze Play Wheats to the wind, I liked my beer most of all.