"Time in the Minors"

Thanks to the great organization Friends of Baseball, started by my friend Ben and his dad, Keenan, Marisa and I got to see a fantastic documentary last night, entitled “Time in the Minors.”  The movie follows two baseball players as they try to achieve their ultimate dream: a shot at the major leagues.

“Time in the Minors” Trailer

Tony Schrager Baseball Card

First up: Tony Schrager, a career minor-leaguer at a make-or-break point.  At age 28, Schrager was a AAA veteran who desperately wanted to get a shot at the big league level.  He was just talented enough to be an effective player at AAA, but wasn’t quite good enough to be called up.

On the opposite end of the scale: 19-year-old John Drennen, a hotshot 1st round draft pick trying to advance through the Cleveland Indians organization.  With a million-dollar signing bonus, expectations were high for Drennen, and he tries to live up to them in A-ball.

I was really impressed with how the filmmaker was able to frame these two kinds of minor-league experiences, while showing the challenges faced by both players in a way the viewer can really relate to.  For Tony, who has spent his entire adult life grinding away in the minors, it’s about deciding whether to keep at it or accept the likelihood that he will never achieve his dream.  To anyone past their early 20’s, it’s easy to sympathize with someone who has to accept that he must change his expectations, and move on with life.  I think we can all relate to John’s struggle as well, in that we have all struggled under the weight of expectations while trying to find our own way.

John Drennen

I know a lot about baseball, having played in high school and college, and have followed major league baseball since I was 12 or so.  Still, I learned quite a bit about the game, specifically the business behind it.  I imagine that it’s hard to be a professional in an emotional sense.  As a young fan, you get attached to a team, win or lose.  You can’t afford that sentimentality as a pro, because the team you’re with may get rid of you at a moment’s notice.  Everything you do on the field is being watched by somebody, which means your bad days are harder to put behind you than in other professions.

Random observations:

– This movie made me really, really miss playing baseball.  I play softball now, like the rest of the old men, but I’m only 32.  I still have time to play hardball.  Ben was telling me about a regular pick-up game on Saturdays, and I’m thinking about trying to go play.

– The movie was shown at the Portland Art Museum, through the NW Film Center, in the Whitesell Auditorium.  It’s a beautiful room in which to see a movie.  It was just too bad they don’t serve concessions.

– The two players they profiled were very much opposite from one another, and I found myself rooting for Tony much more than John.  Tony was clearly a guy who willed himself to this position through hard work and smart play, while it seemed like John was more of a pure athlete.  Also, Tony went to Yale and Stanford, and you could really see how intelligent he is.  John, on the other hand, was kind of dim (but who among us wasn’t when we were 19?).

New Bike

For the first time since I was about 13, I am the proud owner of a new bike.   I purchased this beauty at Target today:

My New Bike

It’s a 26″ Schwinn Gateway.  I got it for $180, but most of that was birthday money.  Marisa has wanted me to get one for a year or so, since she got a bike for her birthday.  We will go for our first ride this afternoon.

I’m a little nervous about riding in traffic, so we’ll see how it goes.  I’m not always a fan of Portland’s cyclists, since most of them seem to have the attitude that “sharing the road” is something only cars have to do.  But who knows?  Maybe riding around will give me a new perspective.

Wine Tasting in Eastern Washington

My parents moved to Kennewick, Washington about a year ago, which is part of the Tri-Cities area, just north of Pendleton, Oregon.  Although the town itself is kind of an armpit, my parents kept extolling its virtues, especially the budding wine industry.  I had been to their house (which is quite nice) a couple of times, but Marisa hadn’t, so we went out last weekend to pay a visit.

Nick at a winery

Barrel Tasting at Kestrel Vintners

It turned out that we arrived on the opening weekend for the spring, so the wineries banded together to put on an event.  Accordingly, the crowds were pretty thick.  We got to Prosser, a nearby town and the center of the local wine industry, around noon, stopping first at a string of tasting rooms on the outskirts of town.  We began at Kestrel, which was one of our favorites.  We purchased bracelets for $35 that allowed us to taste at about 20 different wineries around town.  Most of the wine at all the places was pretty good, although I will readily admit that I am no wine expert.

After trying wine at 3 tasting rooms at our first stop, we headed into Prosser  to hit up the Prosser Winemakers Loft, a collection of tasting rooms from 7 wineries, spread out over a couple of acres with interconnecting paths.  This was where the bulk of the tourists were centered, naturally, and there was a buzz to the place.  Our first stop when we got there was not a tasting room, but the deep-fried asparagus vendor.  It was definitely worth the stop, as it was delicious and we needed something in our stomachs.

The theme of this event was barrel tasting, so most of the wineries offered a sip of their wines from the barrel, followed by the same wine from the bottle, to illustrate how the wine develops.  As a relative beginner, I found this really helpful and interesting, and it also made the day about more than just drinking a bunch of wine.

We ended up getting to about 6 of the 7 wineries before leaving.  We didn’t plan our eating schedule very well, and the food choices there weren’t much deeper than fried asparagus, so we left a bit earlier than I had hoped.

What I Learned

Tasting Syrah at Airfield Estates

I generally stick to whites, because they’re served cold, and for some reason, I have an aversion to beverages served at room temperature.  That said, I did enjoy several of the syrahs I tried, particularly the ones at Kestrel and at Airfield Estates.  I reaffirmed my distaste for Gewurtztraminers (although, oddly enough, that was the only kind we bought a bottle of) and Rieslings.

I also discovered that my apprehension about not being classy enough to go wine tasting was wholly unwarranted.  I was really surprised at how casual the whole thing was.  Relatively, I’d say our group was in the top 90th percentile.  There were people with wine glasses tied around their necks, because they were too lazy to carry them around.  Marisa spotted a couple of women with wine koozies, which are basically like beer koozies: a layer of foam rubber around the chalice of the wine glass.  There were also a lot of matching t-shirts and drunk 20-something girls screaming about how drunk they were.

The Way Home

We left the next day around 1pm, which left us plenty of time to make some stops on the way home.  Marisa wanted to get an upclose look at all the new wind turbines in the gorge, and we got some good pictures.  Also, we stopped off at the Stonehenge replica at Maryhill, on the Washington side of the Columbia River.

Wind Turbines on the Washington Side of the Columbia

The View From Stonehenge

"Stonehenge, where the demons dwell. Stonehenge, where the banshees live, and they do live well."