SACRAMENTO – “Come back now,” Dusty Baker said on a cold, recent Saturday morning at his home here. The veteran manager made some final cuts earlier in the week and now it’s time to pick the pieces.
When he returned, he did not have a squad card in hand, nor did he have a general manager by his side. Instead, he plunged down the road under the wheel of his trusty Kawasaki Mule, a small all-terrain vehicle. The cuts came while pruning the vines. A lockdown may be halting Major League Baseball’s business, but Baker, 72, is still managing.
His small vineyard and Baker Family Wines business require more attention to detail than even the highest maintenance of the poachers. And, just as he’s learned certain hitting and management tactics during his odd 50+ years in professional baseball, so too has he learned outside of the dugout.
He paused between shoveling piles of debris onto Mule’s back to dump elsewhere to explain how the north side of a particular vine is cut shorter than the south side, so that the grapes can absorb the morning sun. . The south side allows for more growth to shield the fruit from the afternoon sun, which, in summer here, gets too harsh.
“It’s called an umbrella,” says Baker of the technique. “Too much sun, you get raisins. And I don’t want no raisins. ”
He’s putting the theory into practice that he started learning long ago, as a ski quarterback in the 1970s and 1980s.
“I’m going to first base and Willie Stargell is going to explain to me, hey, this is a dry year, this is a wet year, have you ever tried this wine, have you ever tried that wine? not yet?” Baker said. “He’s my man.”
Now, Baker has a lot of friends in the industry. Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver sparked curiosity when he switched to a Vintners are respected and successful after his playing days. But at the right time, Seaver, who die in 2020has become the de facto grandfather to others in the sport looking to make a similar transition.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and Rich Aurilia, a short-term quarterback for the Baker’s San Francisco teams from 1995-2002, were partners in Napa . Valley’s Red Stitch Label. Greg Vaughn, who broke 50 home runs in helping lead the San Diego Padres to the 1998 World Series, runs 23Wines in Lodi, Calif. Chris Iannetta and Vernon Wells, who were teammates with the Los Angeles Angels, created Jack Winery and Joe Blanton, a retired pitcher, farming for Label Selah in Napa.
MLB Hot Stove and off-season updates
- Locked: With the MLB and its players’ union unable to come to the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement, The federation has issued a lockfroze all trades and began baseball’s first stoppage since the 1994-95 strike.
- Small movements: During several negotiations, MLB has made an offer and union counterattack. The delay could eventually affect spring training or the start of the regular season.
- Women to see: In a first key pair, Genevieve Beacom pitch professionally for one of Australia’s top teams and Rachel Balkovec was appointed as the manager of a team in the Yankees minor league system.
- Catch their guy: The Mets finally found a general manager and Steven Cohen, the team’s owner, said the move was widely praised at owner meetings.
- Free Agent Tracker: Looking back at some signing, renewing contracts and transactions that happened before the lock started.
Roberts, who tasted the chemistry cup when Red Stitch started, said: “As athletes, we’re doing our best in what we do to achieve success. “And having wine and food, it makes you a whole person. I think that’s what people aspire to. I know I do. When I have alcohol, I appreciate food, and that benefits traveling and baseball. ”
Roberts’ path began when he and his wife, Tricia, toured Napa Valley in 2002 with Shawn Green, Roberts’ Dodgers teammate at the time, and Green’s wife, Lindsay Bear.
“Meeting the growers and hearing their stories has spread any pretensions and hardships about wine and the industry,” says Roberts. “It simplifies it into what you like and what you don’t. We have invested in people. “
Baker’s first foray into winemaking occurred while he was managing in San Francisco. One of the club’s minority owners, Phil Greer, introduced Baker to Robert Mondavi’s son, Michael. They flew fishing together in Montana and Quebec, and Michael invited him to the board at Robert Mondavi Winery. It was a good deal for Baker: He would be paid to attend a few dinners a year, and Mondavi would provide alcohol for Baker and his coaches.
Then, when Baker built his current home on five acres about 15 years ago, he planned to include a fishing pond. When warned that a pond could flood his neighbors, Baker turned to a vineyard instead.
“The Bible says plant a tree in the open air before you build a house,” says Baker. “Makes sense, because you need food.”
Through his connections with Mondavi, Baker met his current partner and winemaker, Chik Brenneman, who helped select the origin, wires, poles and lines.
“I told him I wanted to grow Cabernet grapes,” says Baker. “He said, ‘You can’t grow Cabernet because you’re in the wrong climate.’ I was like, “Really?” He said, ‘You’re in the perfect environment for Syrah.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to develop Syrah.’ He said, “I guess you don’t want a vineyard!”
Baker laughed bitterly at the memory that seemed to have passed a lifetime. What started as a “gentleman’s vineyard,” from which they produced Syrah in the basement under Brenneman’s garage, was a success. During those early days, Baker shared his homemade bounty with friends, including Sacramento baseball buddies like Jerry Royster, the Rowland Office, Jerry Manuel, Leron Lee, and Vaughn.
Brenneman, who was at the time a winemaker and facility manager for The faculty of viticulture and science and technology at the University of California, Davis, which boasts one of the best programs in the world.
They teamed up to form Baker Family Wines in 2012, and with Baker in managing the business in 2014 and 2015, he took the time to help build a strong foundation. His daughter Natosha, a graphic artist, designs labels. By the 2016 MLB season, when Baker returned to the game as head coach of the Washington Nationals, the winemaking business was in full swing. Brenneman left UC Davis to move full-time at Baker Family Wines in 2019.
Their deal was that Baker sold the first bottle and Brenneman sold the second. Meaning: Many people will buy a bottle out of curiosity because of an attachment to Baker, but the product has to be good enough to keep customers coming back, that’s Brenneman’s domain.
“That was our deal because I bought a bottle of Scotch with a famous guy’s name on it and it was the worst bottle,” Baker said. “I took a sip and said I can’t drink this. I told Chik, I don’t want anything with my name on it unless it’s good. ”
Baker’s lifelong friend, Henry Aaron, invested a few years back, asking Baker about Baker’s brand of Cabernet. They weren’t there at the time, but Brenneman went sourcing that grape at Aaron’s request. Now, the Cabernet Savignon Hammerin’ Hank 2019 is almost ready for launch. Vintage 2018 sold out.
The winery supplies grapes from across the region, including Mendocino, Shenandoah Valley, Russian River and Amador County. Baker’s backyard vineyard yields, in a good year, about 80 or 90 Syrah crops. This year that number is only half that because of drought conditions in California. Stargell’s words – “dry year, wet year” – hold Pops in Baker’s heart, especially now, when dramatic climate events are so frequent.
“The bees come and poke holes in each grape,” says Baker, about the impact of arid climates, where insects seek moisture wherever they can find them. “Usually, they’re not like that. That’s what I’m telling you, man, we’ve all been affected by this weather. ”
The lockdown has made Baker’s February plans uncertain as the spring practice start date is unknown. Just a few months after the Houston Astros manager arrived in Game 6 of the World Series against Atlanta, the only time free agent Carlos Correa appeared – Baker was barred from talking about labor issues or his players – regarding to Baker’s Walk Off Red variety.
“I was our best customer for a while,” he said. “I will buy cases and my players will buy cases. I remember when Carlos Correa walked out of the Minnesota Twins, the first thing he asked was, ‘Hey, where have I gone?’ “
Whenever the season kicks off, Houston’s 13th win would give Baker a 2,000th career win, which would cement his eventual entry into the Hall of Fame. Of the 11 managers with at least 2,000 wins, all are in the Hall except for Bruce Bochy, and that’s just because Bochy hasn’t retired long enough.
Baker points out that he would have won his 2,000th win a long time ago if it weren’t for the unexpected breaks between jobs. But the time off has also allowed him to fully enjoy his daughter’s wedding, grieve the passing of his brother and father, and start his own business (he also has a powerful company). quantity, Baker Energy Team).
“I guess I’m where I have to be, in my life and career,” Baker said. “Now just a few things are missing, a championship and a 2,000th win. I’m the only African-American in that club, you know what I mean, man? And I hope that I can help convince the other owners that Dave Roberts and I shouldn’t be the last, that we should have more. ”
Someday when they slow down, perhaps Baker and Roberts – MLB’s only Black managers working today – will enjoy it all together in beautiful red.
Roberts, 49, said: “I sent him some wine. “He sent me some wine. We know several people in the same valley. I never actually sat down to dinner, drink, and chat all night with him. I want to do that at some point. “
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/01/sports/baseball/dusty-baker-wine.html Dusty Baker’s alcohol business keeps him busy