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Baseball and the wine vintage: promises of hope



The end of baseball season has always meant for me the end of summer. It’s a time of the year—at least, on the East Coast, where both baseball and I were born (although not in the same year!)—when the seasons really do pivot. The days grow shorter; usually, sometime in early or mid-October, you can feel the first bite of chill wind when it comes sweeping down from the northwest, from Canada. The leaves turn, from summery green to gold, orange, amber, and fall down in drifts, like butterflies in the cool, clean air. In the far-olden days, this is when farmers would think of their root cellars, their put-up cans of peaches and tomatoes that would get them through the long, cold, dark winter months. For us school kids, the end of summer meant the end of thoughtless summer days. It was back to school. Buy your pencils, notebooks and rulers: put away the bathing suit!

When I moved to California, where seasonal change is far more subtle, the end of summer became about something else: the grape harvest. Fall was that time of year when the pickers harvested the grapes, when their trucks clogged the highways and byways of wine country. Fall in California even had its own version of foliage: the leaves on the vines blazed with crimson. And the scent of fermenting wine hung heavy in the air, a vinous-perfume that lingered even as the days turned hotter—for, in contradistinction to the East Coast, September and October turned out to be Northern California’s hottest months.

What are we to make of the association of the grape harvest and Fall, though, when the grapes have largely all been picked by the end of August? 2015’s earliest-ever harvest seems to be, not an anomaly, but the new normal. Nearly every winemaker I know professes to have a new, and not unwelcome, experience on their hands: What to do in October? Previously in their careers, they were still picking, crushing and fermenting. Now, the labor’s done. Their schedules have been up-ended, just like the schedules of the grapes themselves. Everything’s turned on its head.

I thought of these things yesterday as the baseball season ended, for me, with the last Giants game I’ll go to this year. They lost, barely, to the Dodgers. The Giants didn’t seem to play with heart; you could almost feel them thinking that, Hey, let’s just get this over with so I can get to Playa del Carmen or Italy or wherever rich baseball players vacation when the season’s over. The Dodgers, by contrast, were playing for home-field advantage. They were fierce; the Giants, well, weren’t. There was a flurry of activity in the 8th inning that got us all to our feet. But, alas, it went nowhere, and as Jose and I filed out along with the crowd, there was a sullen feeling in the air, a mood of resignation that the hopes that had ushered in 2015 had been finally dashed upon the rocks of reality. Even our three World Series victories in five years did little to lift the hearts of Giants fans.

But if baseball is about anything, it’s about Hope. Before you know it, Spring Training will be here, the Giants will again take the field before a rapturous crowd at AT&T Park, and maybe, just maybe, all these awful injuries that plagued the team this year will have gone away, and our Boys of Summer will once again be contenders. Even as I thought these things, when we left the park and I got on BART to go back to Oakland, I saw, as we emerged from the tube, huge cumulonimbus clouds piling up over the East Bay Hills. These are not the clouds of summer; they are the clouds of winter, of rain (in fact, I heard later that, east of the Hills, there was heavy, brief rainfall). It’s not unknown for big rain clouds to pile up against the hills, but it is somewhat rare, and these were HUGE piles of clouds, twenty, thirty thousand feel high. They were a promise of rain to come. A promise of hope for a state drought-plagued and parched for water. A promise, like that of baseball, that somewhere, just over the rainbow, lay better and happier times.

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