Sunday, December 27, 2015

The untimely second death of Dave Henderson

I was sad to see that Dave "Hendu" Henderson passed away from a massive heart attack this morning at age 57. According to The Seattle Times Hendu had been suffering from kidney problems for several years and had a transplant earlier this year.

Hendu was the first-ever draft pick of the Seattle Mariners, but gained most of his playing fame through playoff heroics with the Red Sox and Athletics. He later returned to Seattle and was a commentator on M's broadcasts for a number of years. I thought he was terrible at first, but eventually it seemed he may have had some coaching, slowed down his delivery a little, and made some good contributions to the games.

The ashes of a 1985 season Dave Henderson APBA card, and
photo of my stadium where the dice were not kind to him.
Hendu actually "died" for the first time back in 1986. He was on my team in an APBA league and was playing dismally; the dice were not kind to him. Hendu had hit .241 with 14 home runs during the 1985 major league season, but the following year in APBA he was batting just .188 with no dingers and just four RBI in 27 games. The real-life Hendu often lost the grip on his bat after a strikeout, and it would go pinwheeling out onto the field or into the stands. I had a number of the 13s on his card circled, designated to be lost-bat Ks, for added realism in the game.

After another agonizing whiff in a key situation, I lost patience, took Hendu's card out to the Hibachi and torched it, then cooked up a tale about his death in a fiery auto accident. I still have his ashes, which were on display in my dice "Big A" stadium for the rest of the season. My Angels won their division that year, going 54-26 behind Ron Guidry (12-3, 2.25) and Tommy Herr, who hit .344. Despite Hendu's disappearance, I had plenty of Henderson on the club, which also included Rickey and Steve.

Hendu's APBA death later turned out to be a ruse; it turned out fans of the team had kidnapped him after a loss in Cleveland, and released him after the season was over. He was soon traded. The authorities are still trying to figure out whose remains were found in that rental car in Cleveland.

It is perhaps testament to APBA mania that I still have the charred remains of a Dave Henderson card that I burned in a fit of pique 29 years ago, and that I still have and could find my team's final stats from that season. I retired from that league after 1991; it is still running, though, and has been continuously since about 1969. They switched to Diamond Mind baseball some years ago.

Rest in peace, Mr. Henderson.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Tacoma Rainiers 2, El Paso Chihuahuas 0

Justin Germano pitched a complete-game, seven-hit shutout and Patrick Kivlehan hit a two-run homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth as the Tacoma Rainiers defeated El Paso 2-0 June 28 at Cheney Stadium. The game was certified as a dandy by my Sweetie, the official scorer, as it featured fewer than five runs scored total, a victory margin of less than three, and no errors.

Justin Germano
Germano was masterful, if not overpowering, in going the distance on a warm but cloudy summer afternoon. He struck out five and did not walk a soul. The one weakness in his game was the leadoff double, which he surrendered in three different innings, but only once were the Chihuahuas able to advance the runner beyond the keystone sack, and that was in the sixth inning when they squandered what turned out to be their best chance to score against Germano.

El Paso second sacker Rocky Gale led off the top of the sixth with a two-bagger against Germano and moved to third on Abraham Almonte's fly ball to center field. That brought up Chihuahua shortstop Mike McCoy, who lofted a fly ball to Kivlehan in medium-deep left field. Gale tagged and headed for the plate; Kivlehan's throw was high, and Tacoma backstop John Hicks had to go up the ladder a bit to get it. Gale, however, inexplicably decided not to slide, and Hicks tagged him for the final out of the frame as he attempted to cross the dish standing. The score remained tied at 0-0.

Jason Lane, a former big-league outfielder now trying to stick as a pitcher at age 38, was the hard-luck starter for El Paso. The southpaw Lane went 7 2/3 innings and allowed no runs on seven hits, struck out two and walked just one. Tacoma's only real threat in the first seven innings came in the fifth, when Kivlehan and Zach Shank, a second baseman recently called up from Double-A Jackson after an injury to Leury Bonilla, stroked back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners with two out. Rainier shortstop Chris Taylor grounded to short to end the inning.

Tacoma chased Lane in the bottom of the eighth. Taylor singled with one out and, after a flyout by Shawn "Oh, Really? No" O'Malley, Rainier first baseman Jesus Montero grounded a single through the hole at short. That brought up Justin Ruggiano, Tacoma designated hitter who, in an apparent message to Mariner management about his recent demotion from the big club, had hit three home runs and driven home seven the night before. El Paso manager Jamie Quirk came out with the hook and brought in righty Jerry Sullivan to face Ruggiano. The strategy worked for the moment, as Ruggiano whiffed.

The Chihuahuas put Germano into a little hot water in the ninth. Gale led off with an infield single, as Taylor and O'Malley nearly collided as they tried to field his chopper; Taylor grabbed it, but his throw to first was late. Gale moved to second on a groundout by Almonte, who wasn't able to get down a good bunt. McCoy then dunked one into shallow center for a base hit that put runners on the corners with one out.

Patrick Kivlehan receives congrats from
Tacoma manager Pat Listach as he
rounds third base following his game-
winning home run in the ninth inning
against El Paso Sunday. Photo: Greg
That brought Tacoma manager Pat Listach to the mound, causing Weisenheimer and my Sweetie, the official scorer to lament, as we often do, about the lack of complete games in baseball these days. But it appeared that the main reason Listach went to the hill was to give home plate umpire Jeff Morrow an earful about a non-strike call during McCoy's at-bat, which both Germano and Hicks had also done with considerable emphasis moments before.

Listach left Germano in there. The next batter, El Paso center fielder Jake Goebbert, dunked a Texas-Leaguer toward left on which Taylor made a fine, over-the-shoulder catch for the second out. Left fielder Alex Dickerson then flied out to left to end the frame.

In the bottom of the ninth against Sullivan Rainier center fielder Leon Landry singled with one out. Hicks then hit into a 5-4 force, and Kivlehan drilled one over the fence in right for the game-winning homer, his 14th round tripper of the season.

Box score.

Germano loves Weisenheimer and Sweetie

This was the second game we have seen Germano pitch this season, and he's been outstanding in both. Back on May 17 he pitched six shutout innings in a 4-0 win over Las Vegas. Overall this season he is 7-3 and Sunday's shutout lowered his ERA to 2.83. Germano has given up no runs or walks in 15 innings when we're present this year. We suggest that the Rainiers pay our way to all Germano starts, home and away.

Dog day afternoon

The game was played on dog day, apparently known as K-9 innings, which seems a ridiculous idea even if the opponents are named the Chihuahuas. The pup sitting in our row, just behind the statue of Ben Cheney in section K, was reasonably well behaved, only growling two or three times at other passing canine spectators whose looks he, for whatever reason, did not like. Remind us to be absent the next time Fresno is in town, in case it's Grizzly Bear night. I wonder if, the next time the Albuquerque Isotopes visit Tacoma, the first five thousand fans through the gates will receive a pound of pure plutonium.

Work, work, work

Goebbert, the El Paso center fielder, made eight putouts, including five in a row in the sixth and seventh innings.

Orel exam

We noticed the name Jordan Hershiser on the El Paso roster and, sure enough, his pop is former Dodger hurler Orel Hershiser. Jordan didn't play Sunday, but on Saturday night, in his second career appearance in a game above A-ball, he surrendered the third of Ruggiano's home runs.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Tacoma Rainiers 4, Albuquerque Isotopes 1

Forrest Snow pitched seven innings of one-hit ball and Shawn "Oh, Really? No" O'Malley hit a two-run homer as the Tacoma Rainiers beat the Albuquerque Isotopes 4-1 June 14 at Cheney Stadium on a simply gorgeous sunny Sunday afternoon.

A gorgeous day at Cheney Stadium as the Rainiers defeated
Albuquerque 4-1. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.
My Sweetie, the official scorer, and I have never seen a no-hitter, and we always point that out to each other once each side has a safety in a game. Today's contest was as close as we've come, but it wasn't that close. Albuquerque's lone hit of the day was an emphatic one, a booming, 410-foot leadoff triple to left center in the top of the second by Isotope center fielder Drew Stubbs. Snow, who is a tall drink of water out on the mound at 6'6", did his best to strand Stubbs. He got Albuquerque catcher Dustin Gameau to squib one right in front of home plate, and Tacoma backstop Steve Baron pounced on it and fired to first to retire Gameau for the first out, with Stubbs holding. The next batter, second-sacker Angelys Nina, hit a fly ball to fairly shallow center field. Stubbs tagged and scored as Leon Landry's throw was weak and off line.

Tacoma took the lead for good in the bottom of the third when shortstop Chris Taylor hit a one-out single off Isotope starter Yohan Flande, and O'Malley followed with his third home run of the season, a no-doubt blast over the fence in left center. The Rainiers added single runs in the sixth and eighth. They could have had more, especially in the sixth, when they had the sacks full and one run already in with no outs, but three straight shallow fly balls didn't advance a soul.

Forrest Snow.
Snow was a little wild, as he walked four and struck out three in seven innings of work, leaving after throwing 98 pitches, 57 for strikes. He evened his record at 4-4 and lowered his earned run average to 2.43. Edgar Olmos closed it out for Tacoma, retiring Albuquerque in order in the eighth and ninth, striking out three of the six batters he faced and notching his first save of the year. Tacoma piled up 13 hits, with three from Carlos Rivero and two each from Taylor, O'Malley, and Landry. Taylor, recently banished to Tacoma after a short stint with the big club, was robbed of a third hit when his leadoff screamer in the seventh was snared on a leaping grab by first-sacker Matt McBride. Baron was the only Rainier without a knock. Tacoma somewhat limited its scoring chances by hitting into two double plays and having two runners thrown out stealing; squandering baserunners seems to be an organizational imperative at all levels.

Marte out

It was disappointing not to see top prospect Ketel Marte. The shortstop broke his thumb June 1 and will be out for at least four more weeks. He's hitting .343.

Montero makes the play

Jesus Montero will probably never make anyone forget John Olerud defensively down at first base, but he made a couple of nice plays Sunday. His diving stop of a hot grounder by Albuquerque right fielder Roger Bernadina turned what looked like a base hit into a 3-1 out. In the fourth Montero made a nice pick when Taylor fielded Gameau's grounder deep in the hole at short, whirled, and fired a short-hopper to first.

No free parking

We were a bit surprised to be charged $10 for parking at Cheney Stadium Sunday. It has been $5 since we can remember. It may be the first parking hike there since 1967. Nevertheless, a 100-percent bump is a little surprising. Our car needs washing, badly, and for that price they could have done a little detailing!

Box score

Monday, May 18, 2015

Tacoma Rainiers 4, Las Vegas 51s 0

Justin Germano pitched six innings of six-hit shutout ball, top Mariner prospect Ketel Marte hit his first home run of the season, and the Tacoma Rainiers blanked the Las Vegas 51s 4-0 Sunday in Tacoma.

Germano was fantastic in his six frames, never allowing a baserunner past second. He struck out six and did not walk a batter. A few balls were hit hard against him, particularly a leadoff double by Alex Castellanos in the fourth, but several of the six hits he allowed were seeing-eye grounders.

Justin Germano delivers a pitch against Las Vegas Sunday in
Tacoma. Germano pitched six shutout innings in the Rainers'
4-0 victory over the 51s. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.
Las Vegas' best chance for a rally came in the sixth, when T.J. Rivera and Matt Reynolds opened the inning with back-to-back singles, but they didn't move from first and second. Germano got Castellanos and Brandon Allen to fly out to shallow right, then fanned Travis Taijeron to end the inning and his day's work after 94 pitches. He improved his record to 3-1 and lowered his ERA to 1.46 over four starts and 10 total appearances.

Lucas Luetge pitched two perfect innings in relief and Mayckol Guaipe set down the 51s 1-2-3 in the ninth as the Rainiers retired the final 12 Las Vegas batters to come to the plate.

The Rainiers got all the runs they needed in the second when Patrick Kivlehan doubled with two out and, following a walk to Leon Landry, scored on a single by Shawn "Oh, really? No" O'Malley. Marte hit his first home run of the season, a line shot over the fence in right, with one out in the third. Tacoma tacked on two more in the seventh on only one hit, helped along by three walks and an error.

Marte, the Rainier shortstop, also walked and drove in a run on a groundout. He is batting .349 and has eight doubles and a triple to go with his home run and has stolen 13 bases in 16 tries. The 21-year-old switch hitter has some tools. We're anxious to see him called up, if only so the Mariners can open a new concession brand: Ketel Corn.

We were anxious to see the skinny version of Jesus Montero, who didn't play in the first game we attended at Tacoma last month. Montero was a feeble 0-for-4 Sunday with a whiff, a popup, and two groundouts, but is hitting .324 with four home runs on the campaign. He looks in great shape, though he's still the slowest runner we've seen since Edgar Martinez, or maybe even Alvin Davis.

O'Malley went 3-for-4 with a run, an RBI, and a steal, and was the only Rainier to log more than one hit.

Box score.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

We will serve no wine past its time

When I finally rolled out of bed just past 11 a.m. PST on this first day of 2015 I found quite an array of stuff scattered about the floor:
  • An empty bottle that once contained José Michel & Fils Pinot Meunier Brut
  • The remnants of a 2014 New York Times crossword-a-day calendar
  • The empty box from the 2015 New York Times crossword-a-day calendar
  • Three astronomy magazines
  • My reading and crossword cheater specs
  • A copy of Food and Booze: A Tin House Literary Feast
  • A trail of hastily discarded clothing that extended out the room, down the stairs, and into the main-level hallway below
All of this said to me that Weisenheimer and my Sweetie, the Official Scorer are definitely not old fuddy-duddies for staying home, cooking in, and watching old movies on New Year's Eve, but rather that our approach to ringing in the new year was a rip-roaring, if somewhat untidy, success. It was also the capper of a really interesting week of observations about food, wine, and how they all play together. Henceforth, my takeaways from the last eight days of 2014.

The Weisenheimer table set for the New Year's Eve feast,
including three bottles of wine, just in case.
In our January 1 analysis of the previous day's culinary adventure, we thought that we must have saved the José Michel for last in an inspired WWJD moment. The bubbles were one of eight or ten really nice bottles that we'd purchased at a grower champagne tasting at West Seattle Cellars a few weeks ago. This wine was clearly the favorite tipple of our long, celebratory day—and we opened five bottles in all. Biblical accounts of the wedding at Cana say that when Jesus averted a riot by turning water into wine, the resulting juice was the best served at that celebration. This would be just the opposite of the reported local tradition of the time, one of serving a good bottle for the first round or two, then breaking out the cheap, second-rate stuff when the guests were already adequately inebriated. Personally, I suspect the savior never settled for plonk.

Yes. Five bottles of wine. I thought I might be able to slip that one by you. We started mid afternoon (this being a festival day, after all) with a bottle of our house bubbles, Veuve Devienne, a tasty and moderately priced sparkler that we lay in by the case, just in case. Sipping on the house champagne cocktail (a splash of simple syrup, a couple of dashes lavender bitters, top with bubbles, add lemon twist) while preparing the evening feast and baking brioche, we found that a bottle of the Veuve yields exactly six such libations. Three each seemed about right.

Around mid-day on New Year's Eve we had taken a leisurely stroll up to The Swinery, West Seattle's "Temple of Porcine Love," to see if they had any animal flesh worthy of our celebration of the past 12 months. We came away with a lovely and rather ginormous bone-in ribeye that fit the bill most handsomely. Also on the menu: my Sweetie, the Official Scorer's amazing Brussels sprouts, with bacon, cream, shallots, and gruyere; some pan-roasted potato wedges; and the aforementioned Weisenheimer brioche.

The four holiday wine stars: Christmas Eve with the '93 La
Ca'Nova Barbaresco, and New Year's Eve selections of '95
Peterson Petit Sirah, '00 Lionnet Côtes du Rhône, and '05
Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant. A good party, indeed.
As official house sommelier, it was also my gig to descend into the wine cellar and find a bottle or two suited to a big-ol' beefsteak and appropriate for such a celebration. At times like this I head first to the section of grand and age-worthy wines in the cellar. Most of these were purchased through the West Seattle Cellars collector club, through which we get a half-dozen selections each month. When I bring them home I cellar the bottles and mark them with a tag that includes info about when it was purchased, possible food pairings, and, if the monthly notes identify it as a saver, how long it might be aged. The "don't drink for X years" stuff goes way to the bottom of the racks, only to be moved up when X years approaches.

Yesterday my eye was drawn to a dusty bottle that was mysteriously untagged: A 1995 Peterson Petit Sirah. Without a tag, I had no idea of the lineage of this one, but as the calendar was about to turn over to 2015, it meant the wine was approaching its 20th birthday. It seemed like as good a time as any to crack it open. Better a year too early than a day too late, as they say.

I decided, though, to hedge my bets a little and also brought up a bottle of 2000 Lionnet Côtes du Rhône, a wine made entirely with syrah that had been a club selection in 2004 and was tagged "not 'til '09." This became plan B.

Man does not live by wine alone! Sweetie,  the Official Scorer,
gave Weisenheimer some mini brioche tins for Christmas. He
tested them out for the New Year's feast. As yes, he notices that
Sweetie, the Official Scorer, often gives gifts that are as much
for herself as the recipient. And we don't mind a bit!
Weisenheimer sensed trouble upon opening the Peterson, when the first turn of the corkscrew merely broke off a chunk of cork. Each subsequent twist only crumbled the cork further. Even the butler's friend opener was of no help, and I was left with shoving a zillion little cork fragments down into the bottle as my only way of getting it unstopped.

Fortunately, we have a Vinturi wine aerator, one of the features of which is a screen that will catch bits of cork and largish hunks of sediment that might be lurking in the wine. So I poured the Peterson into its decanter through the Vinturi, filtering out the flotsam and at the same time giving the wine its first gulp of fresh air in twenty years. Curious, I poured a small glass and gave it a taste. My reaction—too late. There wasn't much happening there at all, in the nose or on the palate. Dang. So, I popped open the Lionnet and gave it a taste. Reaction: Meh. Maybe too late with this one, also.

I went back to the cellar and brought up a sure winner for plan C: A 2005 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant. Always great, totally age-worthy, and I liked the concept of having all of the wines for this meal being from years divisible by five. Plus the Doon has a screw-cap; no corks to pulverize.

At this point, I decided to put all three bottles on the table and just see how they developed. We probably had an hour or so before dinner, so everyone could breathe a little and we'd find out what we had when dinner arrived. The table looked like one of our dinners with our dear friends, the Schillings, at Marywood Manor in Orange, California. Wine lovers all, we often open two or three bottles at a meal, their identities kept secret, and give everyone a glass for each. Everyone gets to guess what each wine is, and rate them. The game wouldn't be quite as good for our New Year's Eve feast, as I knew which wine was which, and my Sweetie, the Official Scorer, also had tasted the Peterson in advance, and made the same sort of face she makes when I suggest putting ketchup on hot dogs or adding "Christmas With the Chipmunks" to our holiday music playlist. It made me think she would surely recognize the Petit Sirah come dinner time.

When the feast was served, we dug in and gave the three wines a taste. Over an hour or so, a miracle had occurred. We both rated the Peterson as emphatically the best of the trio! My Sweetie, the Official Scorer, thought at first that it was the Le Cigare Volant. I would have made the same guess on tasting it again, except I knew which was the Peterson. I admit that I had to pour another glass—I knew it was the one in the decanter—to double check, just in case I'd mixed them up. Sure enough, the Peterson had completely changed and was actually a fantastic wine. Probably two things happened. An extra hour to breathe was most beneficial, and, like many wines, it was a different and wonderful thing consumed with food compared to a sip on its own. We drank up the Peterson and about half of the Cigare. We more or less left the Lionnet alone; half the bottle is re-corked, and a couple of mostly untouched glasses are still on the dining room table.

After dinner we popped open the José Michel and had our first sips before watching To Have and Have Not (in salute to the great Lauren Bacall, who passed away during 2014). We recognized that the Michel is better than the house stuff. It's also about four times its price. Is it four times better? Well, probably. Steve, Slim, and Eddie headed off to the boat at about five minutes to midnight, we toasted the New Year, and retired for the evening.

Come morning—OK, I guess it was probably more like early afternoon—I did a little digging to learn something about the Peterson. We keep all of the notes from our wine clubs in three-ring binders in the cellar. Sure enough, I found the Peterson listed in the West Seattle Cellars collector club from December of 1997, so it turns out we'd had that bottle on hand for 17 years and one month. Here's what the notes said, in part:

"Robust, with lots of tannin, this wine has the stuffings to age for 15-20 years if you want it to... The palate has a lot of power, and it will be a good accompaniment some day for a hearty winter meal."

OK, we nailed that one. I like to imagine that the tag for this bottle, misplaced somewhere along the last 17 years, reads "drink this with a pan-seared ribeye on New Year's Eve, 2014." Prescience.

We pulled another ancient bottle out way back on Christmas Eve for our traditional feast of game hens and other yummies. This one was a 1993 La Ca'Nova Barbaresco that was in the wine club of July 1998. Notes for this one said, "Try to keep your hands off of it until at least 2005." We did. There was no mystery to this; a delightful wine from first sip that was still drinking marvelously twenty-one years after being plucked from the vine and stomped.

So, a tip of the Santa hat to Matt Mabus, who was the founder of West Seattle Cellars and its proprietor when our two star wines of the holiday season were included in the collector club, and to Jan Martindale and Tom DiStefano, current operators of the shop, who continue stocking our cellar with wonderful treats today that we'll be enjoying in 2030. It's great to have folks who know their stuff in our local wine store, and we're fortunate that we have a good cellar in which to age wines that need it and will delight us when they're really ready to drink.

One of my traditional tasks for the first days of the new year is to go through the cellar and move the "don't touch" wines that have reached their save-until dates into the section of bottles that are ready to drink. Maybe I'll purposely lose the tag on one or two. Could make for a good story some day.

Happy New Year; 2015 is off to a great start!