It seems strange that we are here deep into the fall with a freeze warning tonight, but all the talk is of the boys of summer. Apparently, the major league baseball World Series is going on this week pitting the Houston Astros against the Atlanta Braves. The Braves lead the series 3-2 and one more win will give them their first title since 1995. I don’t follow professional ball that much, but my dad sent me this recipe with a request that I make it, and well, this seems like a pretty good time for it. So, won’t you please join me now as we stand and make the Curveball.
This one comes to us from Atlanta’s Garden & Gun Club at the Battery, so there is an obvious bias there. I am all about being fair and balanced, when that is more than a tagline, so if there is a rebuttal from Houston, I will be happy to offer equal time. It was created by manager Dustin Phillips, working with lead bartender Corey Newton as a celebratory sip. Phillips describes it as “a drink that starts off sweet but ends pleasantly bitter, like a curveball.” That sounds like a thing, so let’s make it and see. I had trouble sourcing one of their ingredients, Still Pond Distillers 229 Peach Vodka, which is excellent stuff made in Southwest, Georgia, so I am making an adjustment.
Grab your tins and pop in 1 ounce of peach vodka, I did not have this so I substituted 3/4 of an ounce of Stolichnaya Vodka and 1/4 ounce of Hiram Walker peach schnapps. To that add 3/4 of an ounce of Campari, 3/4 ounce of Amaro Nonino and 3/4 of an ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Toss in some of that artisanal ice and give it a good shake to the beat of “Centerfield” by John Fogerty. When well mixed, strain into a rocks glass over an ice sphere or is that a glacial baseball? Garnish with a lemon twist and serve.
That is lovely. Seriously lovely. As advertised, it starts out sweet with that peach and amaro pushing through, but just when it is almost too high and outside here comes that bitter campari to swing things the other way and drop it right across the plate. I nursed this one for a while and it just got better and better with a little dilution. No matter who you are rooting for in the series, this drink is a wonderful way to stay hydrated during that seventh inning stretch.
I said earlier that I don’t keep up with pro ball, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like baseball. I love it, but on a different sort of level. I’ve been to plenty of big league games and growing up in Florida we used to go watch spring training games all the time, but I am more of a minor league guy, or even better, Little League. I enjoy going to the ballpark, watching the game go by at its leisurely pace as we enjoy the mandatory “hotdogs and peanuts and cracker jacks”. I love going to minor league games, all the excitement with smaller crowds and more intimate parks, but the best baseball out there is watching kids play.
My son loves to play baseball, it is one of his biggest passions, behind kaiju and dinosaurs. He’s been a catcher since before we could find gear small enough to fit him and he looks forward to playing every year. I love going to the game and watching him as he struggles at times and other times excels. I do my best to not get too uptight about things, after all, it’s kids playing ball. My job is to be supportive and help him get his gear on when we need a quick changeover and I am reasonably good at that. I, accidentally, took being supportive a step further last spring when I ended up helping to coach his team as he transitioned to their version of the big leagues, kid-pitch. I played when I was his age. I was never particularly good, but I was a competent third baseman who would get a decent hit every once in a while. I know the basics, but I’m not exactly coach material. That said, I can make sure everyone drinks enough water, toss the ball around during warmups, and help reset the batting tee; you know the basics. I actually felt kind of bad for not being better at things, but I was there and someone needed to help, so I ended up in the dugout with the boys.
It was a truly wonderful experience. Sure it was full of frustrations, but I learned a lot from those kids. Hanging around with a bunch of 10-12 year olds on a regular basis was a good reminder of how tough it can be at that age. It’s easy to forget just how much is going on in those young brains as they make the transition from little kids to teenagers. One of the most painful things I have seen in a while was watching these kids walk back to the dugout with their heads hanging low, not because of a strike out or a missed ball or a loss, but because of something a parent had yelled from the stands. You could see it in their eyes, how much of their self worth was riding on whether or not they hit the ball. Seeing the kind of pressure some of these kids were under to be the best players ever from their parents was disheartening. I did my best to instill good work ethic, sportsmanship and respect for each other in my limited role, but none of them are better players for any tips I gave them. Our head coach, on the other hand, was amazing. Beyond teaching them little things they could do to be better in every aspect of the game, he did not yell, never really showed disappointment, he’d just say “You know what you did wrong, now let’s make an adjustment.” We lost a ton of games and some parents weren’t happy, but we plugged on, working on the basics and always making adjustments. By the end of the season, we’d turned the corner and got hot in the tournament for a third place finish in the league, just 40 seconds from playing for the championship.
Seeing those same kids who had stood around looking at their feet after so many games laughing and jumping after they went from worst to first beating the top seed in the first round of the tournament, that’s a memory that is going to stay with me. Standing there watching my son as he beamed having made that crucial third out to get us into position to play one more inning and then driving home the winning run with two outs against him, that’s gonna stay with me. More than any of that, I think John’s gentle reminder to not beat yourself up, but figure out what happened and “now, make an adjustment” will be what I take away from my short baseball coaching career. We are all gonna make mistakes and all that yelling from the bleachers, from the critics who are just watching us do the work, won’t do anything to make us better. But maybe, just maybe, if we take a moment to think about what happened, figure out what we can change and make an adjustment, well, that will make all the difference in the world. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.