In March 2006, Joe Maddon was just starting his first spring training as the manager of the (then) Tampa Bay Devil Rays. After a morning workout at the team’s former spring training home in St. Petersburg, Maddon met with the media. I lingered to ask about his love of fine wines.
A Cabernet drinker, his favorite at the time was Silver Oak out of California’s Alexander Valley. He dug the 2000 and 2001 vintages. He also was into the 2001 Merryvale. “That’s awesome stuff,” he said.
In 2011, I asked Maddon during the preseason (no longer Devil) Rays Fan Fest to give his baseball lineup card of wines, as if each wine represented a hitter’s attributes in each position. It almost was frightening how readily available he had all the information on each bottle’s vintage, vineyard and grower.
During this season’s spring training, I once again asked him to compile a drinking lineup. Here is his batting order of drinkable fungos for 2014.
Even in his wine lineup, Maddon goes unconventional by putting wine made by a Hall of Fame pitcher in the eighth hole instead of the customary ninth spot reserved for the pitcher. His first two wines are what he calls “table setters.”
Baseball strategy: The top of the order usually belongs to a contact hitter who gets on base and runs fast once he gets there.
Winemaker notes: “A Merlot blend ... the 2012 Uriah is an expression of the Spring Valley terroir. The nose is refined with scents of almond paste, clove and licorice. The mouthfeel is rich with flavors of cherry, currant and blackberry, sweet tannins linger during the long complex finish.”
Baseball strategy: The second hitter makes contact with the ball and is willing to sacrifice his at-bat to move runners on the base path.
Winemaker notes: “This New World-styled and highly structured, fruit-driven Cabernet Sauvignon blend ... has aromas of dark fruit, plum and rose petal and complex flavors of licorice, and fresh, ripe summer berries with a long, soft finish.
Baseball strategy: Batter No. 3 is a contact hitter who also can swing with power. Maddon says wines No. 3 to No. 6 are “solid, middle-of-the-order wines.”
Winemaker notes: “Round, velvety tannins enrobe a silky texture with a touch off minerality. The flavors of dark fruit are enhanced by the well-integrated acidity. The acidity and tannin structure promise a very long life ahead.
Baseball strategy: Cleanup power-hitter who has pop in his bat.
Wine writer Robert Parker says: “The stunning 2010 Insignia [is a] full-bodied, rich, concentrated wine with soft tannins, a multidimensional mouthfeel, and a long, rich finish displaying well-integrated acidity, tannin, alcohol and wood. This beauty is one of the top Insignias produced over recent years. It should age easily for 20+ years.”
Baseball strategy: Contact hitter who can protect the power hitters in the lineup.
Winemaker’s notes: “The 2012 Southing exhibits bright fruits, sassafras, fresh iris and damp earth. The fine tannins and minerality are enhanced by our estate vineyard’s characteristic cool climate acidity.”
Baseball strategy: The No. 6 hitter keeps rallies going with contact hitting and occasional power.
Winemaker notes: “Opulent, rich and elegant, this proprietary Bordeaux varietal-blend is loaded with dark berry, vanilla and spice flavors, silky tannins and a luxuriously long finish.”
Baseball strategy: Maddon says his No. 7 hitter bats lower in the order to protect other hitters and shows great potential.
Winemaker notes: “An expressive, Bordeaux-style blend sourced from our prime estate vineyards, we sourced Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc from our best estate vineyards in Napa Valley. Our Meritage boasts balance, structure and a generous, long finish accented by hints of brioche and milk chocolate.”
Baseball strategy: Usually a place where managers stick their good fielding player who doesn’t hit consistently. Some managers put a player at No. 8 who can hit so that they can maintain rallies later in the game. Maddon says, “Although it really should be hitting in the middle of the order, this wine is from Tom Seaver Vineyards, so it should hit ninth. But let’s bat it eighth instead” as part of his new-wave lineup construction that has the pitcher hitting eighth instead of ninth.
Winemaker notes: “The 2011 GTS Estate is slightly brooding as one would expect from a young mountain wine. The fine tannins grab just slightly upon entry leading to blue and black fruits with remarkable depth and purity. The mouthfeel and texture, which are hallmarks of the Estate, are front and center once again. The fruit remains highlighted as the acidity keeps the wine fresh and long through the finish.”
Baseball strategy: The last spot usually is reserved for the worst batter on the team. This season, Maddon is playing with that convention (see No. 8 note).
Winemaker notes: “Deep, cherry red color, intense aromas of mature, ripe black fruits, integrated with well-balanced touches. Full, meaty and rich with thick black-fruit tannins. Vanilla, balsamic and spicy touches from fine quality oak. The finish is long and full.”