Budweiser invited some media members down to Florida this week for a tour of their Jacksonville brewery and batting practice with World Series MVP George Springer and 2004 champion Kevin Millar. They had no doubt the baseball reporter who is still in college would accept the invite. Here are some highlights from the trip:
- Day 1 took place in Jacksonville, where the media got a behind-the-scenes tour of one of the six Budweiser breweries that are open to the public. We even got to experience the four-part tasting test which the brewers experience every day at 3 p.m., sipping each step of the brewing process and learning how much better the finished product was than the in-process samples. I was particularly impressed at how much care is put into the brewing process, and that it takes 30 days from start to finish. Coolest room in the entire facility is what they call their “Copper Cellar”:
- The theme of the whole experience was how Beechwood connects beer and baseball, as Beechwood is one of Budweiser’s key ingredients and is also used to make bats. Brewers in Jacksonville actually climbed into the huge tanks to load in Beechwood bark as part of the the aging process. Who knew.
- Budweiser is actually the official beer sponsor of Major League Baseball, with a partnership that dates back more than 30 years. Beechwood was officially approved for bats in 2014, but has been an integral part of Budweiser’s aging process since the beginning.
- Day 2 brought the baseball part, headlined by media batting practice with Springer and Millar. I went first out of everyone, swinging a wood (Beechwood, actually) bat for the first time and stepping into a batter’s box for the first time since the end of my ill-fated career came to an end during tryouts for the JV team six years ago. Those who can’t play, write.
An Astros minor-league coach was nice enough to throw to us, and I actually did better than expected. This no-doubt gapper was the highlight of my athletic career, save for my inside-the-park home run in eighth grade:
Springer actually said that I had a “good swing,” which objectively isn’t true. He also told me repeatedly to “swing up” instead of trying to hit line drives. These launch angle nerds, man.
Stepping in the box in a major-league (kind of) park and trying to hit BP and then watching real BP a couple hours later makes you really realize that the gulf between professional athletes and regular people is infinitely wide.
- Millar, who I’ve met before, is as genuine as you’d expect him to be after watching him during his playing days and now on Intentional Talk. He spent hours talking about the 2004 team once I mentioned I was an 8-year-old kid living 30 minutes outside Boston back then, telling stories from the season and saying that he believes that that playoff run is one of the most unforgettable and iconic sports memories ever. I agree, despite that we’re both biased.
One aspect I didn’t realize is how much that team responded to Dan Shaughnessy writing that it could be a “happy-go-lucky (then suddenly unlucky) pack of frauds” once down 0-3 against the Yankees in the ALCS. Didn’t sound like a safe locker room for Shaughnessy to be in that day, and the Sox soon responded with four straight wins to prove him wrong.
- I caught up with Springer, who said he’s not a big enough basketball fan to have thoughts on UConn’s decision to fire Kevin Ollie. He did have some thoughts on baseball-related matters, though:
On teams tanking and free agents being undervalued: ”This is a game where the older you get, the harder it is. Teams see value in younger players, and I understand that. It makes sense. But the problem is that there are veteran guys who are proven and have accomplished things in the game feel like they’re left out. I understand that as well. It’s a very tough subject to talk about and it’s very touchy. But at some point you have to develop your guys, There are a lot of guys who aren’t minor-league guys, but aren’t quite major-league guys. In order to get better, you have to play up here.”
On Jose Altuve’s extension: “It’s awesome. Incredible. I couldn’t be happier for him. He deserves it. He’s worked for everything he has and he’s a franchise player. The team recognizes that. I’m honored to be his teammate.
It shows that the team is committing to guys and committing to keeping guys around. That’s an awesome feeling.”
On a potential extension for himself: “I love Houston. I love the city. I love the fans and I love being here. We’ll see what happens.”
- Springer also expressed his affinity for the Axe bat, which is now used by a few big-leaguers (Dustin Pedroia, Mookie Betts and others), noting that he feels like he has more control over his swing and that it works well with his unorthodox bat. Some writer over at Yahoo wrote about Axe a couple years ago, and it seems to be making a push to be sustainable among some of the biggest stars in the game. Our BP bats were Axe bats, and I definitely felt more control and less sting than I had in the past (albeit in a limited sample size).
- Springer and the Astros absolutely love playing Fortnite. More on that coming later in the week.
- Big thanks to Budweiser for setting up this awesome event and hosting a few of us in perfect weather while the northeast got slammed with snow once again. This post really isn’t an #ad, but I would really recommend their Landshark and Goose IPA brands, if you’ve never tried them. And not Natty Light. Please don’t make me drink any more Natty Light.