I read with some sadness that Hall of-Fame pitcher Tom Seaver had died. Every baseball fan recognizes the name of the former Mets great, and quite a few Napa County residents knew him as a grape grower and vintner.
I am fortunate to have crossed paths with Seaver through my job with the Napa County Resource Conservation District, which included erosion control consultation for Napa County’s regulatory apparatus, in effect as a liaison between the county and the farmers.
I knew that Seaver had submitted a vineyard plan, so I was not completely agog when he swung his lanky frame off an ATV to greet me at the gate of his Diamond Mountain property. Few Napa County vineyard owners (“growers”, in common parlance) in Napa are intimately involved in day-to-day operations. Mostly I dealt with vineyard managers on these occasions and, when the proprietors did show up, it was likely to be in Gucci loafers, with or without tassels.
I expected a firm, athletic handshake, but Seaver’s leathery callouses were not earned at the gym. They rather suggested some connection to the Felco 2’s on his belt and turf-shined shovel in the back of his ATV. In short, my first impression of his provenance was positive.
No sooner had Seaver opened the gate for me, than two big chocolate Labradors came bounding down the hill out of the vines to investigate me. I have a weakness for labs and, recognizing their amiable intent, made the mistake of greeting them with open arms. The 90-pound male was particularly exuberant, and laid open a gouge on my forearm, which immediately began to bleed, rather profusely.
Neither Seaver nor I was particularly happy about this mishap. Though I protested that it was merely a flesh-wound, it was, in fact, too ugly to ignore. The vineyard office where Tom took me to dress my wound turned out to be a miniature trophy room, with baseball memorabilia dating to the ‘60s everywhere. It didn’t take much to get him to talk baseball.
Tom was only about two years my senior, probably about 70 at that time. I had to tell him about the two guys on my Vacaville Babe Ruth League team who had made the Majors; he was polite enough to at least pretend to remember them. (Of course they were big stars in Vacaville; in MLB, not so much.) I also told him I’d been a Milwaukee Braves fan when I was a lad, and that lit him up a bit.
I told him that my son’s middle name is Aaron, after Hammerin’ Hank, and that my real boyhood hero had been third baseman Eddie Matthews. Oooh, he said, Matthews was a real bad-ass. People gave him a wide berth, and he ended up drinking himself to death at a young age.
Tom said that when he first “came up” he thought he could throw his fastball past anyone. He got his come-uppance when he threw one under Matthews’ chin, and then tried to tuck the next one, letter-high on the inside corner to the left-handed pull hitter. A heart-beat later, he watched a line drive clear the right field fence by 20 feet, just inside the pole.
I have a baseball I got at Seals Stadium in 1958, from a game I attended as a star-struck 11-year old. My Braves lost by something like 14-10. Willie Mays hit three home runs, and Matthews hit two. After the game, I waited outside the visitors’ dressing and got the ball signed by several notable Braves, including Eddie Matthews. I’ll always cherish that ball, but Tom Seaver made it even more meaningful to me. Thanks, Tom.
Tom Seaver died of the COVID-19 virus, complicated by Lewy body dementia. He was a real grapegrower.
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