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Players and fans stand for the national anthem during spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz. Photo by Paul Hankes
Cheers! North CountyColumns

Cheers! North County: Beer and Baseball

It’s beer and baseball, baseball and beer. It’s BEER and baseball!

Spring training is underway, and I am pumped. The crack of the bat. The smell of fresh-cut grass. The chatter of the ballplayers. “That’s two!” “C’mon batter, c’mon!” And let’s not forget the beer.

“Back in the day,” is how my father (and his father) would have started this paragraph. Now, finally, I can say it too. Back in the day, there were very few options at the ballpark. Miller or Budweiser. Maybe a Pabst Blue Ribbon here, or a Narragansett there (shout out to Camden Yards), but no more. Ballparks have gotten wise, loading up on craft beer options.

The Petco Park Insider lists 14 local breweries pouring an estimated 85 different beers this year along with some outsider craft beer, and a host of other domestic options.

This year, I couldn’t wait until Opening Day. We packed up the car and headed for our first spring training in Scottsdale for a Cactus League game between the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers.

A baseball fan wearing a San Diego-based Belching Beaver Brewery t-shirt. Photo by Ryan Woldt

The morning of the game was cool, but the type of cool that implies a hot summer day on the way. The kind of heat that goes well with the smoke and smell of grilled bratwurst, coolers filled beer (and now hard seltzers), babies in uniforms, and “#1 Fan” personalized license plates in a parking lot filled with tailgaters. Outside the stadium, the birds were tittering at us, and I swear they were saying, “Let’s play two!”

Before the game, we stopped at a local coffee shop for a caffeine boost, and the bar & grill next door, Original Gravity, was hosting a bicycle pub crawl featuring five San Diego-based breweries. Pizza Port, Second Chance, Coronado, Mason Ale Works and Stone Brewing were on draft for the day. Reminders of our local beer scene popped up everywhere, all day long, including a fan wearing a Belching Beaver t-shirt in the beer line, or someone sharing a Stone IPA at the tailgate.

At American Family Fields, they had Saint Archer Hazy IPA on draft, and cans of Cutwater Whiskey Mule available at the concessions stand. They may not be locally owned anymore, but they still have the San Diego name on the outside.

SanTan Brewing out of Chandler, Ariz. was the most represented independent and local craft brewer. Moon Juice Galactic IPA on draft, made with Galaxy and Nelson-Sauvin hops, was our particular favorite.

When someone, anyone, learned I was from San Diego, the first question they asked was, “What’s the best brewery out there?”

An ice-cold glass of Leinenkugel’s Barrelman Ale. Photo by Ryan Woldt

“That’s like asking a parent, ‘Which child is your favorite?’” I replied, and they would laugh, but then they’d say, “But seriously, what should I look for?” I scribbled a list of breweries to check out the next time they made it out to the West Coast.

All that, plus they played a baseball game. The stadium was beautiful with a red-brick facade, grass seating in the outfield, and shaded seats down the lines. There were no security guards stopping anyone from sitting in an empty seat, and the players were right there! Granted we didn’t know most of the kids out there trying to make the team, but with every crack of the bat, or smack of a ball on leather, our excitement for a summer of baseball only grew.

At the game, I was drinking a draft of Leinenkugel’s Barrelman Ale. Leinenkugel’s Brewery is one of America’s oldest breweries founded by Jacob Leinenkugel and John Miller in 1867. You’ve probably seen their Summer Shandy at the market, but they make a full lineup of lagers and ales too. They sold to Miller Brewing Co. in 1988, but in a corporate twist, they left the family in charge. Dick Leinenkugel is still the brewery president.

The game ended in a loss for the home team Brewers, but no one left disappointed. It’s spring training, and the games don’t count. They’re just fodder to help build the anticipation for Opening Day. Beer and baseball. Baseball and beer. I can’t think of a better way to spend a day. See you at the ballpark.

Pro-tip: Beer at the game isn’t cheap. Even at Spring Training pints and tallboys were $10-13.00. Plan ahead and visit one of the neighboring breweries first. At Petco Park, you can hear the crowd, and even partially see into the stadium from the upstairs patio at Half Door Brewing.

Pro-tip: If you live in North County you can take the Coaster train all the way downtown, and walk to the park. They have a special late train to accommodate fans heading back north.

Pro-tip: If you’re traveling for Major League baseball, Sports Illustrated has put together a ballpark beer guide you can find on their website.

Final thoughts: Next week is St. Patrick’s Day. Skip the green beer and look for a local Irish-style option instead. Try Second Chance Brewing’s award-winning Mulligan Irish-style Red Ale. You won’t regret it.