Featuring the White Sands Pupfish, Old World Brewery, AZL Reds & Arizona Diamondbacks
After our harrowing overnight drive from Tucson, Josh and I woke up late in Las Cruces, had a coma-inducing Cracker Barrel breakfast and drove an hour northeast to Alamogordo through White Sands National Monument. This part of south-central New Mexico is famous for bombs. Back during the last months of WW2, the first nuclear device was tested at the White Sands Proving Ground and, in 1982, 3.5 million cartridges of the biggest video game “bomb” ever – E.T. for Atari – were allegedly buried and sealed under concrete at the Alamogordo landfill.
We joked as we drove into the small city that the only place we could drink was the Applebee’s that graced the one major shopping center. We weren’t far off. After driving through the entire city, we settled on the only other bar “in the neighborhood,” the Palm Side Lounge. This locals-only joint had a couple older couples – men in cowboy hats, ladies in plaid shirts – laughing boisterously at the bar and a jukebox playing country. Despite four tap handles on the wall, only Budweiser and Bud Light were on draught (just $2!). Craft beer was not to be in New Mexico.
The game that night was an independent Pecos League game pitting the hometown White Sands Pupfish against the Las Cruces Vaqueros. Independent baseball (any league unaffiliated with Minor League Baseball) is as entertaining as the play is shaky. We purchased cheap tickets and entered the “Aquarium.” A machine sticking out of the press box rained down soap bubbles to help further the theme. We took seats on the small bleachers near the bullpen. The closer you can get to the field to eavesdrop on the player’s banter the better. We heard them bust on each other, complain about calls on the field and comment on the groupies that came by to flirt. (Yes, there are groupies even at the lowest levels of the game). It was much more entertaining that the subpar baseball being played.
Just like the night before, a Mexican band played between innings. Mariachis de Jalisco may not have known when to stop playing between innings but ad-libbed a great version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” If this isn’t what makes America awesome, I don’t know what is.
After the game, we headed back toward Tucson but, as is de rigeur on these trips, we took a wrong turn and found ourselves in Texas, about 20 miles from the wilds of Ciudad Juárez. So, as usual, we made it to our hotel in the predawn hours. We passed the time in the car playing the “In My Pants” game. It’s pretty simple. Take any movie title and add “in my pants” to it. It’s funnier that you think. Some favorites: “Strictly Ballroom,” “He Got Game” and “Remember the Titans.”
The next day, fortified by Waffle House syrup, we drove to Phoenix, outracing a haboob bearing down from the east. We visited the Old World Brewery in an industrial area bordered on one side by a cemetery and the other by an RV Park. Old World, founded in 2008, had taken over an old post office. Inside, the brewery was bare bones with a bar, an open area with a makeshift stage and the brewing equipment in back.
We fortuitously arrived just in time for the tour, which was just a quick jaunt around the back of the post office led by head brewer Matt Mercer. We saw the brew kettle, walked 10 paces to the north, stopped at the bottling machine and we were done. Then, Josh and I ordered some beers while a patron belted out “White Wedding” on the nearby karaoke machine.
Our favorite was probably the Dark Knight Porter, which the bartender proclaimed was the best porter in the state. Arizona isn’t exactly a hotbed of craft beer and the beer was pretty tasty so this claim sounded credible. Their Praying Monk Belgian IPA was also pretty good and a nice example of a fairly rare hybrid style, an Old World/New World mix combining traditional Belgian yeast flavors with the bite of hops from the IPA style that American craft brewers have popularized. Also of note in the Old World lineup was the Arizona Honey Wheat, which the bartender told us used honey produced locally.
We left Old World just as the haboob caught up to us. We drove east to Goodyear to catch an Arizona League game. The AZL is a rookie league where recently drafted players get in some work before the end of the summer. They play at the spring training homes of their Major League parent teams. We showed up to the Reds complex only to be greeted by a sign that warned “Authorized Personnel Only.” While these games are ostensibly open to the public, the schedule is an uninvitingly confusing one-sheet, black-and-white PDF on the AZL website. Even the Wikipedia entry (currently) warns “few spectators show up for games.”
We walked into the restricted area to the field where a single bleacher was located down the right field line. The game was delayed by the wind storms brought on by the haboob and we got quizzical looks from players and staff. Josh thinks they thought we were scouts (since no one else would bother watching an AZL game). They eventually decided, though, we were just a couple of idiots and ignored us.
The game ended as lightning continued to flash all around the valley and we went to go hang with some friends that have an awesome local metal band called Blue Star. We caught up over a growler of Dark Knight Porter and I spent the night on the floor. (Those two aren’t necessarily related).
The next day, we got up for the Arizona Diamondbacks matinee. The D-backs advertise themselves as the most fan-friendly team in Major League Baseball. The fact that it was 99 outside but 77 under Chase Field’s air-conditioned dome was proof of that. Also worth noting is that beer is only $4 and their Panda Express concession stand serves sushi. Weird.
And just like that our abbreviated 2012 Beer and Baseball trip was over. Next year, hopefully, Josh will be able to get enough time off work so we can finally take a coast-to-coast Route 66 tour. For my part, I’ll try to not drink beer for six hours, sit in the sun for three and then make Josh drive while I nurse a pounding headache. No guarantees, though.