It was an only-in-California kind of day. On a February afternoon, two friends and I walked into Palm Springs Stadium with the temperature hovering north of 60 and a bright sun soaking the bleachers. Back east, baseball fans could only dream of warm, grassy afternoons at the ballpark. In fact, that day a big blizzard was burying the East Coast. But because we live in the land of fruits and nuts, Brendan, Scott and I were able to enjoy some beer and baseball during the “worst” of Southern California’s winter.
Playing that day were the Palm Desert Coyotes and the Coachella Valley Snowbirds. Founded in 2010, the California Winter League is an independent league for players striving to get picked up by a major league organization. In fact, at least 50% of its players have been signed to the bigs at the conclusion of the CWL season the last three years.
Even though it was the playoffs, Palm Springs Stadium still had that laidback minor league flavor. Every light stanchion doubled as a cell phone tower and senior citizen leagues played in diamonds just past the outfield fences. Tickets were $8 and, by a quick survey of the crowd, the revenue for the day was probably around $240.
The schedule on the website was wrong – another minor league quirk – so we got to the game in the third of seven innings. The great thing about these games is that the lack of crowd noise allows you to sample the sounds of the game. You can sit near the dugout and hear the players drop f-bombs and complain about the umps or sit up near the press box and hear the announcers call the game live. The young guy calling the CWL game was overly excitable, yelling “Everyone’s joining the strikeout party!” when the pitcher racked up a K.
The game ended – I didn’t write down the score – and we headed to the local Indian casino (our second of the weekend). After winning a couple bucks at Pai Gow Poker, we continued west to Redlands to visit Hangar 24 Craft Brewery. If you live in California, you’ve probably seen their beers. Most people know the Orange Wheat, which now shares space with the big boys in the beer aisle of Costco. My first exposure to the brand was, fittingly, on tap at a baseball game in Lake Elsinore two years ago.
It’s immediately clear when you pull up to the brewery how it got its name. On one side of the street is a warehouse-style brewery. On the other, the airplanes, tarmac and hangars of Redlands Airport. The brewery got its name because founder Ben Cook hung out in nearby hangar 24 after flying and drank homebrew with his buddies.
Hangar 24 still exudes that small start-up vibe even though the brewery is an emerging star on the craft beer scene. We arrived just time for the tour. Donning our safety glasses (a first for a brewery tour), we followed our guide through tanks bought off the defunct Monte Carlo Brewery in Las Vegas. Though Orange Wheat is their rock star – making up about 70% of sales – the brewery also keeps to its homebrew roots, producing 7-gallon cask seasonals that use only local-grown in-season products. (In fact, even the Orange Wheat uses whole local oranges.) Carbonated in the cask, these beers are served straight from the barrel at the brewery.
For now, Hangar 24’s offerings are only available in California but they hope to expand soon to Nevada (Las Vegas first, of course). They are also quickly outgrowing their intimate warehouse with its patio view of the soaring Cessnas, which is where Scott, Brendan and I finished off our quick Beer and Baseball trip. A couple favorite brews we tried: the malty winter seasonal Hullabaloo, the Chocolate Porter, which has vanilla beans added post fermentation and the very floral, mildly bitter Columbus IPA.
P.S. I was just informed about Hangar 24’s new special release… Baseball Beer. How perfect is that? I hope I find it at the ballpark this summer. See you out at the game!