Tom Seaver is a satisfied man, trading the dirt of a pitcher’s mound for California vineyard soil — and he isn’t looking back.
Seaver is one of the greatest pitchers in Major League Baseball history. No qualifiers; no angled arguments necessary; and no need to roll out the stats. In 1992, when Cooperstown punched Seaver’s Hall of Fame ticket, he entered with the highest voting percentage (98.84) ever, beating Cobb, Aaron, Ruth, Mays, Williams, Musial, and the rest of baseball’s immortals.
In 1998, 11 years after retiring, Seaver left life in Connecticut and returned to his home state of California (A Fresno legend, he was raised in the Central Valley and his father worked in the raisin industry.) and bought 116 acres on Diamond Mountain with a commanding view of the northern Napa Valley. He didn’t buy the land just for scenery or location; in approximately 2000, Seaver began growing grapes on 3.5 acres and established Seaver Vineyards.
Meticulous and grinding as a pitcher, Seaver wasn’t moving blind, but was following a rough plan from 30 years earlier. “I was in the middle of a hot-shot career, about 28, probably the height of my playing days, and my brother-in-law asked me, ‘What are you going to do when you get done?’ … and off the top of my head I said, ‘I’m going to go back to California and raise grapes.’ I never forgot I said it; simple as that,” he tells Wine Spectator.
Seaver is no master in the vineyard. He doesn’t pretend to have a command of vineyard management or wine production and relies on the knowledge of several key employees. From the New York Times: “People didn’t come to the mound and tell me what to do. I do a lot of work, but I don’t make the decisions.”
He was consumed by pitching for 20 years — and the focus has shifted to growing grapes. Seaver is in the vineyard every single day, absolutely relishing hands-on time, pruning and weeding Cabernet sauvignon vines: “My heart lies in the vineyard. This is where the physical stuff is.”
Seaver, in a razor sharp article by Pat Jordan for Sports on Earth, can’t contain his love for the rows: “My vineyard manager (Jim Barbour) is my teacher. I just do what he tells me. Every day is exciting for me. I get mad when the sun isn’t up yet. I’m a single-focus guy. Pitching. The vineyard. I’m the worker. I pick up crap. Trim the vines a little. I did that yesterday for 12 hours, worked all my muscles and slept like a baby.”
Jordan describes how Seaver was drawn to horticulture even during his baseball days: “… he was an avid gardener. He stuck galvanized nails into the dirt in flowerpots to give his flowers iron. He’d chew tobacco and spit the juice into the pots, saying it was good for the soil.”
Seaver’s wife Nancy runs the business side of the vineyard and “leaves notes all over the house to remind him of things” because despite the contentment and pleasure he’s pulled from the vineyard, the last few years haven’t been without difficulty. Seaver suffers from short-term memory loss — names and faces were often lost, and he feared the onset of dementia. But at the beginning of 2013, Seaver was diagnosed with Stage 3 Lyme disease, contracted from a tick bite 20 years earlier in Connecticut. Dormant for almost two decades, Lyme disease was pounding Seaver with “… memory loss, a sleep disorder, nausea and a general overall feeling of chemical imbalance.” Fortunately for Seaver, treatment is working, a mix of medicine and vitamins — but no more Cabernet allowed.
A baseball giant has gone vineyard small and couldn’t be happier about it. From the NYT: “Every night, when you close the gate and look back at the house,” Seaver said, his voice cracking and his eyes welling up with tears, “and you realize, ‘How cotton-picking lucky am I?’”
For Pat Jordan's complete article on Seaver, see The Constant Gardener
*Photo courtesy of Tage Olsin, Wikimedia Commons