Time, of course, is a social construct. Giving time names, numbers, and shape is something we tried to do it, as if we were somehow its master.
Routine, though, is not. Without names or hours or seconds, that fiery orange blob of space-gas is going to microwave us at roughly the same time tomorrow as it did today, the seasons will continue to ebb and flow, and how we mesh with those movements is much more inherently natural than whether the clock on your coffee maker says 7:58 or 8:06.
Baseball, for me, is part of that routine. Was part of that routine. It’s what cracks (cracked) the thaw of winter, told me it was time to open the windows and cut the grass again, and what gave the extra hours of evening daylight a soundtrack once every solar cycle. And while the season we’ve almost assuredly lost hasn’t even technically been rendered late just yet, knowing that I’m not going to see it in the routine in which I have come to expect has sent my brain into a bit of a wander.
In many ways I think that’s just what happens to brains when their socially-constructed ages cross 30. Regardless of exactly when it hits people, almost everyone on the planet at some point has a thought process that changes gears from predominantly “I’m going to go see and do things” to “I wonder if I’ll ever see or do this again.” It’s where nostalgia meets the sound of inevitability, Mr. Anderson.
In the process of looking back on the baseball of yore, other memories began to fall in place, too. Where I was when Clutch Man Monie took John Axford deep for the most GABP of GABP dingers, a walk-off 3-run blast on Opening Day in 2011. The PS2 remote I smashed against the wall when I found out the Cincinnati Reds had traded Aaron Boone to the Yankees for a giant nothingburger in 2003. Running around my parents’ TV room like a little idiot when Eric Davis hit his Game 1 dinger off Dave Stewart in 1990, and how slightly older lil’ me damn near cried when reading that the Reds had brought Davis back for the 1996 season. The laugh I cackled when reading that Billy Bates was listed at 5’7”.
There will be baseball again. I’m sure of it. There will be memorable baseball events, too, ones that will sear your memory and keep you steadfastly aware of not just what happened, but how, why, where, and with whom you got to experience it. Who you were eating wings with when 2023 NL MVP Nick Senzel hit that walk-off homer off Walker Buehler in the 2025 NLCS. How your buddy Nate spilled his beer all over you when Luis Castillo struck out Bryce Harper to wrap his complete game, cementing his 2022 NL Cy Young Award - the first in Reds franchise history. The baseball will be the conduit, of course, but the who’s and where’s of those memories will end up just as much a part of them, too, especially for those of us fans who are no longer a stone’s throw from GABP to see them all in-person.
That last aspect is where this blogpost was originally heading, and where I think it’s about to end up. The 2020 season, when it finally commences, will be the 9th season in which I’ve lived far, far away from Reds country. Colorado has become my home, where I still root hard and pound keyboards in favor of the Reds, but is by no means the only place in which I’ve lived and cried with how the franchise has performed. And in looking back over some of my times elsewhere, I stumbled into a want to remember some places, from Kentucky to Wyoming to Tennessee, that have given me a similar kind of smile over the years.
I know this is largely a baseball blog, so if you’re only here for that, well, a) I apologize for there not being more about baseball here lately, and b) this is about to get very, very far away from baseball.
Pizza is muse 1A, and in times of no baseball it becomes the default leader. And while there are increasingly shut-down moves being rightfully made in our society to help stem the explosion of COVID-19 across our planet, for now, I still have at least limited access to my pizza, thankfully. In the silo of nostalgia, though, I started thinking about pizzas of yore, too, particularly the ones that I no longer have access to on the regular, either due to them closing down altogether or due to the delivery distance now being much, much too far.
[insert caveat about how baseball blogging gets increasingly maniacal during a dearth of actual baseball]
Without wasting any more of your time, I submit four parlors from my previously lived life that were excellent in their own rights, imploring those of you who have access to them to frequent them in whatever way you’re allowed in times like these.
Pizza Perfect (Nashville, TN)
The name of the place pretty much spells it out - Pizza Perfect. There are no frills, nothing fancy, not trying to be a Rolls Royce when an F-150 will do. Classic NY style thin-crust slices, and while they’ll custom make your size pie and sling it to your door, I always enjoyed the in-parlor experience here, where they served giant slices at your behest - on those classic metal plates, at that.
While pizza is their game and their name, they also have a pretty wide Italian menu to boast, too. My favorite order was to snag a pep slice and a beef lasagna, knowing the slice would come out first and I’d have a cozy 10-15 min wait as the lasagna was made ready. Another perk of this lovely spot is that it’s walk-up, counter-style service where they ask for your name and call it out over a loudspeaker when it’s ready for you to fetch, so you can call yourself whatever you so desire each and every time you place an order.
Do so, and just a few minutes later you and everyone else in attendance will hear “Two pep slices for Slappy! Pep and mushroom slice with a side salad ready for Mister Chickens!”
Bearno’s Pizza (Louisville, KY)
I’m cheating a bit here, but only because, at the time, I once felt cheated by Bearno’s, too. For a time, they had a location in my hometown of Lexington, KY, and it was a skip down the road from where I lived. Rather, you could say that my bed was a skip down the road from where I lived, which was effectively on the corner of Woodland and Euclid where Bearno’s, Lynagh’s, and the Fish Tank once thrived.
Sadly, that Lexington location (and the Fish Tank, damnit (RIP)) closed long ago, but there are still several locations down I-64 in Louisville, where Bearno’s has always called home.
If Pizza Perfect was the no-frills F-150, Bearno’s is more Pontiac GTO. It’s no luxury car, it’s a straight-up gas-guzzling powerhouse, with gobs of cheese and sauce that just flexes on you from the moment your senses pick it up. It’ll ooze on you. You’ll need napkins. You probably won’t finish a whole pie, and if you do, you’ll probably wish you didn’t, but it just tastes so.damn.good.
I miss Bearno’s and a pitcher of beer. Louisville friends, shoot an order to your local shop and enjoy one for me, would ya?
Backcountry Pizza & Tap-House (Boulder, CO)
The most accessible spot for me on this list is in a tantalizing location, as it’s only about a 45 minute drive up the road from me today. Of course, with Denver traffic that could mean 2+ hours at times, and considering a huge portion of the allure of the place is its absurdly deep beer collection, the idea of driving home from this place in the first place is pretty much a non-starter. So, I don’t get it like I used to in the year I lived just down the street in Boulder.
With Backcountry, it’s their crust. It’s hard to place exactly how important a good crust is in the pizza spectrum, but it’s amazing how often perfectly sourced cheese and sauce can taste just plain awful on an over-doughed piece of cardboard and cornmeal. Backcountry nails theirs, perhaps due to their in-house knowledge of beer, yeast, wheat, and the likes.
To the best of my knowledge, both the flagship Boulder location and the parlor in neighboring Nederland always have Russian River Blind Pig on tap, too, and there’s just something glorious about that one-two combo that I miss with incredible frequency.
Mountain High Pizza Pie (Jackson, WY)
This one hurts the most, and is therefore the one I saved for last.
Mountain High Pizza Pie was, by all accounts, where my love of pizza first took off. I ate the hell out of pizza long before first having it, mind you, but did so indiscriminately. Cut anything at all into a triangle, call it a pizza, and I’d shovel it down and move right back on with my life, but I’d never really found a brand before stumbling into this one.
Teenage years are such strange years, man.
Anyway, back when Jackson and the valley were still wilder than the current vacation homes and corporate condos would suggest, this little independent pizzeria popped up in the heart of downtown, just a beat over from the famed elk-antler arches in the town square. And while the friendly-dude nature of the place was a good, heartfelt story in its own right, the fact that they perfected the art of slinging hearty pies was even bigger. Rest assured, this place didn’t own the pizza market in Jackson because the place wasn’t big enough to support competition, Mountain High ran the pizza market because its pies just crushed the competition.
Big crust, the best cheese I think I’ve ever had on pies, and slung Fat Tire and Sierra Nevada to wash it all down years before that was cool.
Sadly, though, it closed for good a few years back, replaced by a place that slings ‘craft tacos and margeritas’ that’ll set you back $30 bucks just for smelling them. The rough and tumble pizza rode off into the sunset alonside much of the rough and tumble nature of old Jackson, emblematic of a time I’ll both forever cherish and forever miss. Mountain High was, in many ways, the Big Red Machine era of my pizza consumption, the glory days that set the tone for my fandom for the next few decades. For the next rest of my life, really, and I miss that I can’t house a few of their slices for old time’s sake.