Opening Day of Major League Baseball inspired this interview with AJ Hinch. I was introduced to AJ a few years ago when he and his wife Erin came to our home for lunch as guests of our other guests. AJ is a proud Gentleman Farmer Wine Club Collective member, has introduced me to many of his friends visiting the Napa Valley, and takes an interest in my monthly recipes (I think). He is also the manager of the Detroit Tigers and has a World Series win under his belt for 2017. When we met at our house, Jeff and I got to see the World Series parade video on his phone from his perspective, in the parade.
April 7 was Opening Day. In this interview, AJ takes us into spring with baseball wins, dinner with basketball and baseball royalty, pandemic smoking, and the love of Riley.
JW: The Tigers started with a win. Congratulations. How did you celebrate Opening Day?
AJH: Winning is always fun, but it is especially cool on Opening Day. I’ve been lucky because I’ve never lost on Opening Day as a manager. I’m always good for a celebratory glass of wine as I wind down after a big day.
JW: Friends and family excluded, who are two people you’d like to share a long and lingering meal with?
AJH: Great question. We just honored Jackie Robinson on April 15th by wearing #42. The more I learn about his life and his journey, the more I know I would have loved to have had a meal with him. I cannot fathom what his challenges were like when he created a path in baseball for so many. Another person I looked up to as a kid and would love to share stories with is Michael Jordan. His competitiveness and will to win was second to none and how he grew into one of the most iconic sports figures in my lifetime would be incredible to hear about.
JW: What would you serve? What do you enjoy cooking?
AJH: If I’m the one doing the cooking, it has to be something I can smoke on my smoker. During the pandemic, I learned to make just about anything on a smoker. I’d be most confident in my ribs, wings, chicken, or salmon. I’d probably make it all just to make everyone happy.
JW: Was there a moment when you first made a connection with wine and food?
AJH: I started getting into wine once I got married and was introduced to everything about it. I started out just knowing what wine I liked and what I didn’t like. Recently, I’ve tried to learn about the different ways it is made, how it ages, and when I should be drinking any given vintage. I’m still not well versed in pairing foods with wine, but I plan on keeping up my wine tastings.
JW: What is your spirit animal?
AJH: Without a doubt, my spirit animal is our dog, Riley. She’s a 2-year-old Boxer with a lot of energy, a kid spirit, some old soul, and plenty of loyalty. She’s my go-to walk/play partner when I need a good mix of aggressiveness and playfulness.
JW: And from the Proust Questionnaire, #35, what is your motto?
AJH: Do it right or do it again. My dad raised me to focus on every detail with everything from homework to washing the car to mowing the grass. Now my kids and my players have to do it right or do it again. It works!