Billy Surface

Personalities

Vernon Wells Is Juicing

When his baseball career came to an end, the three-time All-Star turned to winemaking.

After a three-time All-Star Major League Baseball career that ended with the Yankees, you retired to Westlake. So I assume that means you didn’t save your money?
[laughs] Yeah, we moved on up out of Arlington. Early on in my career, we moved from Arlington to Southlake and then from Southlake to Westlake.

Even while you were playing, you still came back to North Texas?
Yeah, definitely. My boys have been in school here, and we travel, obviously, during the summers. We had a house in Toronto when I played for the Blue Jays, but we’d shut it down in the winter. This is always our home, always meant to be our home.

You and your former Angels teammate, Chris Iannetta, started a wine brand in 2012. Its name, JACK, is an acronym of your kids’ names. So what kind of grapes grow best in Westlake?
[laughs] We’d have to talk to the Grapevine people, but not much.

Obviously, that’s a bad joke. But you’ve gone beyond a brand. Now you have a proper vineyard in Napa?
We do. My wife and I purchased the property a couple of years ago, and now we’re starting to use the grapes from that property. We have 30 acres, and about 12 are planted, mainly with Merlot. We’re planning on planting a couple of acres of Cab grapes up there. It was a good investment.

Wine Spectator has given JACK some pretty good scores.
Yeah, our Sauvignon Blanc started off in the high 80s, and now our newest is in the low 90s. Our Cab started off in the low 90s, and our most recent, which hasn’t been released yet, will actually come in at a 96.

Your PR people were kind enough to send me a bottle. It was a red blend. My assessment is my wife and I were able to drink the crap out of it.
That is the only way you can value wine. You can put a number on anything. It’s whatever. But if you like it, you like it. That’s all that matters.

The Blue Jays drafted you right out of Arlington’s Bowie High. But before they drafted you, you had signed a letter of intent to go to UT to play baseball and football. Do you think that you ever could have played professional football?
It was probably about as crazy an idea as thinking I was going to be a Major League Baseball player, so my answer would have been yes, especially at the time. I played quarterback. I probably wouldn’t have played it in college. I would have probably had to play receiver or a safety position. On the football field, I played with scared speed. I didn’t want to get hit, so I ran as fast as I could, as if a dog was chasing me.

Are baseball games too long?
Yes. I think they should take less time between innings. I think you can also keep the viewer involved a little more. For instance, if the guys were mic’ed up.

You coach your two boys at Covenant Christian Academy, in Colleyville. Which sports?
I help out with pretty much everything. I started helping out with basketball, too. I coach the junior high football team and then offensive coordinator for the varsity team. And then I coach junior high baseball, just because my youngest son is in junior high. I’m far more busy now than I was during any baseball season. It’s a full-time volunteer position. I’ll put it that way.

What do you think about the Rangers’ new manager, Chris Woodard?
He’s a former teammate. We came up together with the Blue Jays. He’s a really good hire. He’s a baseball man through and through, and he’s a people person. You need someone who has struggled at the highest level, who has been there and done that, and understands how difficult it is to play that game, and he’s going to be perfect, being able to relate to the guys.

You’re 39 years old. Now that a good friend of yours is the skipper for the Rangers, what are the chances that you can do a Rafael Palmeiro deal, where they call you back up for one more season of glory with your home team?
I’ve always said I can give somebody a really good two days. After that, my body’s done. So I probably wouldn’t be worth anything to anybody.

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