greeting me with a playful pirouette
at the Willie Mays statue outside Oracle Park
where we had agreed to meet.
It was the newest chapter of a friendship
between two people with nothing in common
except a passion for the national pastime.
Opening her small, chic Parisian purse,
“Tati” presented me with my reward
for detective services—a box seat ticket
to see the Giants play ball under the lights,
with nine innings (or more) of her company.
“I’m all yours now!” she exclaimed as if the gift
of herself was even more desirable than the ticket.
Tati was a highly disciplined ballet artist
whose heart belonged to the discipline
of her highly demanding profession.
Off stage, however, the Ukrainian refugee
was a free-spirited charmer who’d adopted America
and embraced what she called “America’s game.”
“I absolutely adore baseball,” she told me,
as if to reassure me of her national loyalty.
But while she was undoubtedly fascinated
and bemused by the sport and spectacle of baseball,
her understanding of it had yet to reach first base.
Her ceaseless questions about the game
required me to act as a guide, providing her
detailed information about balks and bunts,
high flies that hit the foul pole, stolen bases
(“Will the thieves be prosecuted?” Tati asked),
catchers flashing finger signals in the squat
and pitchers with signals buzzing in their ear,
the infield fly rule, the ground rule double,
the hidden meaning of “Bull Durham,”
and the mystery of the suicide squeeze
which Tati theorized was an idea borrowed
from the Japanese code of honorable self-sacrifice:
“Must the runner take his life if he fails to score?”
she asked with a faint smile on her lips.
All of which was a pleasant diversion
from my recent investigations—-
the body at the foot of a spiral staircase
that may have been placed there
to resemble an unfortunate accident;
the blackmail of a prominent politician
who swore he had no connection
to bribery, fraud and other political pastimes;
and the disappearance of Pumpkin the cat
from the premises of Mrs. Bethany Sweeney.
Baseball gave me a welcome respite from detection
and so it was that I sailed down to Frisco
(trying not to be tempted by the abundant
Bay halibut), to catch a game and further
the education of the calorie-conscious ballerina
who allowed herself one small bite of hot dog
and two sips of cold beer, asking me afterward
“Is this what Americans call gourmet dining?”
The team we came to cheer had won 107 games
the previous season, but was now floundering,
plagued by unreliable starters and relievers,
and inconsistent hitters whose lapses
contributed to a five-game losing streak.
What we cheered was a messy comeback,
filled with bloopers and blunders.
Our pitchers blew a comfortable lead
and surrendered a total of 12 runs,
but our hitters kept coming back to life,
led by a bubblegum-blowing slugger
with bleached blond hair and a power swing
that sent the last of his three homers
415 feet into the bordering bay
where fast-paddling kayakers scrambled
to retrieve the priceless souvenir.
“What good is a soggy baseball?” Tati asked.
When the 13th and winning run
slid across the plate in extra innings,
the Giants erupted out of the dugout
like ecstatic children, celebrating
the improbable victory with shouts and cries,
hugs, pats, punches, slaps and ice water
tossed liberally on key players.
“Shouldn’t it be champagne?” Tati asked,
“Or is ice water their way of showing love?”
Love? To answer, I quoted
an immortal philosopher of the game,
hoping to set her straight
with the wisdom of Yogi Berra.
“Love is the most important thing
in the world, but baseball is pretty good too,”
“It’s getting cold and damp,” Tati shook her head
as the Frisco fog and diving seagulls closed in.
“Can we please go somewhere warm
and have ourselves a nice cozy nightcap?”
Sailing to the Delta the next day,
we stopped for lunch at the riverside hot spot
of Los Hermanos de Ajo in Stockton.
The harbor was filled to capacity and the deck
of the popular rendezvous was crowded
with Bay Area sightseers fresh off their boats,
eager for refreshment with an unparalleled view
of the spacious Delta, a vista that seemed as open
and limitless as the sea and as tempting to explore.
With small boats constantly emerging
and returning to the nearby marina,
it was easy for onlookers on deck
to imagine themselves aboard.
Given the capacity crowd, however,
we thought it best to sail on
to the more accessible destination
of Yolanda’s Cantina de La Delta.
There, to our surprise, we encountered
another flotilla of Bay Are explorers
waiting their turn in the shade of palms
to enter the modest Delta eatery
whose reputation was no longer a secret.
But here we had an advantage.
Bypassing the crowd, we went round
to the rear door of the kitchen
where Yolanda kept a small table for me.
She welcomed us with her usual suggestion
of the daily special (the only menu option)
and asked about the game we’d witnessed.
The two of us recapped our impressions
of the fogtown team and explained how
its triumph left us no less than astonished
given its recent problems and losses.
To our surprise, Yolanda (who had seen the game
on TV), offered us an answer to the mystery,
“But you see, my dears, your bubblegum slugger
was more sure of himself than the others.
He persisted, and his example led teammates
to share his confidence and his power.
It only takes one strong hero–or heroine–
to inspire the weary. That is what I do
every day in my kitchen, lifting the spirits
and energy of my hard-working crew.
We must work together if we are to succeed.
Todo por una y una por todo!”
Amazing how a woman who spends
most of her life in a cramped, hot kitchen
could solve a baseball puzzle
that stumped experts and reveal herself
to be a shrewd and astute student of the game.
“So it’s all about inspiring courage
and conviction in others, is that
how you see it?” Tati asked.
“I get it now,” I chimed in,
“If you can’t stand the heater,
get out of the batter’s box,”
“And the kitchen,” Yolanda nodded.
“It’s the first rule of ballet, too,” Tati agreed.
“Don’t let your limitations overshadow
your talents. Instead, let your talents
overwhelm your limitations.”
“Ah. bueno!” Yolanda smiled
as the daily special arrived.
Neither of us had the courage
to ask the chef just what it was
we were eating, but Yolanda saw
the look of puzzlement on our faces
and hastened to provide an explanation.
“Esta es mi juego de beisbol especiale!
Un mundo de sabor con una salsa nueva
que tiena notas de soya, ajonjoli,
ajo y pimienta negra–freshly prepared
for my two fellow fans of Los Gigantes!”
“What was all that she said?” Tati asked
when Yolanda left us to return to cooking
and empowering her weary assistants.
“Oh, never mind the ingredients,” I advised.
“Just smile prettily when she comes back
and tell her you’ve dined
in the finest restaurants of Europe
and nothing compares with her dish—
not even the haute cuisine of Paris!”
“Oh, she won’t believe that,” Tati scoffed.
“No, but she’ll find the exaggeration
so amusing and kind-hearted on your part
that she’ll insist on embracing you.
She’s a powerful wise woman,
so try not to wince when she hugs.”
Tatiana played her part so well
that Yolanda insisted on serving her
a steaming bowl of her pumpkin soup
and revealed how its secret spice blend
of cumin, coriander and cardamom
combined to create what the chef called
“the healthiest, tastiest soup in the world–
and just think what it can do for your dancing!”
The queen of the ballet stage laughed
at what she thought was hot air
from the queen of the kitchen
until she thought twice
and put the storied soup to the test.
Which may explain why, since their meeting,
the two fans of major league baseball
and superior soup have remained
steadfast friends and confidantes.