I was a writer that had pretty much found her niche as an interviewer.
I learned that people had no trouble opening up to a small freckled faced redhead with no discernible tits.
My first hit interview was with a young chef whose food I liked. Her restaurant was doing OK but it was her struggle to be accepted as a woman chef that held the interview together.
The article had ended up way to long for the features editors of the magazines I freelanced for so I posted the whole thing on my website. Within a week it was getting over a thousand discreet hits a day.
By the second week a national women's magazine had bought the article and printed the whole thing, recipes included.
After the article came out you could not get a reservation to her restaurant.
I soon had lots of young and not so young chefs volunteering their time for me.
One of my e-mails from that article was from a baseball player for our local MLB team. Pedro Quinn was not a superstar but he was an important part of the team. Fans shouted "Quinn" when he made a spectacular play in the field or stole a base. He was thirty-three years old, had won a gold glove and had been selected to an all-star game. He was a charismatic bachelor.
Quinn wrote that his hobby was cooking and thanked me for getting the chefs recipes on-line. He wrote that he ate often at the restaurant I featured and agreed with everything I said except for the gumbo. He said his recipe for gumbo beat the chefs over and back.
I wrote back that he had made a bold statement for somebody that had been thrown out twice in the same game trying to steal second.
He challenged me to compare and invited me to his townhouse and take the taste test. I had to promise that if his was better I had to post that on my site.
I wrote back that he had a deal if I could also interview him.
I was very happy over that, I finally had a shot of getting an article written up in a sports magazine. I was a sports junkie in general and a baseball junkie in particular.
His townhouse was nicely furnished and tastefully decorated. I asked him if he had hired someone but he said he had done it himself. He lived alone.
He took me into his kitchen and I saw that it was the kitchen of a serious cook. I had brought with me two cups of my friend's gumbo and he took them and poured them into a crock-pot to keep them warm.
All of the prepped items were already neatly lined up and ready, some had tentacles, some were alive.
After I had made a note of the items, (he did use okra), he started right into the roux. He talked as I wrote and immediately saw a difference in the recipes; he put lemon zest in the roux.
He kept the roux at a latte shade then began assembling his gumbo in what he called an olla, a deep cast iron pot. I knew that his mother was from Puerto Rico and about half of the cooking terms he used were in Spanish, which he sometimes translated into English, sometimes not.
He allowed the okra and fresh corn to cook for five minutes before he added the live crayfish and blue crabs, another five minutes before he added the oysters. He let it simmer for about twenty minutes as we talked about his cooking.
"I assume it was your mother that that taught you to cook," I said.
"Yes she did. She told me I would never go hungry or broke if I ended up with a girl that didn't cook. Dad played in the Puerto Rican winter league every year and that was were he met Mamy, Mom.
When my dad was trying to make it to the major leagues we did not have much money and we lived everywhere, usually for just one year. We even lived in Japan. Mom adapted her cooking to take advantage of what was local and cheap. I learned that you can make a delicious dinner out of nearly anything, including octopus."
"That is a fabulous culinary background to have," I said.
"Yes it was but when I started to make real money I fell into the steak and lobster trap and have just recently gone back to the somewhat exotic and the familiar stuff. Once again my favorite meal is arroz con gandules and pernil."
"Rice, pigeon peas, and pork roast?"
"Exactly. Do you know some Spanish or have you eaten the dish?"
"Both. I like it but found the whole meal depends on the flavor of the gandules."
"True, I prefer the new green ones."
"Do you make paella?"
"My second favorite meal. I cook it when I have company. It is Mamy's favorite. She tells me she likes mine better than the one she makes but she only says that so she wont have to cook it."
The gumbo was done so we took the restaurant's gumbo and his gumbo to the dining room and we dug in. I had to admit that his dish was the better of the two but it was not gumbo and I told him that.
He reminded me that I had watched the whole process and I had seen him make gumbo.
I told him I knew that but what I was tasting was not gumbo, it was something different. I reminded him that I did agree it was the better dish.
He asked me, "If it's not gumbo then what is it."
"I don't know. Pedro's Gumbo maybe."
He gave me a big smile and said, "Pedro's Gumbo. I like it."
As we settled into the interview I asked him questions that would not be in the teams press kit.
"Your Dad played for ten years."
"Yes, his career topped out at triple A. Dad had a September call up to the show once. He talked about his experience in the majors as if he had just visited a city of gold, El Dorado. He never made it back up and soon settled into a coaching and scouting career. He was killed in a car wreck while scouting in Santo Domingo.
I had just been promoted from low A to high A when it happened. I was worthless that year and was a throw-in in a trade that winter.
I was very depressed, about to quit baseball. But Mom reminded me that Dad's fondest wish was for me to make it to the big leagues. She said that she would appreciate it if I tried to honor his wish. That got me off my butt."
"How old were you?"
" Nineteen. That winter I got in touch with a friend of my Dad that was a coach for my new team. Coach Jimmy even paid my way to the spring training complex and worked me hard. He told the organization that I did not need to go back to Low A and they listened to him. I had a great year and was promoted to Double A before the year ended."
"You spent a year in double A but you stayed in Triple A only two months and when they brought you up the team put you at second instead of short where you had played exclusively. How difficult was that?"
"Very, very difficult. The team had lost its second baseman and decided that I would do just as good a job as the guys that were available for a lot less money. I was going to be sent back down when our regular came back.
It seemed that the harder I tried the worse I got. It was not until the team brought in coach Jimmy for me that I finally began to get the footwork. I did not make an error after August and my mental mistakes almost dissapeared. Our regular second baseman had a major setback in his rehab from knee surgery so I finished the year in the bigs. I even led the team in steals."
"Is it true you cried in the locker room after the two error inning?"
Pedro sighed and asked me where I had heard that.
"Coach Jimmy. He is my uncle. No, I have never told anyone and will not unless you tell me I can do so. Uncle Jimmy and I were fishing when he got the phone call from the assistant GM."
"I love your uncle. He got me to the All-Star game."
"And you took him to the All Star game. He has not stopped talking about it yet," I said.
Quinn smiled and said, "My favorite memory of the game was when I took him out on the field with me during batting practice and about twenty guys ran to him to shake his hand and hug him. Two of the biggest stars in the game actually kissed him on the top of his baldhead. It was great."
"You did not get in the game. Were you upset over that?"
"Not the least. There was a future hall of famer at second and another on the bench. I knew going in that the only way I would get on the field would be to pinch run. The skip later apologized to me for not giving me the chance to do that, but I was OK with it. I figured I would get other chances."
"Then you broke your leg. You lost a year and a half."
"And two years after I made it back there are times that it really hurts. The pain sneaks up on me but it seldom happens at the ballpark. Unfortunately it happens often at night. Some mornings come before I have had any sleep."
"Any animosity between you and Julio?"
"No. But he does know that if given the chance and I can do it cleanly in a slide I will break his leg. Just kidding.
Remember that his slide was so atrocious he dislocated his ankle and broke his wrist. He caught his spike just as he slid to the bag and his speed just vaulted him into the air over the bag and he landed on me in a heap. I remember that as he tumbled through the air on his way to me I wondered if he had destroyed his ankle.
"Your game looks the same. Is it?"
"No, I protect the leg when someone is barreling down on me at the bag. Some days I can't make it from first to third because I can't cut off the turn. And as everyone has pointed out I now dive in headfirst when I steal a base."
"Is your leg making good progress?"
"No. For the last eight months or so there been no progress at all. I was warned that a tibia heals slowly and will need another operation sooner or later but when I do I know it will be the end of my career. I am hoping for another two years. I have my money and so far I have been able to manage the pain."
"To an outsider it looks like Julio's career ends in October. Has he said anything to you?"
"No, he tells everyone the next operation will work but he knows it will not.
He just turned thirty; he is not ready to give up the game. But he cannot swing the bat without expecting pain so he cuts his swing short, hits weak grounders to the infield. When he covers on a steal he sometimes picks up his glove before the ball gets to him to keep the runner from hitting his wrist. The ball ends up in center field."
I commented that, "He was benched when their road trip brought them here. The talk was that the two of you would look for a way to hurt the other. The story sounded bogus to me and now I see that Julio has simply lost his starting job to the guy with no neck."
"Julio was here with me all three nights. He was angry; he was depressed, he was confident he could get his job back. He spent the last night crying.
He knows but can't accept it. All I could do was comfort him, give him my time."
"And affection? I know you were his hero as he was coming up. I know you helped him out with that shooting incident at home. I know you coached him when he was moved to shortstop."
"How do you know all this?"
"Uncle Jimmy has been coaching in the winter leagues for years. He lives in Puerto Rico five months out of the year. He knows everybody and everybody tells him everything and sometimes he tells me because he knows I will not divulge secrets."
"I was so comfortable talking to you I forgot you were media. I let in on a lot of secrets. I am not retracting anything but please make sure people understand that I do not blame Julio for anything. Try to be fair to him."
"I am sure both of you will have a new legion of fans before long. Thanks for talking to me, and feeding me. Pedro's gumbo will have a new legion of fans too."
"Thanks for saying that. Do you need tickets for the game tonight?"
"No thanks, I have access to a club level suite from my cousin in law's company."
"See you later then."
"Yeah. But before I go I have one more question for you. I think I would prefer that you do not answer.
Are you gay?"
Pedro was stunned by the question and as I expected he did not answer. He could see that I already knew anyway.
I stepped up to Pedro and kissed him on the cheek.
"Julio is lucky to have you," I said. "If you need anything or just need to talk you know where to reach me."
My article was snapped up by a major sports network's magazine. I focused the story on the aftermath of "the slide" and detailed the physical and mental pains that were still taking their toll. The sympathy and support for Julio and Pedro poured in. I portrayed them as friendly foes and hinted that the collision had made them good friends. The magazine even printed Pedro's gumbo recipe. He got raves for that too.
Pedro called me his "favorite redhead" when my article was brought up by the media.
We became close friends. He loved me, not for what I wrote but for what I did not write.
He trusted me and I was in the middle of that winters turmoil with Julio after the next wrist operation produced no appreciable results.
Julio retired before that start of next the season after accepting a settlement from the club on his remaining salary. He thanked me for making it possible, my story had restored his popularity and his team's only alternative, releasing the team's most popular player, would have been a public relations disaster.
The team owed him three years of salary even if they released him but Julio did not want to be released, he thought he could not handle what he though would be the humiliation.
But he would loose the money if he just retired.
His club jumped at the suggestion to spread his money out over twenty years and allow him to retire. He would get his money and the team still had a public relations asset and some payroll relief. Both sides were happy.
Of course Julio was a multi-millionaire anyway.
Pedro retired the following winter right after his mother suffered a mild heart attack. When he got home he found Uncle Jimmy playing gin rummy with her on her hospital bed.
She recovered nicely but Pedro refused to leave her side even though he knew Uncle Jimmy would be there for her, or maybe because of it.
She would not leave Puerto Rico so Pedro sold his townhouse and moved back home. Shortly after that Julio followed suit.
They opened a restaurant together that was an immediate success. They were sport heroes on the island so success was guaranteed. The day of the grand opening sports celebrities were everywhere and the photographers had a field day.
I was there and reported it for newspapers and magazines in five countries.
As always I included a recipe, Julio's Mofongo.
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