It's late March, and the Boston Red Sox are in Fort Myers, Florida, running through their usual spring-training drills. Outfielders work the winter's rust out of their arms with field-length tosses, sluggers swing and connect with the loud crack of a hard leather ball hitting an ash-wood bat. On this day, though, there's a guest on the diamond. Todd English, the Boston chef, has been invited to join in the action by two of his fans on the team, All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and catcher Scott Hatteberg. To the surprise of the Sox, the new kid's not too bad. Covering home plate, he makes the 130-foot throw to Hatteberg at second base look as easy as chopping onions.
"I think Scott was shocked," English later recalls. "He just had this funny look on his face. Although I didn't throw anything like that again for the rest of the game."
Long before Todd was a name chef--like Nomar, he's earned first-name status in Boston--he was a baseball fanatic and a promising catcher. As a kid, he spent his time playing Little League, collecting baseball cards by the thousands (he still has his set, Hank Aaron and Nolan Ryan rookies included) and sitting alone in his room moving the cards around in a game of baseball solitaire he invented. Twice a high school All-State catcher, he went to Guilford College in North Carolina on a baseball scholarship, but the majors weren't in the cards. After his freshman year, English dropped out to attend cooking school.