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On this warm, July afternoon my son and I walked towards the 205th Restaurant with equal anticipation. My son was anticipating a big lunch because he was starving from baseball camp. I was anticipating a big story about a young pitching phenom who had just wowed me and everyone else at Champions Camp. However, soon after entering 205th, only one of us would be satisfied.
My son and I sat down at a corner table with the doors open, white drapes dancing in the wind, and a beautiful view of the village area of Block Island. Hundreds upon hundreds of tourists and summer visitors walked by the restaurant as we sat and waited to be served. After a minute or two, a female server about the same age as my son, came by our table to greet us with two waters and a basket of popcorn. “Hi and welcome to 205th, my name is Benita and I will be your server this afternoon,” stated very proudly by Benita Hernandez Diaz. “Hello there, thank you Benita,” I replied “I’ll have an iced tea, please, and…” I looked over at my son who was a bit star struck. “And you will have???” I said to my son with some inflection. “Oh, hi, yes, I will have the same, please. Thank you.” Benita smiled at my son and then nodded to me as she handed us a set of menus. “Be right back,” said Benita looking directly into my son’s eyes and then pirouetting with the precision of a Buckingham Palace guard back to the kitchen area. “Did she say ‘Benita’ or ‘Bonita’? Because she is definitely “bonita,” said my Spanish I level teenage son. I giggled and then noticed my son’s eye black had smeared down the side of each of his cheeks. “Little bit of advice Romeo,” I said “go wash up before lunch. You’re looking kind of “sucio” if you know what I mean.” My son laughed and headed to the rear of the restaurant where the restrooms were.
As I watched my son head towards Benita and the back of the restaurant, I began to survey the room for signs of Tiziano. I got out of my seat and walked around the restaurant and got a closer look at the colorful artwork and assortment of photos on the wall. There were watercolor prints as well as photos of Latin American villages and beautiful landscapes like waterfalls and forests mixed in with family type photos. One particular photo caught my eye. It was a black and white photo of a baseball stadium and a baseball game. The photo looked like it was folded in half a few times and survived being out in the rain all night. It stood out to me for a few reasons. One, it was unlike the other pictures, which were neatly framed and in near mint condition. Two, the frame sort of mirrored the photo – the wood was worn, almost moldy looking, driftwood like design that looked like it had been left outside in a rain storm. Third, I sensed a personal connection between the photo and perhaps someone in the restaurant. Out of the corner of my left eye, I spotted Benita with the tray of Iced Teas. “Where is this, may I ask?” I pointed to the photo and shouted over to Benita. “Oh, that’s Havana, that picture was taken in Cuba.” Benita said, accentuating specifically on “Havana” and “Cuba.” I turned to the photo and looked a bit closer. The central figure in the photo was a tall, left handed pitcher and the photo snapped him in mid windup. “Who is this player, Benita? This pitcher on the mound?” I asked. “Oh, him? That’s…”
As my back was turned, I did not notice Benita’s father emerge from the kitchen. “Benita!” It startled Benita and she ignored what she was about to say to me and proceeded to deliver the iced teas, then returned back to the kitchen. “Hello sir, my name is Javier. I am so pleased to have you as our guest here at 205th.” said Javier Hernandez Diaz, owner and head chef at the 205th. Javier walked towards me and extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Noel, just in town for the Block Island baseball camp. Thought we would get some lunch before heading home.” I replied as I shook Javier’s hand. “This picture is fantastic. Is it an original? Where in Havana was it taken? It looks like something out of the 1960’s.” Javier bowed his head and then put his arm around me to guide me back to my table. “You are a reporter, sí?” asked Javier as he took a deep breathe and exhaled. “Sí, a baseball writer, un escritor de beisbol.” Javier let out a wonderful laugh. “Ahhh, you speak Spanish pretty good Mr. Noel, the baseball writer.” Just then, my son returned back to the table, clean faced, hair a bit damp from wetting it, and looking much more attractive to Benita then previously. “This is your son? Does he play baseball?” asked Javier. “Yes, this is my son Timothy. Tim, this is Javier, the owner.” My son extended his hand and Javier grabbed it with enthusiasm. “The pleasure is all mine Mr. Timothy. So, what are you going to have today, my friends?” asked Javier as Benita walked back to our table.
“I will have a burger and fries,” said my son as he turned to face Benita looking much more presentable now. “Dude, we can get a burger and fries anywhere, live a little.” I looked over at my son, then shrugged my shoulders. “Oh, let him be. Tim, I will make you a burger and fries you will never forget, my friend,” stated Javier with a smile. Benita wrote down my son’s order and looked over her shoulder to see if her father was looking and then back at my son, who was now fully enamored with Benita. “Two requests, Javier and Benita,” I started to give my lunch orders. “First, judging by the decor and the baseball photo from Havana, I am guessing your heritage is Cuban, so I would love an authentic Cuban pork sandwich.” “And the second request?” asked Javier. “Who is the photo over there on the wall?” Javier laughed and replied. “I tell you what, for now, let’s get you fed, my friends.”
Tim and I sipped our Iced Teas, watched the throngs of people walking into and out of souvenir shops, and waited patiently for our lunch to arrive. The ferry schedule in the summer months on Block Island was very flexible and we had absolutely no rush to get home. Soon, our lunch was served by Benita with a smile. My son got up the courage to chat with Benita, mostly small talk. I continued to survey the room, the restaurant for signs of Tiziano, and sort of guessed that he was working in the back somewhere. “Oh, my brother plays baseball too. Maybe you know him.” I overhead Benita saying. “Tippy, Tippy, come here, there is someone who knows you.” yelled Benita to the back of the restaurant. A face appeared inside the window of the door leading to the kitchen. It was Tiziano, with his baseball cap spun around backwards like Ken Griffey, Jr during batting practice. And then, he disappeared as quickly as he appeared, as if someone was calling him back to his duties. “Tippy is your brother? So Javier is your father, the owner?” “Yep, this is our family restaurant. We just moved here a few months ago from Guatemala and …” Benita was very honest and talkative and full of information that was probably not supposed to be given out to strangers. “How are the sandwiches, my new friends?” interjected Javier as he looked sternly at Benita, his daughter. “Javier, they are excellenté and I got exactly what I wished for. So your son is Tiziano or Tippy as Benita called him?” I asked. “Yes, he is a very smart boy. He’s going to take over 205th someday, I can promise you that.” stated Javier straightening up with pride. “I watched your son pitch today Javier and I think he has a bright future in baseball as well.” I said. Javier snickered and I could sense his mood had changed. “I see now, baseball writer, why you came to my restaurant today. You want to talk to Tippy? You want to write about Tippy? You want to blab to the world about what you found here in my son? No, not in my house. My friends, eat, enjoy, and then go home.” And with that Javier left our table and did not return.
The food was excellent. The breeze was amazing. The view of the harbor was spectacular. An almost perfect afternoon except for the abruptness of Javier Hernandez Diaz and his emotional speech about his son. As a writer, I was now even more intrigued by this family, this baseball player, the photo. What was the connection between the photo, the restaurant, possibly Tiziano “Tippy” Hernandez Diaz? Benita was really nice and tried to make up for her emotional Dad with a warm smile and a gentle apology. She handed me the check and said “Nice to meet you both, I hope you will forgive my Dad and come back to visit again.” Benita looked smittingly at Tim and the two exchanged a precious teenage moment only few get to experience. I placed my credit card into the black check presenter and handed it to Benita. A few minutes later, she returned with the receipt inside the check presenter. Tim rose up from his chair and stood almost eye to eye with the above average height Benita and extended his hand. “Nice to meet you Benita, maybe I will see you soon.” Tim said. “Definitely, good luck at your baseball practice or whatever you guys are doing over there,” replied Benita, grinning from ear to ear as she shook my son’s hand. “Thanks Benita, the food was great. Tell your father I said thank you for his hospitality. Here is my card in case he wants to chat.” I extended my business card to Benita and she placed on her server tray. I removed my receipt from the check presenter and headed towards the exit. I took one last look around the restaurant to see if anyone was looking. Then, rushed over like a little kid, snapped a photo of the baseball stadium on my phone, then walked out of the restaurant with my son.
As we walked towards the ferry, I pulled the receipt out of my pocket. There was some writing on the front. “Nice to meet you both, B” I flipped the receipt over and to read “The man in the photo was my grandfather.”