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Letter from Laura
October 2001
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The Last Good Saturday Night

Pittsburgh is a talismanic city for me, one of the places I'm determined to visit every time I publish a book. Technically, I travel to the suburb of Oakmont, the home of Mystery Lovers Bookshop. Owners Mary Alice Gorman and Richard Goldman were early cheerleaders for my work, seeking me out upon the publication of "Baltimore Blues," giving me praise and crucial advice. (Other bookstore owners - Bonnie Claeson and Joe Gugliemelli of the Black Orchid in New York, Judy Duhl of Scotland Yard in Winnetka, Ill., and, of course, Paige Rose and Kathy Harig at Baltimore's Mystery Loves Company -- provided the same kind of support.) At any rate, I made a vow to return to Pittsburgh every time I publish a book and I'm 6-for-6 at this point.

PNC Park, Pittsburgh

But the last time out, Mary Alice and Richard offered me a perk -- premium baseball seats, provided by a generous fan, Kathy Sweeney. So I decided to make a weekend out of my trip to Pittsburgh, instead of driving up and back in the same day. I made reservations at the Penn Hotel, just across the bridge from the ballpark, spoke to a full house at Mystery Lovers Bookshop and then headed out to PNC Park, the new home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Now, Baltimore, as I observed in my first book, is usually a place where trends come to die. But we have brought the world one innovation in recent years, the retro ballpark. In its inaugural year, PNC Park is simply glorious, built to make the most of the river and city views. I particularly like the statues of Honus Wagner and Roberto Clemente, brought over from the Pirates' old home, and the addition of Willie Stargell, which was added this year.

This hasn't been the Pirates' most distinguished season, but you'd never have known that in the sold-out park on that end-of-summer Saturday night. For one thing, it was Roberto Clemente bobble-head night, which had guaranteed a sell-out days in advance. (The valet at the Penn Hotel said tickets were going for $400 on eBay.) The Pirates came through for their fans, defeating the Cincinnati Reds, with fireworks marking every homerun.

Best of all, I got to see the Great Pierogies Race, in which four men dressed as stuffed dumplings burst through the right field wall, heading for home. This idea has been lifted from Milwaukee, apparently, where bratwursts perform a similar race. But I was thoroughly enchanted and hopeful that Baltimore might introduce a similar competition. (Perhaps crabs, running sideways? Think about it, Mr. Angelos.)

I happen to hate the elevation of baseball to quasi-religion. (Don't get me started on "Field of Dreams.") But I love the game when it's kept in perspective. Of course I'm an Orioles fans,Brooks Robinson but I find it easy to root for all sorts of teams and players. Small-market teams like Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, hard-luck teams like the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs. And -- this is a shocking confession for a Baltimore girl -- even the New York Yankees under Joe Torre.

I am particularly fond of Paul O'Neill, my second-favorite baseball player of all time. (My favorite is Brooks Robinson, whom I believe to be the greatest third baseman to ever play the game and Mike Schmidt fans need not waste their time trying to disabuse me of this notion. Is there a song about Mike Schmidt? I rest my case.)

The one team I will never, ever root for is the New York Mets. Some scars never heal, I'm afraid. And now, with the World Series under way, I find myself thinking about that Pirates-Red game. It didn't matter, in the end. Neither team was in the running. But it was a perfect night for baseball by the river in Pittsburgh. It was, in fact, Sept. 8th. Hence, the name of this letter -- "The Last Good Saturday Night." I expect that I'll have other good Saturday nights, that I'll one day laugh again as hard and carelessly as I did watching four men in pierogie costumes running toward homeplate. But, for now, I'm just thankful for the memory.

In honor of the World Series, I'd like to give someone my Roberto Clemente bobble-head -- still in the box -- and a copy of "Murderers Row," a baseball anthology that includes a Tess Monaghan story. But to win these prizes, you need to answer the following questions correctly -- and it helps, I admit, if you've read "In a Strange City." The winner will be drawn from all those who submit the right answers by Nov. 15th. The first runner-up will receive a slightly used copy of "The Corrections," which kept me company on my book tour, but didn't earn a permanent spot on my already over-crowded bookshelves.

  1. Jay Rainer, a homicide cop in "In a Strange City," appeared in one previous Tess Monaghan novel. Name it.
  2. What is the date of Edgar Allan Poe's birthday? When did he die?
  3. When did the Poe Toaster begin his/her visits to Poe's original grave?
  4. What is Tess Monaghan's full name?
  5. What now-defunct Baltimore restaurant was known for its world-class art collection and its ball of string?
Good luck. Eyes on your own paper, please.
Click here to enter the contest

Read In a Strange Kitchen.
Read The "D" Word here.