Like every good Nats story, this one starts back at RFK Stadium, in the summer of 2005. Unlike most good Nats stories, this one involves Jose Guillen, a Washington super fan and a pot of chicken soup.
As you might recall, Guillen missed consecutive starts late in that ’05 season with an ailing left shoulder, telling reporters he would need corrective surgery at the end of the season. And while he was sidelined, lifelong D.C. baseball fan Hugh Kaufman presented the outfielder with a serving of his Jewish grandmother’s special chicken soup, from a 19th century Hungarian recipe.
“By the 7th or 8th inning, he was feeling better,” Kaufman told me this week. “He went in the game, and he scored the winning run.”
Please bear in mind that Jewish tales about the restorative powers of chicken soup often contain a good deal of excess fat, if you know what I mean. Still, the record indeed shows that on Sept 5, Guillen entered a home game against the Phillies in the 8th inning, walked in the 12th, and came home with the walk-off run on a Preston Wilson single.
“We were all joking about it -- hey, the soup was magical,” Kaufman recalled.
That was seven years ago. Guillen is a distant memory, as is RFK. Shoulder injuries are a thing of the past, with oblique injuries the newest fad. And Kaufman is more famous for superstitiously beheading rubber chickens outside Nats Park than for placing real chickens in boiling water.
But the recipe remains, and this month Kaufman was motivated to go back to the stove by Gio Gonzalez.
Stick with me here. Gonzalez, you might also recall, is fond of Kaufman’s snazzy “Chicken Mode” shirts. The pitcher requested one of his own, which he turned into a sleeveless tee that he wears frequently in the Nats clubhouse.
Gonzalez even sported the shirt during a recent Fox 5 interview, telling Dave Ross that “you’ve got to be a little bit stronger to wear Beast Mode. Chicken Mode is more my area of expertise. We’re like Chicken Noodle Soup Mode.”
So Kaufman asked Gio if he’d want some Jewish-style chicken soup, and Gio said sure, and a container was delivered on Saturday. That night, the Nats used a huge eighth inning to rally past the Marlins. Gonzalez said the soup was delicious, and Ian Desmond — on the DL with a strained oblique — asked Kaufman for some soup of his own.
(Let’s pause here for a Henny Youngman joke, apropos to the topic. A Jewish woman had two chickens. One got sick. So the woman made chicken soup out of the other one to help the sick one get well.)
(This is still the sports section, right? Great.)
Anyhow, on Sunday Kaufman delivered a plastic tub of the soup directly into Desmond’s hands. (See photographic proof, above.) By Monday afternoon in Houston, Desmond was fielding groundballs for the first time since going on the DL and throwing without pain.
“I felt great,” he told Adam Kilgore. “I feel fine.”
“Oh my God,” Kaufman thought to himself. “The soup works.”
Like, does it really work?
“I don’t know,” Kaufman admitted. “Who the hell knows? All I know is when Gio had the soup, that was a hell of an 8th inning we had on Saturday night.”
And you can’t keep something like this a secret. Indeed, Mark Lerner’s wife requested the recipe from Kaufman. He later posted it on Facebook for the rest of his curious friends, plus various bloggers.
The ingredients include celery stalks, celery leaves, carrots, a parsnip, a turnip, a large onion, dill, parsley, kosher salt, white pepper, and three garlic cloves. Plus a kosher chicken. Feel free to make some for your own ailing Nats fans at home. Or just because.
“It’s chicken-soup shtick,” Kaufman summarized. “What the hell? I mean, it’s a great team. The more fans we can get laughing and having fun, the better the juju.”