Fanny Scholl puts on her game face long before the first pitch at Busch Stadium. There she is, at every Cardinals home game, setting up her small, immaculate kitchen in the back of the Redbird Roost, situated in the crème de la crème of the park's luxury boxes. Tongs are placed on the counter, water poured into the wiener steamer. Scholl proceeds to flop some braided rugs on the floor in front of the griddle.
"I don't like to step on the tile. I could slip!" exclaims the 89-year-old Italian-American widow, wagging a finger.
As runners and bar-backs hustle past the miniature Italian flag, the grease-stained prayer book and the box marked "DO NOT TOUCH," full of Fanny's "special" utensils, Fanny is barking orders to her staff.
"I need that blue foil for my burgers!....My burgers, don't forget my burgers!....Before you do anything else, I need those spatulas sharpened!"
In another hour, the Cardinals' owners will be salivating for Fanny's food inside Busch's fifth-level hideaway. "I have to have it all set up before they get here," she mutters.
Fanny Scholl was offered the job 36 years ago. When her husband, Walter, failed to warm to the idea, Fanny suggested that the purchase of season tickets might trigger at least a mild case of baseball fever.
"He said, 'OK, babe, that sounds just fine,'" remembers Fanny, flashing an impish grin. "You know how men are, when you give them what they like." She leans back against the wall and giggles. "I know Walter's lying there in his grave going, 'Now what in the world has she gotten herself into?!'"
Fanny is just four-foot-ten, but she stands tall among the who's-who at Busch Stadium. Her famous "Fannyburgers" -- flattened discs doused with a secret seasoning -- are unavailable to the average fan but quite the gastronomic hit among the power elite.
"Where's my burger?" John Wallace, a Cardinals owner, cheerfully calls out, planting a big kiss on Fanny's cheek before the hometown club plays host to the Houston Astros.
Fanny worked at the stadium two years before August "Gussie" Busch Jr. decided she had the makings to staff the Redbird Roost.
"I'd never seen burgers made in my life," Fanny admits. "The ones we'd gotten before looked like Steak n Shake's. So I went there, ordered a soda and watched how they made them."
After that crash course, Fanny refined her method with a few Italian tricks, including the seasoning. "Everyone's going crazy to know what I put in there," she says.
"She's going to the grave with that recipe," deadpans Cari McDougal, a co-hostess at Redbird Roost.
By seven o'clock the first dozen burgers are dispatched to the likes of Missouri's former U.S. Senator John Danforth; the president's uncle, William H.T. "Bucky" Bush; and manufacturing mogul Sam Fox.
"Fanny, I've heard so much about you; I wanted to meet you," says Fox.
"How nice to see you, Mr. Fox."
"Sam. It's Sam."
Fanny's on a first-name basis with many of the owners' wives and is accustomed to glad-handing glitterati. "There's [Lou] Brock, of course, he's my pet, and [Red] Schoendienst and [Stan] Musial and so many of the others," she says. "This is [Bob] Gibson's chair. We reserve it for him. I think he was a pitcher. They're all so nice. It makes you feel so nice when they're nice to you.
"I've seen three World Series, and the highlight was meeting the emperor and empress of Japan, and, of course, George W. Bush," she continues. "He asked if he could have a picture with me, and I said, 'Oh no, that's OK, I need to change my shirt!' The Secret Service said, 'Ma'am, we have a plane to catch.' So we took it, and he started talking to me, and I just started walking away. I mean, what are you going to say to the President of the United States?"
Fanny rarely catches more than a glimpse of a game, unless it goes extra innings. "Then I grab my miraculous medal necklace and say, 'Oh, please, anybody can score -- I want to go home!'"
To Cubs fans, she offers this admonition: "If they want to cheer, that's OK, but I tell them in advance that this is the Cardinals' room."
As for her beloved Redbirds, Fanny concedes she can't always keep up with the roster. "I might be sitting right next to them, but I have no idea who they are. Well, I do think that little catcher is cute. Is it [shortstop David] Eckstein?"
During most games she's holed up in the kitchen, flipping burgers and greeting a steady stream of visitors. Most of them ask whether they'll see her next year at the new stadium.
"Oh yes, if the Lord lets me," she replies. Fanny has no plans to retire. Right now, she's simply hoping for a World Series victory. "Last year was sad. We were losing. Nobody ate."