I was loading my baseball gear onto the team bus when our manager, the late, great Dave Hilton, got the word. The stadium had somehow been overbooked, and our minor league games had been canceled for the weekend.
You could hear a pin drop on that sticky Arizona parking lot when Skip got the call. We were frozen in the desert heat; hoping to hear that we had the weekend off. But, knowing Dave, he was probably already constructing a practice schedule in his head before he hung up the phone.
“You guys take the weekend off.”
I grabbed my bags off the bus as the team celebrated around me. I checked the time — 3:00 p.m — If I left now, I could be in Hermosa Beach, California by 9:00 p.m. for a night out with my lifelong friend, Chris Grdich.
Grdich had been bothering me about a visit for quite some time, but minor league baseball’s schedule is relentless. I hadn’t found the time until that serendipitous moment.
The Night We Met
I pulled into Chris Grdich’s apartment complex a little before 10:00 p.m., and he was standing on his doorstep with a shot of whiskey.
“Here, drink this. The Uber is here.”
We zipped down to the infamous Hermosa Beach Pier with its rows of packed bars, and we managed to squeeze into a bar that I was quite familiar with — American Junkie. The original location was in Scottsdale just a short walk from our ballpark.
Grdich, a lifelong friend who had grown up with me in the Boston area, immediately got into a quarrel with his ex-girlfriend and left. I was alone in a packed bar in a foreign land.
I stood there scanning the crowd, beer in hand, and I saw her. Her red head shimmered. She was impossible to miss. She was also dancing with another guy.
I couldn’t just cut in by telling Marty Mcfly to scram, so I did a little sleuthing.
I found her friends and struck up a conversation with Natalie. I pretended to be shy and told Natalie that I was a minor league baseball player from Arizona with the weekend off. She called BS, and rightfully so. As a baseball fan, she knew we didn’t get weekends off. But after using a smartphone to prove identity, she said that I should be more active with the ladies; that I shouldn’t be such a wallflower.
I knew that I couldn’t be the one to approach the now-taken Veronica Heath on the dance floor. It had to be her female friend. So, I told Natalie that there’s a redhead in the crowd that I really liked.
“Oh, that’s Veronica. I’ll go get her for you!”
Success! Natalie made the assist by shooting off into the crowd, grabbing her arm and leading Veronica away from her dance partner to me.
Veronica squared up to me, looked up and said, “Hi.”
I just spent all my mental energy on a plot to get this beautiful redhead in front of me, and now I didn’t have any words. All I knew is that her friend Natalie had earned the nickname “John Stockton” for the legendary assist.
I don’t remember the details of the rest night. I just remember thinking that this girl is rad, beautiful and that I wanted to see her again.
Lost Phone Number
I was on the road back to Arizona about 36 hours after meeting Veronica, and I returned to minor league baseball’s grind. Daily games, workouts, treatments and long travel days consumed the rest of my summer.
But an odd opportunity popped up. I was invited to be in the Netflix documentary “Knuckleball!” The director, Anne Sundberg, had called me from New York and wanted to conduct a phone interview.
I kind of wanted to brag, so I went to call Veronica, but I couldn’t find her number. I scoured my email (where numbers are automatically stored) and social media, but to no avail. I thought all was lost.
Later that summer, I decided to purge my phone of clutter numbers, so I started scrolling through the phone book. I deleted one old number after another, and I found some names that I didn’t even recognize.
Who’s “Squeep?” And when did I meet him? Her?
I finally got to Anne Sundberg’s number. I opened it up and quickly went to hit delete, but I noticed something odd. It was a 310 Southern California number, and I remembered Anne calling me from New York. It didn’t take me long to get excited.
Was this the long lost redhead’s number from Hermosa Beach? There was only one way to find out. Calling was too scary, so I texted.
She was cold. Veronica didn’t respond right away, and her responses seemed distant. I told her that I temporarily misplaced her number, but she wasn’t buying it. So I knew what I had to do — I had to go to Hermosa Beach in person.
Return to SoCal
I’ve made it a point to live in a different part of the country every off-season. Up until I had met Veronica, I had lived in Phoenix, Vegas, Montana, Massachusetts, Australia and countless minor league cities. And I had just moved off Hawaii’s island of Kauai the previous off-season, so I didn’t have a winter home.
Chris Grdich was urging me to move to Southern California, and Veronica made the decision to move to LA an easy one. I’ve been here ever since. After convincing her that I had temporarily misplaced her number, we started seeing quite a bit of each other.
It didn’t take long to fall in love.
You see, what I love most about Veronica is the way she sees the world. It might have something to do with her occupation as a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit nurse where she sees hardship, disease and death up close. It gives her an incredible perspective on the world. Veronica does not get caught up in the minutiae of life, and she doesn’t get bogged down with the unimportant.
She treasures experiences over material possessions. She values living young and loves travel. And while she can be incredibly serious and meticulous, she can also let loose and party. And I’m sure you’ll see this side of her at the wedding.
It was a Friday night in June. I had a rare weekend off from work with no big plans. Originally, I was going to stay home that night because I was tired – I had just finished working three 12-hour shifts in a row and wanted to relax on the couch with a glass of wine and catch up on my favorite TV shows.
But my college friend and neighbor, Natalie, texted me. She said that her and her boyfriend, Brian, were going to the Hermosa Beach Pier to meet up with some friends and that I was welcome to come along. I contemplated it for a minute and thought, “Why the heck not, you only live once!”
I hopped in the shower and started getting ready for the night. About an hour later, Brian and Natalie stopped by to pick me up in their Uber on the way to the Pier. They told me their friends were at American Junkie so that’s where we went.
About 30 minutes after we arrived, one of Natalie and Brian’s mutual friends came up to me and asked if I wanted to dance. I was hesitant at first, but thought “Sure, why not”. After a couple of songs, I noticed Natalie talking to this tall, handsome guy off in the distance. I wondered who she was talking to and how I could get away from dancing with this guy.
Shortly after, I felt Natalie tap me on the shoulder and pull me to the side. She told me the mystery man wanted to talk to me and that I should ditch the guy on the dance floor. So, I told my dancing partner that I needed to go to the bathroom and would be right back – classic move. Natalie and I went to the bathroom together, and she filled me in on who she was talking to – a professional baseball player that had the night off and he wanted to meet me. I didn’t believe her so she pulled out her phone to show me that he was, in fact, a professional athlete. I was still skeptical but thought again “sure, why not”.
Once we left the bathroom, I walked through the crowd as fast as I could to avoid my dance partner on the way to meet this mystery man. Once I broke through the crowd, I walked right up to him, looked up, and said “Hi, I’m Veronica.” At first, the conversation was awkward, but then we discovered that we both like to travel and had both recently been to Australia. We shared stories of our adventures and then exchanged numbers. I didn’t expect to hear from him again and to my dismay, I was correct…
The Supposed Lost Number
Fast forward two months to August. I was finishing up folding my laundry and got a random text out of nowhere from Chris. I was shocked, angry and confused, but also a little bit curious. I never thought I was going to hear from him again, especially since he didn’t reach out in the past two months. But I decided to text him back and hear him out.
He said he “lost” my number – yeah right! I didn’t believe him for a second. Over the years, I had become jaded by the dating scene in LA and had heard every excuse in the book. So I thought to myself “here we go again”.
He explained his side of the story – I was still skeptical, but also a little bit intrigued. He said he was done for the season and was back in town visiting his friend, Grdich. They were planning to head down to the Hermosa Beach Pier that night – our original meeting spot. Luckily, I had dinner plans that night with my friend and co-worker, Emily, so I told him I was busy but could maybe meet up afterward.
That night, I met up with Emily at Palmilla, a restaurant/bar on the Pier. We were having a lovely dinner, and, as I was filling her in on how Chris contacted me out of the blue a couple of hours earlier, I saw him walk by with his friends across the Pier. They didn’t see us, but we could see them.
We watched them walk into a bar across the way. I was in shock but thought to myself that maybe it was a sign. During the rest of the dinner, I contemplated if we should meet up with Chris and his friends, or if I should continue playing hard to get and go home. Since we were already so close, I figured we should just go over and surprise him with a visit. He never lost my number again, and we have been inseparable ever since.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying “opposites attract” – that is me and Chris. I’m organized and meticulous, he’s spontaneous. I like science and numbers, he likes art and writing. I’m an introvert, he’s an extrovert. But we complement each other so well and bring out the best in each other. We are a team. And I can’t wait to explore the rest of this life with my teammate.