Our first date was at a Kansas City Royals game. I remember it being a day game against the Detroit Tigers. I believe Chili Davis homered. I believe the Royals lost. One thing I remember for certain: Margo -- she was Margo Keller then -- had to pay for the tickets. I had forgotten to get cash.
Margo told me that the Royals had always been hugely important to her and her family. They were a team that filled her imagination. She grew up in a tiny Kansas town called Cuba, which is near Belleville, which is near Concordia, which is not too far from Salina. At that point, I had not heard of any of those places -- maybe Salina. She talked about what it was like to grow up in a small town. I talked about what it was like to grow up in Cleveland. She said her high school graduation class was 12. I asked, probably too quickly, if she was class valedictorian. She was. I said that was good. I couldn’t be seen with someone who finished second in a class of 12.
I’m not much good at talking about love -- not good at all, in fact -- but what I remember about that first date was something that probably doesn’t sound too romantic. I remember how uncluttered and relaxed and genuine it was. I had been led to believe that love was supposed to make your insides hurt, make you tongue tied and self-aware and anxious. What did she mean by that? Why didn’t she laugh at that joke? How is this going? I had been on plenty of those kinds of dates. This was different. Everything felt natural. I thought she was beautiful and kind and smart and, heck, she was a sports fan on top of that. But there were no dead silences and there was no tension. The second date flowed naturally from the first. After a week, we were a couple. In less than a year, we were married. I don’t want to say it’s easy because nothing, after all, is easy. But it FELT easy.
The wedding was small and beautiful -- everything was classic, black and white, the brass ensemble went rogue and played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in our honor. Our one disagreement was the music. She wanted the Chicken Dance played at the reception. She thought it would be fun. I despise the Chicken Dance. I pulled the bandleader aside and told him that I was paying him and that under no circumstances should he allow it to be played, even if the bride herself made the request. The band played “Just The Way You Look Tonight” for our first dance, and Frank and Ella and Billie all night. It was perfect. Years later, Margo grudgingly conceded I was probably right.
That wedding was 15 years ago today. And as I think back over those 15 years, I think about the amazing times -- the French Quarter as midnight struck on Millennium Night, the moment Elizabeth was born, the moment Katie was born, the moment we rushed to the hospital thinking Elizabeth was about to be born only to be told by the nurse to “come back when you are more pregnant,” eating ice cream under the Eiffel Tower, playing miniature golf in the rain, wandering brain dead through the first three months of parenthood, sleeping straight through until 6 p.m. the day we returned from the Olympics in Australia, driving through Mission Hills and looking at the huge houses, eating corn on the cob and talking with friends on perfect spring evenings.
Sometimes, I still sit in the other room while she’s reading my column -- she was always my first editor -- and listening to hear if she laughs.
I also think about the rare fights -- once, just before Elizabeth was born, I was outside working on securing the car seat. This is one of those parent requirements (like setting up the Pack n Play and changing diapers) that at first seems utterly unattainable and later becomes second nature, like driving a stick shift. We were both on edge in those final days, frightened, excited, nervous, feverish, ready and entirely not ready for what came next, and Margo was also 9 months pregnant. At some point in the middle of my wrestling match with the car seat, and I mean right in the middle, Margo wandered out, grabbed the car seat, shook it to show how loose it was. She pronounced, “Oh that will never do.” We have laughed about it many times since but not then. Margo says she never saw me madder than at that moment.
Margo has endured this crazy sportswriters life. I’m in Los Angeles now, in fact. We celebrated our 15th anniversary last weekend. You celebrate many things on the wrong date when you are a sportswriter’s family -- birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. Well, what can you do? Father’s Day is the last day of the U.S. Open. The Winter Olympics engulf Valentine’s Day. March is for college basketball, October for the World Series, January for the NFL playoffs. You get used to the rhythms. But they are always a challenge.
Every single day of our 15 years together, I have told Margo that I love her. Sometimes, it was in an email, sometimes a text, sometimes via phone from the back of some press box or in the concourse of some airport or in a cab racing through the streets of some strange city. But every day. Even so, I know I can never say it enough. We have both changed over the years, but not in the most important ways. I can’t wait to share with her the good news, and I can’t imagine braving the bad news with anyone else. I still love it when I make her laugh, and I am still amazed at how kind a person she is, and I’m still tickled by the small things that make her happy.
I remember just before Margo and I got married, we got advice from a friend. He said: “It’s important to remember that marriage isn’t easy.” He was right, of course. There are little fires everywhere. There are small misunderstandings that occasionally flare out. There is the day-to-day toil of living, the responsibilities, the accidents, the plans that go wrong, the calls that disconnect. The dog gets sick. The older daughter remembers her project one day before its due. The younger daughter won’t eat her food. The air conditioner breaks. The office calls. A bill gets overlooked. The flu goes around. It is a blur, and it isn’t easy. But for 15 years, I’ve felt exactly the way I did that first date. I was lucky enough to marry Margo Keller. And it has been easier than I ever dreamed.