By Roy Firestone, September 7 in Orioles Talk

They were both more or less resigned to the fact that they would never marry.He, because he had been married before and divorced .He didn’t want to do it again.She, because having never married and now at age 50, felt even getting an engagement ring this late in life would have been a miracle.But baseball was their matchmaker.Baseball was their “miracle.”Their names were Michael and Denise, and both of them separately were passionate Oriole fans.I met them both on the night they met, at an Orioles game sitting in the left field bleachers.Mike was introduced to Denise and shook her hand, never knowing that a handshake would turn into a beautiful, but all too short love story.Said Denise:“He reached out and shook my hand. And as crazy as it sounds, in my head I distinctly recall thinking, and have always remembered this, hearing myself thinking “Wow, I could marry this guy!”The handshake led to texts and instant messages.They’d talk Orioles and their love of music, both brought them so much joy, even when the Orioles were lousy, like they are now.Denise was the kind of person who would attend minor league Orioles games on her break from working at a medical center. She’d sometimes have a radar gun to clock pitch velocity of Oriole pitching prospects.Mike wasn’t a wealthy man, but he was a very romantic one. He was falling in love with Denise, and texted her one day, at the beginning of their courtship. Denise remembers that text:”What would you think if I drove down, picked you up, and took you to see the sunrise over the Atlantic?”,he said.” I was stunned and delighted by this, and replied “I’d love you forever!!,” said Denise.She continued.“Two hours later he was at my door. Three hours later, we had driven all the way to Rehoboth, me talking nonstop (haha). We had one stop at a convenience store, where our receipt turned out to be $4.49 – 449 is my lucky number for reasons I won’t go into here. I had just told him that.And then our receipt came to that. It was freaky and wonderful.This drive was on October 7. It should’ve been cold and blustery with the onset of fall, but instead it was quite a nice, warm morning. We walked into the water! I would later hear him say over and over, “No one loves the beach as much as Michael Williams!” He was able to share that love on our first “date.”They married not long after that in 2009.I knew Michael and Denise for most of their twelve years together.I met them together, as a couple, at their first Spring Training game in Florida, one of dozens of games they would later attend on their annual vacation.I came to admire, almost envy their devotion, to the Orioles, to their music, and of course, to each other.They were bonded in their love of Oriole baseball but really that was just the catalyst for a love that lasted twelve too short, but wonderful years.“Our love of baseball was the center of our relationship from the beginning. I took him to his first spring training, something he said he’d wanted to do all his life, for his 50th birthday in 2009 – I considered it a sort of honeymoon, even if it preceded the wedding by a few weeks.We also hit up the Arizona Fall League, his first time. We did the World Baseball Classic in Arizona. I started taking him to Bowie Baysox games – which only ended after I got hit in the head with a Chris Tillman foul ball!!He took me to Cooperstown, which he’d been to, for Cal Ripken Jr.’s induction, but where I’d never been.”Michael died this past weekend after a sudden,brief, but ferocious battle with cancer.Though very weak,earlier the day he died, the Orioles played an unusually early 1pm game against the Yankees – and despite it all, managed to win.And Micheal knew it.“In a season of so many losses, for this to be a win, and against the Yankees no less, was truly a blessing from the baseball gods”, said Denise.Micheal and Denise were married for a dozen years.The house is quiet now and lonely, as Denise grieves, but this morning she wrote this beautiful passage about the empty room that Mike so valiantly fought in:“I’ve just walked the first floor of our home with a smudging sage stick to clear out whatever I could of the dark, grey negativity that seemed to surround me as I awoke this morning.I came near the now vacant hospital bed, and recalled with deep joy how he whispered to me over and over again, that last day, how much he loved me, thanking me for everything, telling me how beautiful he thought I was. More than once, as I left his side to grab something from the kitchen or to check a new text message that had arrived on the phone, he would gesture with his good right hand to ‘come close, come close’. I’d come back and lean in to hear those whispers, and instead he would lean forward to give me deep kisses, the kind that send warm feelings down to your toes.He ran his fingers through my hair. He opened his eyes wide and looked penetratingly into mine.I would’ve thought the sage stick would be most needed there, where he had felt so much pain and sadness over the past 3 months. Instead, standing there brought me waves of calm, and love.”Michael and Denise found their love through Oriole baseball and music, but it was a real life story of “Oriole Magic.”This morning I spoke to Denise by phone and she cried and laughed just a bit.Her loss is heartbreaking and devastating, but their love story was so improbable, and so enchantingly romantic, that it could never be matched, and will only grow stronger with time in memory.Nothing is perfect in life.People are flawed, and baseball teams, particularly the Orioles, are very mortal and impaired.But true love is the closest thing to perfection that human beings ever get closest to.And so for Michael and Denise, they found perfection in love amid the imperfection and frailty of a not so silly love for the Orioles.And for that, and so much more….their love will never die.


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