In my role as MiLB.com ballpark traveler, I've had teams ask me to do a lot of different things. Would I be interested in throwing out a first pitch? Dressing up as a racing food product? Doing an inning of play-by-play on the radio? Emceeing an on-field contest? Operating the manual scoreboard?
"Yes to everything" is my philosophy, and this past Friday I had the opportunity to say "yes" to something I'd never been able to say yes to before. The Rome Braves asked me to serve as "the official Minor League witness" during a pregame "Renew Your Vows" wedding ceremony.
So there I was, standing just in front of home plate at Rome's State Mutual Stadium, doing my best to strike a solemn and dignified pose that would properly indicate the gravity of the situation. To my right, down the third-base line, stood hand-holding mascots Romey and Roxy. (The two have been an item for many years now.) Immediately to my right was elder Kevin Grueber.
Grueber -- tall, bald, wearing dark-tinted glasses and sporting a salt and pepper goatee -- officiated the ceremony while positioned under a white archway decorated with red, white and blue balloons. Four married couples, each of whom had been chosen by the team as winners of a "Renew Your Vows" Facebook essay contest, faced Grueber as he delivered a sermon written just for this occasion.
"I was ordained online, so I can do it all," Grueber told me prior to the ceremony. "Some people want a lot of religion in the ceremony, and some don't want any."
R-Braves mascots Romey and Roxy joined Friday's ceremony. (Kyle Hess/Rome Braves)
There was a little religion in this ceremony and, not surprisingly, a lot of baseball. Grueber invoked the memory of the mighty 2003 Rome Braves, the first team to play in the city after a 52-year Minor League Baseball hiatus. That championship-winning squad featured both Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann, but Grueber reminded those assembled that the four couples standing before him were each part "of an even greater team." Shortly afterward, he had each of the couples face one another and reaffirm their everlasting love. It was a truly touching occasion despite, or perhaps because of, its exceedingly casual nature.
Once the game got underway I tracked down Martha and Bill Sims, one of the four couples who had just renewed their vows. The Sims have been married for 45 years and were included in the ceremony thanks to the initiative of one of their granddaughters.
"She saw this online and submitted the essay, and then when we were picked, she told us about it," said Martha. Then, she gestured to Bill, who was wearing an Atlanta Braves polo shirt. "Because her Papa does nothing except watch the Braves baseball games. Oh, yes, we center our whole lives around when the Braves are gonna be on. We do!"
The evening was very much a family affair for the Sims, whose marriage has produced three children, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Most of them were in attendance, rooting for the home team from section 207.
The Sims' courtship began at the tail end of the 1960s. Martha, who was running a dry cleaning business at the time, hired Bill as a route driver.
"So your first relationship was as boss and employee?" I asked.
"Still is!" said Martha, without missing a beat.
Bill and Martha eventually transitioned to the grocery business, raising their family while in this line of work. Three years ago they sold the business, and, as Martha puts it, "built us a home down the creek."
Any couple with the longevity of the Sims should be admired and celebrated. So what's their secret, I asked?
"Yeah, what's your secret, Bill?" said Martha. "It better be a good answer!"
After a careful period of deliberation, Bill responded that "I may not be better than you, but I am just as good. We're equal partners."
"You give 100 percent," added Martha. "You don't give 50, you give 100. You've just got to give, give, give and don't take too much. You know? Learn to compromise, and that's it. You've just gotta respect each other. Be a good mother and a good daddy. It goes a long way."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.