The recap of Double-A Pensacola's Saturday night win over Birmingham shows no plays in center field after the seventh inning for the home team. That's a good thing because as far away as Bryson Smith was mentally, there could've been a considerable lag between hit and reaction.
After his team rallied for a 5-4 victory with a run in the bottom of the eighth, Smith pulled off the moment of his life in equally dramatic fashion. Before a crowd of 5,038 -- with most still on-hand -- the Reds farmhand proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Raphaelle Lombardo, and headed out of Blue Wahoos Stadium with a win and a fiancée.
"I've had the ring since February, so, dude, I've been feeling like the Lord of the Rings guy trying to get rid of the ring and everything," Smith said while trying to avoid covering a Wahoos staff member's phone with shaving cream, courtesy of the clubhouse smash in the face he got from teammate Ray Chang. "I just don't want to lose it. The panic set in about mid-February when I got it.
"It was all great and I was all calm until, I think, about the eighth inning. Then when the eighth inning hit, I'll tell you what, I wasn't thinking about any baseball going on."
The panic took two innings. The planning took far longer.
While Smith, his teammates in the Reds organization and Minor Leaguers everywhere were preparing for their seasons through Spring Training, the University of Florida product was building up to something bigger. Along with teammate Donald Lutz and Lutz's fiancée, Larissa, Smith hatched a plan to ring up his girlfriend of six years. Over the next four months, it came together.
With Raphaelle in her last year of residency at pharmacy school, scheduling proved difficult. Weekend trips to see Smith didn't line up for the couple while the outfielder was with Triple-A Louisville for the first month of the season or his first few weeks in Pensacola, but with the Barons in town, it looked as if the stars would finally align.
"It's been a long time coming," he said. "About five days ago, I started to hit the panic button, like, 'I've got to get this thing off of me.'"
Smith bounced the plan off Lombardo's mother, Lisa, who leapt at it -- "and she's an angel," he made sure to note -- gathering family members from both sides to get ready for a weekend sojourn to bear witness. Then the abstract of the future became the concrete of the present.
"I read somewhere online -- because obviously, I did a little homework, not a lot -- and they all said that every girl remembers what you said," Smith said. "I was like, 'Oh, God, now I've got to think of something sweet and romantic. I can't just get on a knee.'"
Only a few teammates knew the plan before Saturday's game, Smith's way of guarding against a leak. Saturday night, he told them all. While never more than a long toss away from his closest teammate on the field, Smith might as well have been on the moon.
"If you watch the video, I'm in the outfield just saying to myself exactly what I'm going to say," he said. "I had this whole thing planned. I'm not even watching baseball, and I'm in center field in a one-run game. I was freaking out a little bit."
In the recap, the final out reads "Courtney Hawkins flies out to left fielder Phillip Ervin." But that last smack of rawhide-on-leather that sealed the Wahoos win meant so much more to Smith. Speech preparation was the on-deck circle. Now he was heading to the biggest at-bat of his life.
If only the plan could go flawlessly.
"I walked over to her and tried to get her on the field and she was like, 'No, I'm not getting on the field. What's wrong? Why do I need to get on the field?' I'm like, 'Oh, God, nothing's panning out,'" he said. "Finally, I got her out on the field and that whole speech I had prepared, I couldn't tell you if I said one word of it. I went with the flow of it. Thank God, I wasn't mic'd up because there's no telling what I said."
The walk to the outfield grass. The speech. The knee. The "yes." The crowd.
Smith was 0-for-2 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch in the box score. He was 1-for-1 in the only thing that mattered.
"She's my dream girl, so I'm lucky to land her," he said. "That whole speech had me going. From the second inning on, I was freaking out, just ready to spit it out and get it over with. Now I'm happy we're in the next stage.
"I've been dating her for six years and holding on to this freaking ring for six months, so this is Day One."
Day One with a new fiancée.
"Yeah, fiancée, right?" he said. "That's weird."