ARLINGTON, Texas — I never thought a budget-friendly hotel off Interstate 30 in suburban Dallas would hold so much significance in my life. But here I am sitting in the lobby of an Aloft less than two miles from Globe Life Stadium, looking at my surroundings as if I’ve returned to my roots.
I’m not from Texas and I’ve never lived here, but for 10 days three years ago it became my second home. It’s the place where I realized I had met the love of my life, and my future wife.
On Aug. 14, 2020, five months into the pandemic that had us all cooped up and going stir-crazy, I downloaded a dating app, Hinge, for the first time in my life. You know, because why not try to meet strangers when everyone is telling you to stay home, wear a mask and stand six feet away from others?
One week later, Hinge matched me with Ashlea. She was beautiful and seemingly a perfect match but I had this funny feeling we had crossed paths before. We met a few days later, on Aug. 26. It was a perfect first date — and one I almost ruined before it was over. Halfway through dinner, I asked if she had done any extracurricular activities while at USC, and she looked at me quizzically.
“We both wrote for the Daily Trojan when we were at USC,” she said. “We were on the same sports staff. You don’t remember?”
My heart dropped. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and we were in the midst of the best date I had ever been on and I totally put my foot in my mouth.
She laughed it off and said I had already done enough to earn a second date.
I only kept one copy of the Daily Trojan after graduating from USC. It was my first front-page story and I had it stashed away in a box of 20-year-old yearbooks, notebooks and albums I hadn’t looked at since college. When I went back home after my first date with Ashlea, I looked for that old copy of the Daily Trojan, and there she was. I had written a front-page story on AOL Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin, and she had written a back-page story on the water polo team. The name of the woman I had been searching for my entire life was always there with me in print.
We went on a date the next night and the night after that and it was clear there was something there. She wasn’t the biggest sports fan but she humored me and sat by my side in front of the TV for every pandemic postseason game the Los Angeles Lakers played in the Disney World bubble in Orlando and the Los Angeles Dodgers played in the Globe Life Field bubble in Arlington. On Oct. 12, I made her a promise before Game 1 of the NLCS between the Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves: If the Dodgers advanced to the World Series, we would fly out to Texas and go to the World Series.
Major League Baseball had recently announced that 11,500 socially distanced fans would be able to attend the World Series at the Texas Rangers’ newly built 40,300-seat ballpark. My friend had bought a block of tickets and a block of hotel rooms and at the nearby Aloft in case the Dodgers advanced. All we had to do was book our flights to Dallas. It was a trip I didn’t think we would make as the Braves took a 3-1 series lead and beat the Dodgers decisively, 10-3, in Game 4. But the Dodgers swept the next three games, coming back from down 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning in Game 7, and advanced to the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
After the final out of the NLCS, Ashlea jumped into my arms and kissed me. She gave me her information so I could book our flight before she drove back to her place to pack her luggage for the trip.
“How long will we be gone for?” she asked me.
I looked at the calendar and we were leaving on Oct. 19, the day before Game 1 of the World Series, and returning on Oct. 29, the day after Game 7.
“OK,” she said. “That’s 10 nights. Got it.”
As I was booking the trip it hit me that I was fast-tracking the relationship beyond all reasonable measures. We were having an amazing time together and each date was better than the last but we had been together for less than three months. There’s a big difference between a great date over pasta and a bottle of wine at an Italian restaurant and hopping on a flight during a global pandemic and staying in a 364-square-foot hotel room in Texas for 10 nights. She had put up with my ridiculous seating superstitions while watching sports on television, but how would my snoring, belching and tossing and turning go over? We were about to learn about each other’s idiosyncrasies and peccadilloes before we had even met each other’s friends and families.
But we were both too excited for the World Series and our first trip together to be too concerned about any of that. We were bound to get into our first disagreement and not everything was going to be as perfect as each one of our dates had been. I certainly didn’t help matters when a friend offered me an extra ticket to the Dallas Cowboys’ Monday Night Football game, the day before the World Series, and I went without her. I know, I know, I’m an idiot and you would be right to wonder why she stayed, but that ended up thankfully being the only hiccup of the trip.
We went to Game 1 and watched the Dodgers beat the Rays, 8-3. We shared an infamous Boomstick hot dog, took our first picture together and celebrated back at the hotel’s WXYZ bar.
We went back for Games 2 and 3, when the CBS and FOX affiliates in Los Angeles asked me to help cover the World Series for them. I struggled with one live hit and Ashlea could feel that I wasn’t myself. She hugged me as tears streamed down her face and I just felt this sense of calm come over me. Nothing else in the world mattered as long as I was with her.
I went for a walk and when I came back there was a handwritten note waiting for me on the floor. “Happy Anniversary! With you, I feel my heart has found a best friend, true love and a real home. XOXO, Ashlea.” It was Oct. 26, our three-month anniversary, and Ashlea had remembered and written me a letter that had me in tears. I knew at that moment I had met my true love.
The Dodgers went on to win the World Series the next day as Corey Seager was named the MVP, after also being named the MVP of the NLCS. We celebrated with champagne back in our hotel room and listened to H.E.R. and Daniel Caesar’s Best Part, which became our song.
We stayed in Texas for an extra couple of days to sightsee before flying back to Los Angeles on Oct. 29. When we got back to my place, Ashlea thanked me for an amazing trip before leaving to go back home. I stopped her at the door and told her I didn’t want her to leave. I wanted my home to be our home. I wanted my life to be our life. I couldn’t imagine being without her. She hugged me and said she felt the same way and the next day she moved in with me.
We did make one more promise. We said if the World Series ever returned to Arlington one day, we would go back for old times’ sake. I told her that wouldn’t be for a while. The Texas Rangers were in the midst of six straight losing seasons and would go onto lose 102 games in 2021 and 94 games in 2022. But on Oct. 12, after the Rangers upset the 102-win Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS and prepared to face the defending champion Houston Astros in the ALCS, Ashlea reminded me of our deal. It didn’t look like a trip we would make with the Astros leading the series 3-2 with Games 6 and 7 in Houston but the Rangers surprised us and everyone else.
The World Series was returning to Globe Life Field and so were we. I once again booked a flight and a stay at the Aloft in Arlington. We had originally expected to see another NL West team starting with the letter in D in the World Series, but that wasn’t going to stop us from having a good time. As we took our seats for Game 1 on Oct. 27, exactly three years after the note that changed everything, we smiled as H.E.R. walked onto the field to perform the National Anthem, and hugged each other after Seager hit a game-tying two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth. It was the perfect full-circle night for us.
I proposed on our two-year anniversary, and we are getting married on Oct. 12, 2024, four years after I made that fateful World Series promise before the start of the NLCS. When friends ask me about getting married during the busiest time on the sports calendar and maybe missing a Dodgers postseason game, I look at Ashlea and smile.
I already won my championship. I’m good for the rest of my life.