A USF union sealed with a pitch
The idea was hatched in a hot tub, of all places.
Tommy Eveld and his brothers, Wesley and Bobby, were taking a soak together at their Lutz house last fall, floating ideas of how Tommy could propose to longtime girlfriend Erica Nunn.
Theirs had been a relationship borne of compatibility, trust and velocity. Tommy, a former Bulls football walk-on, had successfully transitioned to baseball and evolved into a hard-throwing bullpen option by 2016. That same spring, Erica was named American Athletic Conference pitcher of the year with the Bulls softball team.
Talk about your arm in arm.
But as he brainstormed with his brothers, Tommy -- who recently had completed his initial season in the Arizona Diamondbacks system -- struggled for a change-up. He needed a marriage proposal that would keep his girlfriend of nearly five years off-balance.
"Wesley was like, 'It would be awesome if you asked the team if she could throw out the first pitch and set it all up like that,'" recalled Tommy, still uncertain of where he'd be assigned for the 2017 season. "I was like, 'Yeah, maybe, I don't know. It just kind of depends on where I am and if I'm throwing well or not.'"
He landed at Kane County, the Diamondbacks' Class-A affiliate in Geneva, Ill., about an hour west of Chicago. After some contemplation, he ran his idea by team officials.
Let Erica throw the ceremonial first pitch with Tommy catching, followed by Tommy -- a former Jesuit High quarterback -- taking the most nerve-wracking knee of his life.
"They were all excited, happy and thrilled," Tommy said.
They scheduled it for May 8, a day after Erica was set to graduate with her masters degree in analytics from North Carolina State. After getting her diploma, she had planned to head west to see Tommy pitch professionally for the first time.
Meantime, Tommy had ordered her a Rawlings glove similar to his, with "Erica Eveld" inscribed on the thumb. Additionally, Rawlings had sent him an American Athletic Conference baseball cut in half, to serve as the ring holder.
"I thought that was pretty convenient, that it was a ball from the conference that we both pitched in," he said.
All seemed smooth until Saturday, when a minor league player in another league pulled off the exact same marriage proposal.
"I was thinking she'd see it on Twitter or Instagram," Tommy said. "And then when I asked her to throw the first pitch, then it would've been a big tipoff."
Erica never saw it. Plan preserved. Shortly before Kane County's game Monday against the Great Lakes Loons, Tommy told Erica the person slated to toss out the first pitch hadn't shown up, so he had volunteered her.
"I was extremely nervous to throw out the first pitch," Erica said. "I was just thinking, 'Oh my gosh, this is my first game seeing him actually throw as a professional baseball player. This is a lot of pressure.' That was really all I was thinking about."
As dusk -- accompanied by a mild Midwest chill -- arrived at Northwestern Medicine Field, Erica took her place in front of the pitcher's mound as Crosby, Stills & Nash's Southern Cross played over the p.a. system.
Tommy caught the pitch, nonchalantly walked toward Erica, handed her the specially-ordered glove and got down on a knee. Nearly five years after their first date, at a Japanese steak house in Carrollwood, he put a diamond ring on Erica's finger. Video of the moment can be seen here.
Erica put her hand over her mouth in disbelief. Utter surprise. But no sobs.
"I'm not a crier," she said.
"I had a bunch of buddies on the team asking me, 'Did she cry?'" Tommy said. "I was like, 'No, she's a tough girl.'"
Two and a half hours later, as the weather segued from crisp to downright cold, Tommy worked a scoreless ninth for his sixth save.
The next part of the plan has yet to be hatched. The couple hasn't set a wedding date, but is fairly sure it will be some time in 2018, during Tommy's offseason.
And the package deal will be completed: starter and closer.
"We have a lot in common," Tommy said. "It's mostly like, our morals line up, our beliefs line up. And then we just get along really well."