Diamonds bring people together throughout the spring and summer, as teams, coaches, umpires and fans alike arrive at ballparks to enjoy baseball or softball competition.
During this same time period, diamonds are a part of marriages, as a bride and a groom dedicate themselves to each other for a lifetime and symbolize their union with a diamond engagement ring and then the exchanging of wedding bands.
For Cheretta Stevenson and Calvin "Pokey" Reese Jr., diamonds have long been a part of their lives. So when they decided they wanted to share the rest of their lives together, a diamond had to be a major part of it, as in a professional ball field.
According to Stevenson, it was a dream she had as far back as her days playing shortstop at North Carolina A&T, after her high school All-State softball playing days, first at Ridge View High School and later at Lower Richland High School. She would marry the man of her dreams on an actual field of dreams. When the time came for final ceremony planning, it worked out that the "Field of Dreams"-themed setting included her bridesmaids dressed like the female baseball players from the movie "A League of Their Own."
Reese, a former Lower Richland All-State shortstop and North-South All-Star quarterback, had no problem at all with Stevenson's plans to have their wedding at a stadium. A former two-time MLB Gold Glove-winning second baseman and member of the 2004 World Series champion Boston Red Sox team, Reese, as a matter of principle, has more of a problem with Stevenson being a longtime fan of former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
So, with softball and baseball in their blood, the Columbia couple (by way of Hopkins) were married earlier this month on Saturday, June 2, at Spirit Communications Park, home of the Columbia Fireflies minor league baseball team.
It was just the right setting for a former All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference shortstop to wed a former first-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds, who played seven seasons in the minor leagues and eight seasons on the MLB level.
They even met at a ballpark.
"We met on a Sunday in Sumter, while she was playing softball and I was there watching the game," Reese recalls. "I asked my friend to introduce us because I wanted to talk with her.
"We met, and I think we talked for like two hours, sitting in the parking lot after her game. That was eight years ago."
According to Stevenson, the two talked on the phone nearly every day from that point on, but didn't begin dating for nearly a year.
"From day one, we have been our competitive selves," Reese said. "She is a Yankee fan; I'm a Red Sox fan. She likes Jeter and wears No. 2; I wear No. 3."
"We are always competing, in a way. She doesn't want to watch baseball as much as I do all the time on ESPN, but she does like to watch softball and tennis," he noted.
Stevenson admits that she always knew her wedding wouldn't be basic.
"I just needed a groom to go along with my plan," she said. "I never pictured myself getting married in a church or anywhere traditional.
"So, when I met Pokey, then later started discussing my ideas, he was on board for it all. He picked Boston colors - navy blue, red and white - and that was fine with me, as long as I got my ideal 'A League of Their Own' wedding," Stevenson said.
"I had everything in my head for a while, but I just needed him to pop the question so I could get started. People would always hear me say it, but I don't think everyone believed I would actually get married at a baseball stadium."
But she was serious about the theme, going so far as to have her bridesmaids "uniforms" and her wedding and reception "uniforms" custom made. As for Reese, his groomsmen were good with the plan since it didn't involve tuxedos and included a day at the stadium.
Reese and his best man sat in the dugout, while those attending the wedding sat in the stands. The groom and the best man then exited the dugout and walked over to stand on top of the dugout roof. The bridesmaids and groomsmen then walked down an aisle in the stands before separating to assemble behind the dugout. Stevenson joined Reese atop the dugout to say their vows and have the rest of the ceremony for their special day.
Stevenson even had one stadium rule suspended for her big day.
"I told people they were permitted to bring umbrellas in case it rained or was too hot," she said. "We were not going to move up top or anywhere else because I had to get married out near the field. Moving was not an option."
Photos of the entire bridal party were even taken with the home plate backstop as the backdrop.
"Everyone enjoyed it," Reese said. "And at the reception (at the South Carolina State Museum), we didn't do a first dance. She threw a first pitch to me.
"I thought that was pretty neat because I can't dance, anyway, but I was confident I could catch a softball."
Stevenson and Reese were engaged to be married in 2017. They also led the South Carolina State softball program, where Stevenson was in her second season as head coach and Reese was in his first as her assistant coach. This summer, even before they have taken any time to get away for a honeymoon, the couple has been busy visiting softball tournaments, recruiting players to add to the Bulldogs' program in future seasons.
"I remind him that I'm the head coach, and I'll even email him while we're in the same house, explaining what I'm expecting of him as a coach certain weeks," Stevenson said, smiling. "I do remind him that I'm his boss."
But even that works out well as they share the coaching responsibilities. Stevenson is always at the ready to go online and research a recruit's playing stats or fill out paperwork for a student-athlete, while Reese is much more in a good zone while checking on the playing surface or instructing players on the field in practice and game situations.
"I always wanted to help her try to achieve her goals in coaching," Reese said. "You've got to win in this business, and I think that I can bring something to the table in that area."
"It's all about the girls we have now and the girls we are recruiting and bringing here buying into the system. I know I'm excited about this program getting better. You have to work hard every day. Like we said when I was with the Red Sox (in the 2004 championship season), it's 'Why not us? Why can't it be us who wins after putting in all of our effort,'" he said.
"I can't tell these girls anything about a riseball, but every other part of the game is the same; you have to be able to throw it, catch it and hit it."
But even with the excitement around coaching softball together, the newlyweds try not to talk about softball when they are away from the S.C. State softball offices and field.
"I can't live, eat, breathe and talk softball 24/7," Stevenson said. "When we get home, that's home. So, we leave softball at the office and on the field."
Perhaps it is debatable whether an engagement ring trumps a World Series ring in all situations. But Stevenson has her take.
"All I know is that I'm the better shortstop and I could hit. So that makes me the better all-around player of the two of us," she said, smiling at Reese.
Even so, diamonds offer both a promise of on-field excitement in the future and serve as a symbol of the love Mr. and Mrs. Reese have for each other.
And in case they have plans to field a family softball team one day, Stevenson's teenage daughter (Dyna’sha), Reese's adult children (Naquwan, LaBresha and McKayla) and his teenage son (Cameron) could possibly help fill out the team. Of course, shortstop (Stevenson) and second base (Reese) are positions that are already filled.
"It's amazing how God works. I always said I wanted to marry an athletic, talented woman," Reese said.
"It took a while, but it finally came to fruition."