A different diamond sparkled under Ripken Stadium's lights yesterday as two die-hard sports fans tied the knot on the minor-league ballpark's home plate.
Melissa Tolson, 27, and Dave Bard, 30, of Odenton were married yesterday, making Tolson the first employee to be wed at the year-old ballpark. Although thunder could be heard as the wedding took place, the rain held off until the end of the ceremony.
Tolson - the events planner for the IronBirds - shocked girlfriends and mothers by abandoning plans for a beach-side fete in favor of a baseball-themed wedding.
"I thought it was a hysterical but brilliant idea," said Bard, who is a project manager at a Washington-based marine conservation organization. "But my mother wasn't all that excited at first."
Tolson ditched plans for a ceremony on a Florida beach because her mother, who lives in Florida, isn't much of a planner, she said. And repeated trips to Naples, Fla., were out of the question.
Plus, sports is a motif throughout the couple's lives, Tolson said. Bard, who grew up on the Jersey shore, is a fishing aficionado. Tolson's childhood was steeped in softball: Her Naples team won the girls' World Series four times in the early 1990s. She moved to the Baltimore area last spring to work for the IronBirds, she said.
In the midst of planning the wedding, she said, she realized that she already had a perfect marriage: a job and a man she loved. So she combined them to create the perfect wedding. Ripken Stadium became the clear venue choice.
"I was taken off guard when Dave called me to tell me," said Bard's mother, Conne, 58. "I laughed at first. But now I am smiling ear to ear."
Tolson, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, crafted a casual, eclectic party for 170 people that mixed the couple's religion - Tolson is Presbyterian and Bard is Jewish - with their passion for sports.
Tolson's best friend conducted the ceremony after he was ordained by a Web-based church. Bard's uncle performed parts of a traditional Jewish ceremony under a chuppah strung with fishing nets and starfish.
A grandson of Howard Cosell, Colin Cosell - a brother of Bard's college buddy - sang "At Last" and "You Send Me" at the wedding.
And, yes, Tolson had nine bridesmaids, enough for a team. The bridesmaids were driven to the pitcher's mound in golf carts and then walked to home plate.
"There is nothing normal about this wedding," Tolson said.
Tolson has never been one for convention, said bridesmaid Jean Allender, 27, who played alongside Tolson on the Florida girls' team. In 1992, she said, Tolson cut holes in her World Series game cap to poke two pigtails through. It was, she added, the only World Series they lost.
"She always had to be different," said Allender, who initially balked at the ballpark idea. "But if anyone could pull this off, Melissa could."
Allender said she and the other attendants persuaded Tolson not to use sheet-covered bales of hay as seating to avoid ruining the field. Tolson chose bleachers instead.
Tolson printed her invitations on authentic TicketMaster tickets and hired a tuxedoed Ferrous, the IronBirds mascot, to mingle with guests.
But Tolson ditched all other baseball kitsch.
She wore a white satin halter gown, and she and the attendants walked the field in heels. The groomsmen wore shirts, ties and slacks. Levy Restaurants of Chicago, the stadium's vendor, catered the reception, which was held at the stadium's club level, looking out over the Susquehanna River.
"We're excited about this," said general manager Jeff Eiseman. "This facility is really much more than a ballpark."
Tolson and Bard met in the summer of 2000 at a New York-based public relations firm, where they worked as account executives.
According to Tolson, it was a relationship slow to foment. Bard caught her eye as he made office rounds to introduce himself as a new hire, she said. But he was her superior and they feared jeopardizing their reputations and relationship with an office romance, so he tried to stall her advances, she said.
But Tolson finally won him over with a spicy chicken burrito dish served on her Manhattan rooftop amid beach chairs and a cheap boom box. They kept their relationship a secret at work, she said.
Two years later, he slipped a diamond ring on her finger on the white sands of a Bahamas beach.
The couple will honeymoon in Key West for a week, where they will go deep-sea fishing.