The Perfect Game: 10 years later

Ten years ago today on a blistering hot West Texas night I pitched a perfect game.

Everything was working: my 60mph fastball, my slider, my curve and even my nasty forkball in the dirt. It was a thing of beauty to watch.

You see, 10 years ago is when I somehow convinced Veronica Sandate that she should date me.

We were on the Odessa American’s annual football tour, a wild five-day journey over our massive coverage area visiting every high school we covered to get photos, do stories and shoot videos of football practices. Football, as you may have heard, is a big deal in Texas.

Swinging away in Grandfalls, Texas. A tiny town west of Odessa with a K-12 school.

At the time I was fresh off my divorce and had little skill with the ladies. Veronica had been hired by our paper as a videographer/writer. When she first walked in I knew I had to make her mine, so like any moron would do I acted like a junior higher and pretended I hated her.

When I found out she was going on the Football Tour I was a tad irritated, just because it is generally a time of male bonding for the sports staff and the photographers. Plus, I wasn’t – and am still not – enamored with newspapers attempting to make videos.

The five-day football tour commenced with the following journey: Odessa, Andrews, Seminole, Odessa (day 1); Iraan, McCamey, Rankin, Greenwood, Odessa (day 2); Kermit, Wink, Imperial, Fort Stockton, Grandfalls, Odessa (day 3); Monahans, Pecos, Balmorhea (day 4); Alpine, Fort Davis, Marfa. In all it is about 1,000 miles of driving in five days.

We found plenty of time on the Football Tour to take cool photos of ourselves on oil field equipment.

I don’t remember much of the first three days except I told a lot of corny jokes in my attempt to woo Veronica; we ran over a rattle snake on some highway in the middle of nowhere causing all of us to scream; a vulture attempted to land on top of our car while we were driving, causing me to duck even though I was behind the wheel; and I attempted to impress my future wife by splashing her while swimming in the famous San Solomon Springs in Balmorhea. Quite the player I was.

After leaving San Solomon Springs on the fourth day, we headed to Alpine for the best part of the trip: dinner, drinks and a rare hotel stay on the company dime.

An example of a Saturday morning sports page from Odessa. As you can, football is a bit of a big deal there.

If you’ve ever been to West Texas you know it is flat. More than flat really. It’s unnerving, especially to someone from the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps that is why I love Alpine so much. It is nestled in the Davis Mountains about two hours southwest of Odessa.

Veronica and Josh Scheide on assignment. They look way more important than they really were.

Anyway, I don’t remember where we went to dinner, but when legendary sports editor Chris Gove, photographer Kevin Buehler, Veronica and myself went out to watch some live music at the Railroad Blues everything came together.

My jokes were cracking, I was just sensitive enough to appear nice, I got her to tell me her hopes and dreams, we talked newspapers, we talked travel, we talked family, we talked books, we talked everything. Like I said, it was a perfect game. Something I couldn’t replicate if I tried.

Veronica doing a glamour pose while covering some story for the Odessa American.

We awoke early the next morning and finished the football tour. But thankfully for me, it was the start of a 10-year journey with my best friend and love of my life.

Lots of moves, bad hairdos, arguments, a few animals, a crazy daughter, lots of laughter, fun and so much more.

Thanks, Veronica, for inexplicably falling in love with me. Here’s to 10 more!

– Craig Craker

Who is that young couple? I barely recognize them.

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