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Love Story: Softball game made them winners for life

James and Michelle Baratta of Island Park on

James and Michelle Baratta of Island Park on a pier in Point Lookout late summer 2019. Credit: Baratta family

Michelle Baratta of Island Park talks about meeting her husband, James.

It was 1991. My name was Michelle Rodriguez, and I was a “Brooklyn girl” working as a nurse in the emergency room at what's now NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. I could see the Statue of Liberty from my Bay Ridge apartment and remember thinking I was exactly where I wanted to be in my life.

One summer night in 1991, my cousin invited me to watch a Long Beach Fire Department softball game with her. She insisted I go and teased me that I might meet “the one.” After the game at Baldwin Park, some teammates asked my cousin who I was. Sure, they were cute, but one stood out from the rest.

His name was Jimmy. He lived in Long Beach and was a New York City police officer who worked nights. He was a funny guy and that was one of the reasons I agreed to a breakfast date the next morning. It went well. I felt so comfortable and hoped to see him again. We had similar careers in a broad sense — his keeping people safe and my caring for them. We soon started dating.

A lifelong Long Beach resident, Jimmy rented a house there with several friends. He and I spent many days at the beach that summer with friends and family. The guys played volleyball and the girls mostly chatted among themselves, sometimes joining the game. We would end our day at Chauncey’s, a restaurant and bar on the beach. Incidentally, more than 10 of the guys in our crowd met their wives that summer.

Jimmy and I had our first kiss at Paddy McGee’s — a waterfront bar in Island Park. From then on, we were committed to each other and had many exciting dates, mostly in Manhattan, hitting landmark spots and benefiting from Jimmy’s knowledge of the city.

When Jimmy introduced me to his family, I felt so welcomed. His father, a retired firefighter, was a great cook, and his mother was happy and kind. Jimmy inherited his father’s love of cooking. I tried fresh stuffed lobster at their house for the first time and loved it. Jimmy and I enjoyed afternoon cocktails sitting on their porch watching the boats pass. We also liked traveling, and we went skiing in the Italian and Swiss Alps and scuba diving in Bonaire, an island in the southern Caribbean.

After two blissful years of dating, Jimmy asked my father for my hand in marriage. On a moonlit beach one summer evening sitting on a blanket and enjoying a bottle of wine together, he proposed. It was so romantic. We were married at my childhood parish, St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn, on April 22, 1995, and had a reception at the Knights of Columbus in Oceanside. We honeymooned for two weeks in the Cayman Islands and Disney World.

Jimmy and I bought our Island Park home a year after we married and have lived there since. We have been blessed with two children, our son, James, and our daughter, Grace. Jimmy remained a police officer until retiring in 2015, and I did per diem nurse work until retiring last year.

Marriage is a blessing, but adversities happen, and, like most couples, we’ve faced many. However, the strength of our marriage has been steadfast. We are grateful for the life we have built. We committed to traveling more and planned to go to Italy first to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, that trip has been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. We look forward to traveling, hopefully soon, and spending warm summer days at the beach.

— With Ann Donahue-Smukler

TELL US ABOUT HOW YOU MET. Access the online form at newsday.com/lilovestory — or send an anecdote along with your phone number and a photo to ann.smukler@newsday.com, or call Ann Donahue-Smukler at 631-843-2520. Publication is not guaranteed. Photos cannot be returned and may be used in other publications affiliated with Newsday.

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