The Portland Phoenix

Leftovers: Out at the plate

Most people have a self-imposed statute of limitations when enough time has passed and it becomes bearable to share moments of life-changing embarrassment.

Some of those moments should only be heard by a qualified therapist. Some are offered as a drunken confession to anyone who will listen, and some are turned into humorous vignettes too surreal not to be shared. 

The latter is the case about the time my California-crazy ex proposed to me on the big screen at a nearly sold-out Portland Sea Dogs game at Hadlock Field. 

Aligning with my late-August birthday, it was a perfect summer day. My not-yet-ex had secured a skybox that was packed with friends who were in on his plan. To my delight, more people I hadn’t seen in a long while were on hand to crawl over the low chain separating the general admission bleachers from our reserved seats. The maximum skybox capacity was doubled and even Slugger the Sea Dog made an early appearance. 

By the second inning, I was two Miller Lites into it when I realized my California-crazy ex had gone all out with an open bar, hot dogs, pizza, and a bottomless bowl of Sea Dog Biscuits.

The afternoon had all the makings of the best birthday party ever. 

Looking back at how we met (a professional convention) and the whirlwind manner in which he wooed me, it’s obvious that “complicated” is too simple a word to explain our circumstances and situation. 

I was pressured by his logic and persuasiveness, and he moved across the country and we bought a home together (hence the often-mentioned Big House on my beloved Mt. Deepwood).

My daughters adored him. He knew good wine and could make pizza dough to die for. He had a glorious vacation-share in Cabo San Lucas and for the first time in many years, my pressing financial woes were lightened. He read incessantly, became immersed in my music, took Number One to Comic-Con in Boston, and sent my little one to an exclusive kid’s culinary camp in Vermont. He played poker with my attorney weekly and golfed with the best of them.

But this man also had a past of which I only knew the bits and pieces.

Successful in business, his children and family of origin were estranged. The things he told me were odd and sad and somehow made me increasingly uneasy. He wasn’t exactly secretive but there were red flags I couldn’t identify. BFF and I attributed them to his California craziness, and as much as I appreciated what he brought to us, those flags flapped in the back of my mind whenever I thought of my own future. 

But I was in deep and I had my children in it deep with me.

Slugger the Sea Dog and Natalie Ladd on the day team officials will never forget.

By my third Miller Lite, the Sea Dogs were ahead and I turned to thank him for such a fun day. It was then he got on one knee with massive bling coming from a little black box. Looking up, I saw myself on the big screen with the words, “Will you marry me?” The crowd was cheering and everyone in our skybox closed in. 

The red flags were whipping back and forth as if in a hurricane gale. Time and space froze and I was literally immobilized. My mind grew quiet and still and I said nothing. When I looked up again, the cameras were off me, the game had resumed, and most of our friends had left. As if on cue, dark clouds moved in and I later learned the home team lost.

The days that followed were some of the hardest of my life.

I won’t say I didn’t know the proposal was probably coming, and everyone I cared about was upset with me. The girls were too young to have the hard conversation about authenticity, fear, and settling. Feeling alone and freaked out, I had only myself to blame for getting sucked in and staying there once I realized I just didn’t love this man.

People said the right thing would have been to marry him and make life easier for the girls and me. But even with the damage, hurt, and confusion, what I did was the true definition of personal freedom and courage. 

Years later, at a work meeting with Sea Dogs Executive Vice President John Kameisha, he told me the front office always has a giggle at the memory of the only person who ever said no to a big-screen marriage proposal. While it’s nice to be remembered, it’s not exactly a team record I’m proud of.

Going into 2022, look back at some of your own uncomfortable scenarios that no matter how awful, turned out for the best. Then, be proud of yourself and share those vignettes with me if you’re so inclined. All moments of authenticity are home runs, so don’t be surprised when a Sea Dogs Biscuit gift certificate rolls into your inbox.

Natalie Ladd is an award-winning columnist, freelance writer, and Portland restaurant veteran. She loves Boston sports, California cabernets, and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. Reach her at

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