ST. LOUIS Shelby Fetsch rushes from the mound into the arms of the love of her life. For her, everything that follows becomes a blur: the cheers at Busch Stadium, the pictures, the congratulations from strangers, the joy that comes with knowing she and her boyfriend specialist William Johanson-Kubin of the 463rd Military Police Company are now engaged.
Fetsch's hands shake when the couple moves to the side of the field after Johanson-Kubin caught her first pitch prior to the St. Louis Cardinals' game against the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night. Johanson-Kubin made the surprise visit from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where he has been stationed since December. He wanted the moment to be perfect.
"Oh, my God," said Fetsch, 20, shortly after Johanson-Kubin knelt near home plate.
Johanson-Kubin's appearance was one to remember. He and Fetsch have grown close over the past year, and he knew his Cardinals-loving girlfriend would cherish the memory.
The day, like the two that came before since Johanson-Kubin arrived in St. Louis on his stealth mission, was filled with nervous energy. At last, he was engaged to his love. After all the hours of waiting, he felt like the happiest man alive.
"God," Fetsch says on the field, "I'm so glad he's home."
Johanson-Kubin sits in a hotel lobby in downtown St. Louis, well awake after a restless night. It's a little after 10 a.m. Friday. He has been eager to pop the life-changing question since starting his day before 4:30.
He's anxious as he leans forward on a couch dressed in uniform, but his choice to propose feels right. He has learned the value of trust and sacrifice since his relationship with Fetsch began about six months ago. He's confident in what he's about to do, because she makes him whole.
"Everything has just seemed to work out perfectly," he says.
Johanson-Kubin met Fetsch in St. Louis through a mutual friend more than a year ago. Their connection started with small talk, then it strengthened with more time spent together.
They became a couple last winter, about a month before he left for Afghanistan. Early dates included visits by Fetsch to see Johanson-Kubin at Fort Leonard Wood, located in south central Missouri about 10 miles south of Waynesville. There also were trips to St. Louis to enjoy the City Museum and Six Flags.
Those shared hours made their love grow. Johanson-Kubin has missed Fetsch while overseas, but he has learned to appreciate the depth of their bond. They speak online through Skype, and he estimates thousands of emails have been sent between the two in the past five months. They talk about the routine he lives during 13-hour shifts at Bagram Airfield. They discuss their pasts, and they try to make the more than 7,000 miles between them feel a little closer.
"It's a lot of give and take," says Johanson-Kubin, 22. "She's willing to be here while I'm over there and actually make sacrifices. It showed me a lot."
She showed him enough that he knew it was time to make their bond lasting. They had discussed engagement before. Johanson-Kubin remembers Fetsch telling him that she wanted a proposal to be large and memorable.
Not long ago, an idea came to mind. Fetsch has been a Cardinals fan for years. So when Johanson-Kubin's superior, First Sgt. Mark Hillman, mentioned a chance for him to return to St. Louis to take part in FOX Sports Midwest's "This One's For You" pregame ceremony, asking the big question became a priority.
"Probably her face," Johanson-Kubin says in the hotel, smiling, before walking away to wait out the final hours before leaving for Busch Stadium. "That's probably what I'll remember most."
After the ceremony Friday night, Fetsch and Johanson-Kubin walk into a small room deep in Busch Stadium. Fetsch's hands are still shaking. Johanson-Kubin is still smiling. Both are elated.
"I woke up at 4 this morning," Johanson-Kubin says to his fiance at a table. "I'm reading your emails, and I'm not responding. It was hard."
"I know," Fetsch says through nervous laughter. "I didn't even email you (further), because I didn't know (if) you were going to be able to respond."
"Sneaky," Johanson-Kubin continues, grinning.
The shock for Fetsch hasn't gone away, but her happiness is only beginning. The couple plans to enjoy the next two weeks with each other. They will spend most of the next seven days in St. Louis before visiting Johanson-Kubin's family in Washington state. Johanson-Kubin is scheduled to return to Afghanistan after the two-week break.
"In my mind, we were already married," Fetsch says. "I'm completely committed to him."
Johanson-Kubin grins. For him, the past three days had been a mix of nerves and excitement. Now the worry was gone.
Fetsch's love had calmed him in Afghanistan. He couldn't think of a more memorable night. At last, he anticipated their new life together.
"I know it was meant to be," he says, "because it was perfect."