Ask Ryan Church what kind of wedding he wanted, and the 27-year-old Washington Nationals 2005 rookie outfielder gives an answer most men can relate to: He just wanted to show up. Fortunately, his bride had more vision when it came to planning their Oct. 8 ceremony at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Rocky River and reception at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Cleveland.
| Kiss and Tell
A baseball match
Ryan and Athena met at a house party in spring 2000, while he was playing for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, a Cleveland Indians farm team in Warren, and she was working as a "diamond girl€VbCrLf at Scrappers Stadium. For Ryan, it was love at first sight. Athena, however, wasn't so sure. "I didn't want to date a baseball player,€VbCrLf she explains. "I assumed he was going to be here for a couple of months. Then I'd never see him again.€VbCrLf Ryan won her over during a series of hours-long phone calls made during a subsequent two-week road trip. "When he came back, I felt like I'd known him forever.€VbCrLf
He thought he was going to
Ryan's romantic proposal on the beach during a trip home to his native California was interrupted when a couple of passers-by pointed out a whale swimming offshore. "I got down on my knees, and she wasn't even paying attention to me at all,€VbCrLf he remembers. "I kept trying, saying, €˜Hey, look at me! I'm trying to say something!' Then I pulled out the ring, and she started bawling. But she kept talking about the whale!€VbCrLf ("I was in shock,€VbCrLf Athena says in her defense.)
Goodies for the guys
Ryan presented a Swiss army knife engraved with the bride and groom's names and wedding date to each of his four ushers.
No guest book here
Before guests sat down to dinner, they passed a table where they were asked to write down a wish for the bride and groom on a note card, sign it, and drop it inside one of two large vases. "That was more meaningful than just having names in a book,€VbCrLf Athena says.
A tasty tribute to the bride's
One of the tables at the reception was covered with silver trays of chocolates, including hand-dipped chocolate-covered strawberries and cherries, made by Gorant Candies of Youngstown.
His-and-hers first dances
Ryan chose "You Are€VbCrLf by Jimmy Wayne; Athena selected "God Blessed the Broken Road€VbCrLf by Rascal Flatts.
Ryan was actually involved in a choice that influenced Athena's selection of a vital wedding element: her dress. He accompanied Athena on her tour of prospective reception locations. Their first stop was one Cleveland-area ballroom, which Ryan immediately dismissed as "too gold.€VbCrLf That verdict sent them to the Renaissance, where, ironically enough, they both fell in love with the Gold Room. ("The chandeliers did it,€VbCrLf Athena says.€VbCrLf) When Athena began her hunt for a wedding gown at Brides by Demetrios in Lyndhurst, the clerks asked where she was having her reception. The reply sent employees scurrying into a back room in search of what they had nicknamed "the Renaissance dress€VbCrLf: a strapless ivory satin gown with a sweetheart neckline, full skirt and cathedral train, all embellished with scroll embroidery and a beaded floral pattern.
"As soon as I put it on, I said, €˜I'll take it,' €VbCrLf Athena says.
The 5-foot-4-inch bride picked out a pair of ivory satin sandals with a whopping four-inch heel - a sacrifice in comfort she made so she'd appear taller next to the 6-foot-2-inch groom - as well as a crystal-and-pearl tiara and a removable crystal-beaded cathedral-length veil. But her mother, Penny Stratos, provided the jewelry: a necklace consisting of a 6-carat cushion-cut blue topaz surrounded by diamonds on a white-gold chain and matching bracelet. Athena delegated the task of choosing dresses for her four bridesmaids to her maid of honor. "She has the best taste of anybody I know,€VbCrLf she explains. Her pick: a strapless champagne crystal-satin gown with a straight skirt, crystal-beaded sweep waistline and matching shawl.
"One of the bridesmaids just had a baby a year ago, so we wanted something that would be slimming and cover any stomach issues,€VbCrLf Athena said.
Athena chose not to interfere with the opulence of St. Demetrios by adding altar arrangements, pew bows, etc. But she showed no restraint when it came to bouquets and centerpieces. Rosemarie Candow of Affordable Florals in Lakewood glued crystals to the calla lilies used in the bridal bouquet, a cascade that also included white and pale-pink roses, orchids, ivy, and wire-mounted crystals to give the whole thing additional sparkle. "My bouquet was so heavy that my arms hurt the next day,€VbCrLf Athena admits. (The bridesmaids' bouquets, rounded arrangements of white, cream and pale-pink roses and white hydrangeas accented with spikes of greenery and the same wire-mounted crystals, were presumably less cumbersome.)
The floral extravagance continued at the Renaissance, where topiaries studded with roses and wrapped in strings of tiny white lights gave the two-bar area outside the Gold Room an outdoor patio feel. Inside, guests found 20 tables covered in champagne-satin tablecloths with sheer pintuck overlays, each with a lush centerpiece of white calla and stargazer lilies, orchids, roses, hydrangeas and ivy in a glass vase on a round mirror surrounded by votive candles. A glass of champagne garnished with a strawberry was waiting at each place setting.
"It brought a little bit of color to the tables,€VbCrLf Athena says.
After a plated dinner of garlic-studded chicken or grilled beef tenderloin, guests were each served a slice of the white wedding cake, along with chocolate mousse and a berry coulis, in a solid milk-chocolate baseball glove or hat rendered right down to the white-chocolate Major League Baseball emblem. Instead of the hat or glove, some people got a piece of cake and little mound of chocolate mousse with a white-chocolate baseball player in Nationals colors on top. "I made sure Ryan got a hat - he didn't know about it,€VbCrLf Athena says. The evening's entertainment consisted of dancing to music spun by a disc jockey and performed live by a Greek band, both provided by Special Productions of Kirtland.
"My (mother's) family is Greek,€VbCrLf Athena says. "But I wanted to make sure that if people were uncomfortable trying to learn Greek dancing, they had American music to dance to also.€VbCrLf
The couple had so much fun at their reception they're doing it all over again - this month they'll be attending a cocktail party in Ryan's hometown of Lompoc, Calif., for friends and family members who couldn't make it to Cleveland for the wedding. Then they'll take off for a weeklong honeymoon in Fiji. At press time, the couple hadn't booked their accommodations.
"But as long as I have my Snoopy fishing pole,€VbCrLf Ryan jokes, "I'm good.€VbCrLf