With less than three weeks to go until Taylor Armstrong’s wedding, Tony Garcia wanted to have a final hurrah of single manhood for his friend.
The two work in I.T. together at Mississippi State, and while scheduling (and work) prevented the big-group gathering of a large-scale bachelor party, Tony planned an outing he knew would make his friend feel like a king while getting do what he enjoys the most – watching MSU sports.
Taylor moved around his entire life, including an eight-year run in the Army regularly taking him across the world. But he started in Mississippi and now he’s back in his home state where he learned to root for the Bulldogs as a little kid.
So, on a Saturday devoted to the groom-to-be, Taylor and Tony spent the entire day watching MSU sports together, with friends and family mixed into the events as the long, sunny weekend wound on.
The day started at 10 a.m. at Dudy Noble Field for baseball, with several surprises involved. Taylor just thought they were going to watch the game and considered it a great gift when Tony first put a baseball in his hand signed by the entire MSU baseball team and then unfurled a custom-made MSU baseball jersey with “ARMSTRONG” stitched across the back.
“My fiancé got me to try one on at The Lodge a few weeks ago,” Taylor later said in a break between innings. “I figured she was getting me a jersey for my birthday and wasn’t being very sneaky about it. Then I saw this today!”
From there the pair went to their seats, but not the usual ones near Taylor’s parents.
Tony, with the help of those in the athletic department, had secured seats in the front row of the auxiliary side of the press box, sun at their backs coming through the window, Dudy Noble laid out smooth and green in front of their perfect perch behind the plate, a spot no ticket is sold for.
“It’s the best seat in the house,” Taylor said with a smile. “It’s perfect.”
Armed with peanuts, Cokes and a new gameday jersey, they spent the morning-turned-afternoon doing what they love – watching baseball, relaxing and talking about whatever came to mind.
For instance, Taylor is weary about bringing instant replay into baseball too much.
“The human element is what makes sports,” he said.
How it even came up is a mystery of casual conversation, but the chatter at one point turned into a timeline of mascots, word marks and emblems, reviewing favorites at MSU over the years.
“My first cowbell as a kid,” Taylor remembered, “my first big one, still has the walking Bully on it.”
Junior pitcher Trevor Fitts was on the mound for MSU in the win, a player Taylor said he loves for a personal bias.
“I’m a beard guy,” Taylor said, giving a quick rub of his thick facial hair. “This is actually pretty short for me. My fiancé asked me to cut it short a couple weeks ago so she could see what she wants for the wedding.”
And what did she think?
“She wants it fluffy,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll get it there for her.”
How Taylor and bride-to-be Leslie found each other is as fitting as could be expected for the man who spent one of his final weekends as a bachelor cheering on the Maroon and White.
The two, Taylor says, are both huge MSU fans and even have a Bulldog-themed room planned for their house.
“This ball is going in there,” he said, picking up the signed baseball.
But Taylor admitted he had nearly given up on love before finally meeting, thinking that particular brand of happiness was just never meant to happen for him. He had his daughter who meant everything to him and an army-trained career he enjoyed, so he certainly had plenty to fulfill him.
He had even stopped paying for his profile on a dating website after a few unsuccessful tries, resigned to gratefully live the life he had.
Until one day, on a whim of divine inspiration, he re-activated his account. Upon logging in, he found a message someone had sent him just a few days prior in her first week on the site. He checked her profile, immediately responded and the two began talking back and forth for some time. A longer time than usual, even.
By the time Taylor and Leslie had their first date, they knew each other better than many who had been on multiple dates.
“We got that awkwardness out of the way before we met,” Taylor joked.
So the two met in Starkville and for their first date, rather than coffee, a movie or even mini golf, the pair pulled onto campus for an MSU softball game.
After the Bulldogs played, they went for dinner.
Then, not content to call it a good first date and end it there, they went back to campus, walked around talking and found themselves at the Chapel of Memories.
“As soon as we met,” Taylor recalled, “you knew we were made for each other.”
And now, in less than two weeks, the chapel built out of saved brick as a relic and monument of MSU history is the same place the two will become man and wife.
In fact, it was just this fall at an MSU football game on campus where Taylor proposed.
With family in town and tailgating, Taylor suggested they go take a picture with the Bulldog statue at the top of The Junction.
Then boyfriend and girlfriend, the couple stood alone for a picture of just the two of them.
“We need a cowbell,” Taylor said. “Anyone have one?”
His daughter walked up and handed the unknowing fiancé-to-be a cowbell, that clanging symbol of Mississippi State, while Taylor dropped to one knee during Leslie’s moment of distraction.
The back side of the cowbell, she saw as she took it, had the day’s date and a picture of the happy couple smiling together at the spring football game, plastered on in decal form.
The other side simply said, ‘Will you marry me?’
“By that point,” Taylor said, “everyone near us in The Junction was watching. When she said yes, everybody started ringing their cowbells.”
Back at Dudy Noble Field, Taylor, Tony and a couple friends rose from their surprise seats, having just cheered the Bulldogs on to an 8-4 victory.
The quick walk over to The Hump found Taylor and Tony sitting with the Armstrong parents watching MSU’s basketball team play Arkansas in one of the season’s more fast-paced and entertaining games.
A few minutes into contest, Taylor was surprised again, escorted down from the upper level to the fluffy leather chairs lining the court, he and Tony sitting inches rather than feet away from the action on the floor.
As the minutes turned to seconds and the game clock eventually ran out, the two friends reveled in their rockstar seats, smiles locked onto their faces no matter what happened between the lines.
The game let out in time for dinner and the pair left as happy as they could be – Tony thrilled knowing he gave his friend an experience he wouldn’t forget and Taylor as contented and warm as life had ever found him, happiness surrounding him with friends, family, love and his Bulldogs.