By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 1, 2010; D05
It must have been Barcelona.
Because everything was just so perfect at that particular port-of-call last November: The glorious weather. The romance of that beautiful city. And -- how do we put this delicately? -- the timing, as Wil Nieves, catcher for the Washington Nationals, and his wife, Yormari, would find out later.
Not that they were counting the days, trying to line it up just right. They'd been trying that for years, and that was one of the rules of this vacation -- no counting. Just enjoy the sights, and the company of their best friends, and the wonderful wine. And if it happens, it happens.
Ah, yes. It must have been the wine.
The Peñas -- Carlos, first baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays, and Pamela -- picked the wines each night of the 11-day cruise. That was one of Carlos's passions. And on that particular night, it was a Spanish red, of course. A fine Ribera del Duero, in fact -- though no one can recall the precise label.
Whatever it was, it set just the right mood, and as the two young couples bid goodnight at evening's end to their respective rooms, with the wine's warm glow coursing through them, everyone had the same feeling: that there was something special going on -- romantic, yes, but more than that. Something almost spiritual.
Ah, yes. It must have been the Virgin Mary.Pamela's prayer
A day earlier, when the cruise ship stopped near the ancient city of Ephesus, in what is now Turkey, and the Nieveses and the Peñas made a pilgrimage to the House of the Virgin Mary -- said to be the final home of the mother of Jesus -- Pamela lingered while the others stepped outside.
Alone, she lit a candle and prayed for Yormari to become pregnant, and for God to bless Wil and Yormari's child. She prayed so hard, her cheeks were streaked with tears when she finally emerged.
And pretty soon, the Mediterranean cruise was over. The ship docked for the last time, and everyone packed up and headed for the airport. For the couple, that meant back home to Puerto Rico and the reality that, unless good news came to them quickly, it would soon be time to try something new in their years-long quest to have a baby.
"The doctors all said we were fine -- she was fine and I was fine," Wil Nieves says. "They said it was probably just the stress of trying. So we said, 'Let's leave it in God's hands.' We'll go on this trip, and if it doesn't happen we'll try some other things -- fertility treatments, in vitro -- and if that didn't work, we would look into maybe trying to adopt."
In Orlando, where the Peñas live, Pamela was overcome by a premonition a few weeks after the trip.
"She said to me, 'Carlos, Yormari is pregnant. I know it' -- as if she were sure, 100 percent," Carlos Peña recalls. "She said, 'Tell Wil to tell her to be really careful.' It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it."
Well, at first, Pamela was only half-right. Within days, there would be wonderful news, a blessing -- Pamela herself was pregnant, with the Peñas' second child. It was the 18th of December, a week before Christmas, and of course the first people they called were the Nieveses -- with whom they had grown so close, since the day Wil and Carlos met as minor leaguers, they considered each other brothers and sisters.
"Guess what?" Pamela said through the phone. "You're going to be an aunt and uncle!"
"We were so excited -- screaming and crying," Wil Nieves recalls. "We weren't even thinking about ourselves. It was just complete happiness for them."
But the Nieveses were holding something back: Yormari herself was a couple of days late by that point. It was probably nothing. The same thing had happened several times over the previous few years, with only disappointment to follow.
Three days went by. It was Dec. 21, and Yormari was now five days late. Wil wanted to wait four more days -- until Christmas Day -- before they took the test, but Yormari felt something different this time. She wanted to take it immediately.
And that is how the Wil and Yormari found themselves standing at their kitchen table -- they could not bring themselves to sit -- four days before Christmas, staring at an upside-down paper sack, beneath which was a digital drugstore pregnancy test that had just been activated.
For the requisite three minutes they stood and watched and waited. At one point, just to escape the agony, Wil made them walk away to the living room to watch TV. But there was no escape, and they went right back to the kitchen to stare at the paper sack.
Finally, the three minutes were up.
Wil Nieves approached the sack as if it were a fly and his hand was a swatter. Whoosh! He smacked away the sack, and the Nieves, side by side, stood staring at something beautiful: One word, spelled out digitally across the screen of the test.
A few stunned moments of silence would follow -- they moved closer to each other for a hug, still looking at the test -- until finally Wil broke the silence.
"We were in shock," he recalls. "We looked at each other, and I said, 'Baby, you have to pee again. I want to make sure.' "
The second test brought the same result. For the first time, they let themselves believe this was really happening.
"We took a bunch of pictures of the positive test and put one on the Christmas tree," Wil says. "And then we went to the doctor."'A miracle of faith'
When a sonogram confirmed the pregnancy, there was no question whom the Nieveses would call first. In Orlando, Pamela took the call, but Carlos knew from the tears, and the outright sobbing, exactly what news had come from the other end of the line.
"I said to my wife, 'We just witnessed a miracle,' " Carlos recalls. "That's what this means to us. It's crazy. It's a miracle of faith. It's hard to grasp. This is probably the biggest miracle that has ever happened in their lives. To be part of that memory is just unbelievable. I'm sitting here now just thinking, 'Whoa.'
"It's just kind of cool to be able to say that maybe in the smallest of ways, when they talk about the miracle that happened in their lives, maybe they will mention our names."
As it turned out, the due dates were just a day apart -- Aug. 21 for the Peñas, the 22nd for the Nieveses. ("Things like that," Carlos says, "let you know God has a sense of humor.") It wasn't that difficult for Wil and Yormari to count backwards and arrive at one multi-pronged conclusion:
It must have been Barcelona. And it must have been that wine. And it must have been the Virgin Mary.
"It's a blessing," Wil Nieves says. "It's something we've wanted for long time. We know in God's time is the right moment. We would've liked this to happen a few years ago, but this was the right time. Yormari would get frustrated sometimes, and I'd say, 'It will come. We'll do in vitro, and if that doesn't work, maybe God wants us to adopt.
"We knew God has a plan, and we were waiting for the moment."
Nieves never tires of telling the story. He must have told it 50 times in February, when the Nationals convened for spring training. Once, when Wil was telling it to a friend back home, the friend said the story was so powerful, it almost made him want another child. But then he snapped back into reality. "No mas," the friend finally said. "I'm done with kids."
"Well, then, whatever you do," Nieves answered with a smile, "don't ever go to Barcelona."