The following year, Melton took a sportscasting job in Houston, and by a quirk of fate, Knight was traded to the Astros at almost the same time. "It was real strange, like we were just kind of following each other around, almost as if from the very beginning it was meant to be," Lopez says. When Knight arrived in Houston, the first person to call him for an interview was Melton, and later he invited Knight over to dinner. "That was the first time I had been around Nancy socially," Knight says. "I was impressed by her effervescent personality. I had never been attracted to her before as a woman because she was a little heavy."
Lopez had been attempting to solve most of her personal problems those days in the kitchen, and ballooned from 5'4½" and zaftig to a 161-pound parade float. Knight was a little slow to catch on—it wasn't until Lopez invited him over for cocoa one day and said she was thinking of leaving her husband that he had any idea she was having trouble with her marriage—but from then on he was steadfast. "He was really my only friend during that period when I was struggling the most," Lopez says.
Later that winter Knight was in Pompano Beach, Fla., at the same time she was, and for the first time he watched her play a round of golf. Afterward they talked for hours. "All that time I never felt guilty, because I wasn't doing anything," Knight says. "I thought I was just a friend to talk to and a shoulder to cry on. She never told me she loved me or anything." After Lopez separated from Melton, she and Knight talked constantly on the telephone and in person for five months without ever having what either one of them considered a date. "I was really torn because I was seeing Tim every day at the ballpark," Knight says. "It took a long time for me to know which way to go. Then one night about three weeks before she was divorced, we went out to dinner in Houston and that was really the first time I thought I might be falling in love with her. After that it was just an explosion. It was really a friendship that turned into a romance."
"Before my divorce was final, I couldn't let on that I was friends with anybody," Lopez says, "and after it was over I really didn't have any place to go. Ray wanted me to spend the winter with him at his parents' house in Georgia. In separate bedrooms, of course." Having just gone through the painful dissolution of one relationship in public, she was wary of leaping directly into another, but it did not take Knight long to propose marriage. "I was scared," she says. "Very. If it wasn't for his blue eyes, I wouldn't have done it. But we got along well and we understood each other's feelings about careers. When I married Ray, it was the fun thing to do."
It was not, however, the prudent thing (taxwise) to do. Knight and Lopez started dating in March of '82 and were married in a friend's backyard seven months later. They had intended to delay the wedding until the start of the new year for all the sensible reasons—they wanted time to explore their feelings for each other, time for all the traditional dewy contemplations of love, time to save a few thousand bucks on their tax returns. That's right, they were just a couple of crazy, lovesick kids with an accounting problem. "When we got married it cost Ray $50,000," Lopez says. "I couldn't believe that he did it. I was shocked. I said, 'Was I worth it?' But Ray didn't think I would live with him unless we were married, and he was probably right. He just felt like we needed to be married."
Lopez never worried about ego problems developing, should one of them have a better year than the other. Knight may have lacked her natural skills, but he was celebrated enough in his own right to have played in two All-Star Games. In fact, Lopez considers her husband's involvement in sports a distinct advantage, especially given her own insecurities. "I think if professional athletes were all married to other professional athletes, it would make for better marriages," she says. "Athletes are better suited to each other. When I married my first husband, I worried that he was marrying me for my money. I think any athlete who's successful wonders if someone is marrying them for their money. With Ray that was obviously never a concern." Lopez hadn't even considered the possibility that her marriage to a ballplayer would be of special interest to the sporting public. "I just felt like we were going to be pretty ordinary," she says. "I loved baseball and Ray loved golf, and we were in our own little world. We never thought about everything that would come later."
Lopez's guilt about her long absences from home, as much as the absences themselves, had contributed to the breakup of her first marriage. "After I married Ray, I felt that golf was second," she says. "He made me happier than golf did. But Ray never pressured me not to go anywhere to play golf, and I had often felt that pressure from Tim. There were times when Tim asked me not to leave." Rather than wait to be asked by Melton, Lopez offered to stay home.
"Nancy's a very honest person, but sometimes people will tell you what they think you want to hear," Knight says. "I don't feel you can make someone happy if trying to please them makes you miserable. The difference now is that for two years when we were just friends, Nancy told me exactly how she felt and what her priorities were. She can't b.s. me now.
"I allow her to play golf because she has never put it ahead of me," Knight says. "I've never asked her to come home, and I never would. Nancy is known the world over because she has such great talent, and I don't want her to waste it. It never entered my mind as a problem that she needed to play golf, as long as she loves me, and as long as it doesn't affect my standing with her. But I married her as a woman; I didn't marry the LPGA tour."
The paradox, of course, is that beneath the surface of this thoroughly modern, have-it-all, two-income union can be heard the mocking heartbeat of traditional values. "I was raised in an old-fashioned home where the woman stayed home and cooked for her husband," Lopez says. "I enjoy being at home with Ray. I'd rather be with him than play in a golf tournament." That would probably suit Knight just fine. "I'd love to have a woman who was there every day to greet me," he says. "And I'm not saying when the other players' wives are waiting for them at the ballpark after games there isn't an emptiness there. I'm also not saying there aren't times when I wish she was there to cook a meal for me. I grew up with a mother who was always there for my daddy. In the South the women take care of the men."