How big, how dramatic has 1992 been? How big is Norm?
"The mailman is terrified of him," Ed says.
The year was going to be Kristen's year from the beginning. One way or another. She was going to be 24 years old, winding up a career in one of those amateur sports that hands an athlete one chance at a grand finishing touch. She would win a gold medal in the Olympics or she would not. The rest of her life would have to wait. This would be her moment, in a competition held Aug. 2-7. What was it she said to Ed when he had returned home with a gold medal as a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic baseball team? She said she would bring home one of her own in '92. This was her time to do that.
Ed's year was much more uncertain. Signed as a first-round draft pick in June 1988, he had finally made the major leagues in '91, sitting on the Blue Jays' bench. He was not assured of that spot in '92. A third baseman, he had heard that there was a move to convert him to catcher, a change that probably would not be made in the big leagues. Where would he be in '92? Majors or minors? He had no idea. He only knew he would be alone.
"We've never had a chance to be together for a long stretch of time," Kristen says. "He was working on his career. I was working on mine. They're both careers you can have only when you're young. You either do them then or you don't do them."
The romance of the situation was the stuff of a made-for-TV movie, the synchronized swimmer and the baseball player. They had met in a dormitory hallway at the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis and had become almost an instant couple. They were helped by the fact that they lived so close to each other in California's East Bay, outside San Francisco, Kristen in Walnut Creek and Ed in Stockton, but that was the only help they received. He was always leaving for some trip when she was coming home, or vice versa. Winter ball. Instructional league. World synchro championships. Hello. Goodbye. Four years of courtship. One year of marriage.
"I missed everything he did, he missed everything I did," Kristen says. "That was how it had to be. I was in the air somewhere when he was called up to the major leagues. I had 15 messages to call Ed when I got home. I called and he said, 'You can go out and buy the couches now. I'm in the big leagues.' I was in the air when he got his first major league hit. I was in the air when he got his first home run. Even when we were together, our schedules were so different. I'd have to be at the pool at 6:30 in the morning. I'd go through my two workouts and come home at five at night and be ready for dinner and bed. Ed was used to a nighttime schedule, all night games."
The 1992 separation was the worst. No doubt about that. Ed left for spring training early, in the middle of February. Kristen saw him only for two-and three-day stretches somewhere in North America. She saw him no more than 15 days, total, until after the Olympics in August. Norm was her companion. He was still very young and weighed about 65 pounds when Ed got on the plane for Florida.
"Norm helped a lot," Kristen says. "There were people I could visit—my parents, my teammates at the Walnut Creek Aquanuts Club, my friends—but when I came home, it helped to have someone in the house waiting for me. You could see him changing. There were weeks when he would grow 10 pounds. He was always glad to see me. He became a real mama's dog."
Kristen's workouts were the last pieces of a long comeback. Taking over in 1989 for the retired Tracie Ruiz-Conforto as the U.S.'s top synchronized swimmer, Kristen suffered severe back pain after winning the 1989 national championships. The diagnosis was that she had torn facets, tiny ligaments attached to the vertebrae. It was an injury most often seen in aging pro football linebackers, brought on by arching the back too many times at the point of collision. A synchronized swimmer sometimes feels as though she spends her entire life with her back arched. The prescription was total rest. Kristen did nothing for the next nine months.