Sports lovers

Holly Neumann and Erich Neumann with their 9-month-old baby Henri, and their dog Penny. (Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune / December 17, 2012)

Holly Marie DeMark was experiencing Post-Breakup Syndrome. Though not recognized by the medical profession, PBS is as painfully real as a broken heart.

"I was still licking my wounds," Holly recalled, "and wanted a little distance."

In May 2005, having recently completed a yearlong internship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Holly, then 24, had returned to live with her parents in Oak Forest. Looking for a place of her own, she answered an ad on Craigslist for a rental home in Ravenswood, a place that already housed several other tenants.

"I'm the middle child of five, so I figured I (could) handle a possibly chaotic living situation," she said. "I was looking forward to meeting new people too."

After talking with Mark, the tenant who volunteered to recruit additional roommates, Holly signed on. "You'll like the other tenants," Mark told her. "And there's a nice Canadian living in the basement."

The "nice Canadian" turned out to be Erich Martin Neumann, born in Montreal, raised in London, Ontario.

"I was secretly enthralled," Holly said. "Good-looking, and he had these elegant manners. There was something about his straightforwardness and sincerity."

Like Holly, Erich had also ended a long relationship, but in his case the parting was amicable. Holly, meanwhile, remained conflicted over hers. But that was about to be resolved by, of all things, baseball.

Mark had arranged a tenants outing at Wrigley Field for a night game. Holly, a lifelong Cubs fan, eagerly signed on. She was somewhat surprised to discover that Erich was joining them too — turns out he was crazy about the Cubs. When his family moved from Montreal to southern Ontario, he would watch the Cubs after school on WGN America.

"I don't think I would have loved baseball ... if it weren't for the Cubs being played on TV in the afternoon," he said.

What's more, after studying cartography at the University of Western Ontario, Erich was offered a position at Landrum & Brown aviation firm in Chicago. He jumped at the opportunity — not just for the job, but also for the chance to work near Wrigley Field.

Fast-forward to July 17, 2005, and the Ravenswood group Cubs outing — which morphed into Holly and Erich's first date.

For Holly, it was a magical evening. After the Cubs actually beat the Pirates 8-2, the group headed home, eventually squeezing their way through the crowd at a neighborhood outdoor festival. Holly could hear the Old 97's on a nearby stage, performing "Question."

"It's a saccharine, sweet song about a guy proposing to a girl," Holly said. "Which makes me wonder if over time I lined up the events." In fact, she would have bet pints all around that the entire evening was a setup — except that nobody, not even Erich, could have arranged for all those stars in the sky.

At one point, Erich raised one of Holly's hands with both of his and, leaning into her face to be heard in the crowd, whispered, "Is this OK?"

"I just kind of melted," she said.

A romance developed immediately, but Holly, still cautious, thought it best not to tell their housemates. Which amused Erich.

"She still had a room upstairs in the house we rented," he said, "but I don't remember her spending any of her time in her room anymore after that date."

Eventually a new concern emerged: Given the difference in countries, cultures and families — Holly from her large and raucous South Side clan, Erich from his smaller, keep-your-own-counsel French tradition, with few relatives who even spoke English — could this relationship last?

Ultimately, they both recognized the differences as pluses, choosing to see the advantages of nurturing connections so different from their own. Plus, there was always baseball — and their great baseball adventure of 2006.