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Florida military family reunites at Tampa Bay Rays game

Melissa Franco-Rodriguez hadn’t seen her family in more than seven months.
Melissa and Carla with two of their daughters, ---, at a Rays game on Tuesday.
Melissa and Carla with two of their daughters, ---, at a Rays game on Tuesday. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jul. 29

The Rodriguez sisters hadn’t felt the embrace of their mom in 7 1/2 months.

They also hadn’t been to a Major League Baseball game before.

They didn’t realize both of those things would change on Tuesday night.

Serenity, 10, Nisabella, 13, and Yarelis, 17, went to a Tampa Bay Rays game Tuesday with their mom, Carla Franco-Rodriguez, 37, thinking that their deployed mother, Melissa Franco-Rodriguez, 33, had bought them the tickets while she was thousands of miles away with the Air Force in South Asia.

But she was only a few feet away, hiding behind the Rays mascot as she followed it down the steps. Yarelis spotted Melissa first, and started a domino of hugs from her and her sisters as Melissa spread her arms around all three of them.

“I felt emotional just because it was so long since I held her, kissed her, loved on her ... I’m not a crier and I was crying cause (I was) so excited,” Carla said.

“When I saw them on the big screen, I lost it,” Melissa said.

U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Melissa Franco-Rodriguez surprised her family at the ballgame arriving home from deployment. Serenity Fatzinger-Rodriguez, 10, and Yarelis Rodriguez, 17, reach to touch stingrays during the Tampa Bay Rays game on Tuesday.
U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Melissa Franco-Rodriguez surprised her family at the ballgame arriving home from deployment. Serenity Fatzinger-Rodriguez, 10, and Yarelis Rodriguez, 17, reach to touch stingrays during the Tampa Bay Rays game on Tuesday. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The outpour of emotion came after many months of misses.

Melissa had missed Christmas, New Year’s, all three daughters’ and Carla’s birthdays, and an anniversary. Her daughters play softball, and Melissa spent a lot of days watching their games over FaceTime instead of face-to-face.

Melissa and Carla have been married for eight years, and this was the fourth time Melissa had been deployed away from her family. Carla is no stranger to military life, growing up an “Army brat” and serving in the Army for four years. Melissa has been in the Air Force for 12 years and is a technical sergeant.

“Deployments are hard. They’re not easy. I think people sometimes don’t understand it,” Carla said.

Melissa has accumulated some leave time, and they are going to spend a lot of this next month being together.

A vacation to Costa Rica is on the itinerary, after their youngest daughter, Serenity, who just turned 10 on July 25, gets her big birthday dinner. There’s a surprise vacation for the sisters on the horizon, too, but they don’t get to know where they are going just yet.

Tuesday marked the first time they have eaten together as a family since Melissa’s return. Yes, the meal consisted of ballpark hot dogs at Tropicana Field, but as they ate, Serenity gave a thumbs up.

Mom was home.