Of baseball and family
For Minn. State-Mankato's Magers, the two go hand-in-hand
CARY, N.C. -- Cheri Magers will never forget the phone call.
She and her husband, Bill, were grabbing a quick bite to eat when her cell phone rang. It was her son, Matt.
“Hello, Mrs. Magers,” he began. “This is Matt Magers, the new head baseball coach at Minnesota State-Mankato.”
Even now, almost exactly five years after the fact, it’s still an emotional memory for Cheri Magers and the sentiment is thick for a second or two in her voice. She had “prayed like crazy” for that very moment and, in that instant, in that phone call, her prayers were answered.
How incredibly perfect it all seemed to be.
Matt Magers had spent the last eight seasons as a member of the Minnesota State-Mankato coaching staff, so he was very much already established there professionally. He knew the school and the baseball program, and they knew him.
Personally, his roots in the area ran even deeper. The school is maybe 45 minutes from the family’s hometown in Gaylord, Minn. Matt and wife, Lora, have two boys, Louis and Wilson, so they weren’t going to be far away from Cheri and Bill.
On paper at least, the situation was as perfect as it is possible to be. Matt did had a lot to live up to, legacy-wise. He was replacing Dean Bowyer, who had been the head baseball coach at Minnesota State-Mankato for 32 seasons.
Stepping into the shoes of a legend isn’t always easy, but it has certainly worked out for Matt. The Mavericks made it to the Division II Baseball Championship for the second year in a row, and for the third time in the past four years.
Cheri and Bill are here this week, and before the team’s opener against Grand Valley State on Saturday, she nervously paced the concourse at Coleman Field.
“Whether they’re 4 or 40, you still worry about your kids,” she said, smiling.
That’s a good momma if ever there was one.
“Ultimately, she’s always been my biggest fan through the good and the bad,” Matt said the following day. “I think that’s all you really want as a parent, somebody that’s going to be there, support you and help point you in the right direction.”
For as long as any of them can remember, baseball and its fast-pitch softball cousin has been woven into the fabric of the Magers family. Bill played fast-pitch, and Matt, his older brother and younger sister were always tagging along. Always.
Bat bags, dirty cleats and grass stains -- they’re all signs of a baseball life.
“I look at my two boys, who are here now, the experience we have with getting them ready, getting their bags packed, getting their shoes, getting their sweats -- I definitely appreciate her more now and what she had to put up with when I was a little bit younger,” Matt admitted. “But any time I wanted a glove or shoes, she certainly understood what it was for.”
Cheri was an administrative assistant at Matt’s high school, from which he graduated in a senior class of just 130 students. His senior year, the school won the Minnesota high-school state championship. He then spent 2 1/2 years in the Chicago Cubs farm system before landing at Minnesota State-Mankato.
In his five seasons as head coach, Matt has already amassed a record of 214-65. Lora, Louis, Wilson, Cheri and Bill have been there every step of the way.
“My husband and I are both retired,” Cheri said. “We go to Florida with the team for spring training. It’s not just Matt … it’s my grandsons. This is family thing. We flew down here with our daughter-in-law and grandsons. My husband gets to come over on the bus with the team.”
She paused, trying to find the right words. Words couldn’t do justice to what this whole experience has been like for both her and her son.
It’s been one heck of a ride, but even after all this time, he’s still no Earl Weaver-like umpire-baiter. Before Cheri finished, she had one more story to share. And it, maybe as much as any other, tells who he is as both a coach and more importantly, a person.
“We were at a game one time, and Matt came out of the dugout and he disputed a play,” she remembered. “He shouted, ‘Jeepers creepers!’ That’s something we’ve always said at our house, ‘Jeepers creepers! Jeepers creepers, boys. Go pick that up,’ or whatever.
“My oldest son asked Matt, ‘Is that as mad as you’re going to get?’ Matt told him, ‘Every little boy in the bleachers is listening to what I say.’ ”
Jeepers creepers, indeed.