Those who follow baseball in the Alexandria community know Bernice Wagner, and they know she would likely want to be at Knute Nelson Memorial Park celebrating her birthday by watching a Cardinals game on May 1.
There wasn’t a game to be played, but Wagner did get the chance to be at the park on Friday and celebrate her 64th birthday with some of the people who she misses most right now. Wagner stood outside the gate along the first-base line at the Alexandria home field and waved to about 20 vehicles who honked and yelled happy birthday to her at 1 p.m.
“I was shocked about the parade today,” Wagner said with a smile. “I’m glad (the weather) turned nice. I got two wishes that I needed.”
Those wishes were baseballs from the Alexandria coaching staff and the Helgeson family in town. Paul Walsh, a longtime baseball coach from the area and current assistant at Parkers Prairie High School, also gave Alexandria’s Kevin Engebretson two Twins homer hankies to give to Wagner, and Cardinals’ head coach Jake Munsch got “Happy Birthday Bernice!!!” up on the digital billboard.
Wagner loves Minnesota and Alexandria sports of all levels. It’s not uncommon to hear her cheering on an Alexandria baseball team from the stands while filling everyone in on a Twins’ score during games that she is listening to on the radio.
It’s safe to say that Wagner misses baseball and sports in general as much as anyone during the shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I miss the Twins, the Timberwolves, the Wild,” Wagner said. “I do miss baseball right now, but you got to do what the government tells us to do.”
Engebretson, 35, is one of the many former Alexandria baseball players who has gotten to know Wagner well over the years.
“She’ll let me know when my ERA wasn’t very good,” Engebretson said with a smile.
The two have formed a friendship that is going on almost 20 years now. Engebretson and former Alexandria head baseball coach Russ Hinrichs worked together for years with the Cardinals’ baseball program. They are now both assistant football coaches who get Wagner to and from the home football games for the Cardinals in the fall.
In the spring and summer, it’s baseball time for Wagner. Engebretson would get many phone calls from Wagner to talk about how much she was missing the game when both the Twins’ and Cardinals’ seasons were shut down due to the pandemic.
Engebretson put together the plan to host the birthday celebration on May 1. He posted the details through his social media accounts to let the baseball community know to show up and wish her a happy birthday, while staying in their vehicles and maintaining social distancing.
For a few minutes, Wagner got the chance to be back at the park in her Cardinals gear again.
“We know Bernice misses her guys,” Engebretson said. “She misses being around the team. She misses sports like everyone else right now, and I think she needs to know there’s a lot of people here who care about her and love her. She’s a pretty special part of our community, so we wanted to make it a special day for her.”