New York Mills, Minn.
New York Mills High School baseball coach Dustin Geiser can remember how he did in his first ever baseball game at 9 years old. He remembers the short bases for a morning summer baseball game behind the school in New York Mills. He got to pitch and only gave up one hit on the mound to a buddy of his.
"It's crazy what sticks with you," Geiser said. "Baseball has always stuck with me."
Geiser's final high school game of his baseball career with New York Mills was in the 2004 Minnesota Class 1A state championship game. The Eagles lost 7-4 to Sleepy Eye St. Mary's, but he'll never forgot the smile he had as he left Chaska Athletic Park in Chaska, Minn.
"At the start of the season, we never would've pictured ourselves being in the state championship," Geiser said. "It was about being able to soak it in and not dwell on the defeat. I wanted to live in the moment. That's what I want my team to do."
Geiser will return to the state tournament for the first time since that loss. This time, however, he's going as a coach, as the No. 2 seed Eagles open up the Class 1A tournament against South Ridge at 3 p.m. Thursday at Mini Met in Jordan, Minn.
"It's kind of come full circle," Geiser said. "It's crazy how it all works."
Geiser grew up with a dad, Terry, who is in the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame and five brothers who all played baseball. He was watching his daughter play a summer league game on Tuesday, as he discussed what baseball has meant to his family.
"Baseball is like a disease, it takes over your body," Geiser said. "You love the game within the game, understanding where to throw the ball, when to bunt, when not to bunt. You're either hooked and it consumes you and you can't explain why or it's not for you. I grew up around it."
When New York Mills won the Class 1A, Section 6 championship, Geiser's legion, high school and amateur baseball coaches were all in the stands watching.
"Those were the guys that got me here and got me where I needed to be," Geiser said. "Now, I'm trying to do that for other kids."
New York Mills senior Dylan Fischer quit baseball in the middle of his sophomore season. He didn't play as a junior, but returned to play as a senior. He's hitting .333. with 11 RBIs this season for the Eagles. He played amateur baseball with Geiser as a teammate and said that's the big reason he returned to the baseball team at New York Mills.
"He's always hustling, running things out, doing things the right way," Fischer said. "I'd say I kind of look up to him. He's a good role model. I'd say I hustle whenever I can because of him."
Fellow senior Corey Roberts leads the team with 18 RBIs and is batting .303 with two homers. He feels the players relate more to Geiser.
"He's not so serious all the time, so it's fun," Roberts said. "He's kind of a kid himself."
It wasn't all fun for the Eagles this season, as they started 2-2, including losing 1-0 to a Parkers Prairie team that ended their season last year by beating them twice in the section championship game.
Geiser had coached six seasons of high school baseball at Frazee before switching to softball the last five years in New York Mills as an assistant. He was wondering if the game had changed on him.
"We had to figure out who we were," Geiser said. "First couple of weeks of the season were rough. I'd go home and say, 'Gosh, is this what baseball is really like?'"
The Eagles would respond by winning 12 of 13 to close out the regular season. A loss during the section tournament meant they'd need to win three elimination games, one against Parkers Prairie and two against Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa. The Eagles returned the favor to Parkers Prairies, knocking the Panthers out, and beat B-B-E twice in the section championship for the title.
"It's exciting to do it, especially for the four seniors," Roberts said. "For us, it was do-or-die. We were one game away from making it last year, so it's exciting."
As for Geiser, when he graduated from Minnesota State Moorhead, his plan was to teach and be a head coach in New York Mills. He's now doing that with no plan to leave.
"This was circled on my calendar, this was my bulls'-eye on the target," Geiser said. "I took a different path to get here, but this is where I want to be."