Birdie flies into hall

I first met him as Mr. G, my eighth-grade social studies teacher at Sts. Peter, Paul and Michael Middle School in St. Cloud.

We were encouraged to call him “Mr. G” because “Geislinger” wasn’t as common a name around our parts as it was in Eden Valley or Watkins.

In the Eden Valley-Watkins area, however, Mr. G has always been known as “Birdie.”

Whatever you’ve known him as, you’ve always known him for one thing: his deep, abiding love for baseball.

I remember us chatting in Birdie’s classroom about the Twins, or me picking his brain for a tip on pick-off moves or curveball grips; Eden Valley Hawks baseball fans and players surely remember him out on the field, forever working to prepare it for the next game or practice.

Birdie’s passion for the game and his tireless commitment to amateur baseball was recognized Saturday, as Geislinger was inducted into the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Cloud.

Geislinger was one of five 2015 inductees into the Hall, along with Elko’s Terry Fredrickson, Harding’s Paul Froncack, Sobieski’s Butch Hennes and St. Joseph’s Pat Schneider.

“It’s quite the honor,” Geislinger said. “Going into it, I heard from a lot of people that it really was quite the event. After experiencing it, it really was unbelievable. All these Hall of Famers with their badges on, they don’t even know me, and they’re walking up to me and they’re congratulating me. I’m one of those guys now.”

As he chatted with his fellow inductees and they delivered their speeches, Geislinger saw similarities between their stories and his — most of which didn’t focus on the game itself, but the relationships forged through baseball.

“All four of the other guys, all they mentioned were the friendships that they developed over the years,” he said, echoing their sentiment. “… After all these years, those are some friendships that are cemented for life, and that’s because of baseball.”

Geislinger, who signed his first amateur contract with Eden Valley as a 15-year-old in 1964, is the first Eden Valley player inducted into the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. Birdie played from 1964 to 1988, when he transitioned from playing to managing.

“When I couldn’t hit .300 no more, I told myself it was time to quit,” he said with a laugh.

Geisinger still manages the Hawks and just finished his 27th season at the helm.

A pillar of the community

Birdie hasn’t been able to work on the diamond or coach on the field since 2003, when he suffered a broken back while deer hunting that’s confined him to a wheelchair.

But the injury hasn’t weakened his passion for the game, as he continues to manage the Hawks from the dugout and is a constant, welcome presence at high school, legion and VFW games.

Joel McCann, who first played under Geislinger as a seventh-grader and then on the Hawks from 1992 to 2006, remembers the outpouring of support for Birdie after his injury.

“The team and the town rallied around him,” McCann said, recalling the fundraiser held at the bar in town. “There were just a ton of people willing to donate or show up, and we raised a lot of money. I think we raised 20 or $25,000 in one night for him. But it wasn’t just the money: it was how many people were willing to show up and help.”

The community’s support for Birdie isn’t surprising to those who know him: Birdie’s passion for Eden Valley has always extended past the baseball field and into the town as a whole, and his fundraising efforts in the community have ensured that his twin loves of education and baseball have remained strong in Eden Valley.

“He certainly was a good guy, treating everybody well and would do anything for you,” McCann said. “Raising money for kids to help them through college … and running the Hawk Stand at Valley Daze, which was a huge commitment for him, and that raised a lot of money. There was very little we had to pay for as players because of all of his fundraising activities.”

Joe Thiel, who moved to the area in 1996 and played for Geislinger from 1996 until 2013, remembers a manager who was much more than just that.

“He’s not just a manager: He’s always been a good person and a good friend,” Thiel said. “When we first moved here, he welcomed our whole family, my wife and then when we had kids. It’s more like a family affair. Right from the start, I always felt like part of the team.”

Thiel pointed to both Geislinger’s commitment to his team but also the work he did with his brothers and other community members to plan and construct the indoor hitting facility that sits next to Eden Valley’s field.

“That’s just a benefit for the area and the Eden Valley-Watkins high school team,” Thiel said.

The hitting facility is a valuable resource for young players across the state: I remember making frequent childhood trips from St. Cloud to the Eden Valley facility in the winter, working with Mike Kingery and his instructors on my swing and mechanics on the mound.

Birdie’s work on the field and the hitting facility are a physical, lasting testament to his passion for teaching and baseball.

Not done yet

I’ve heard numerous Birdie Geislinger stories and have a few of my own, but McCann told me one that I particularly like.

Early in McCann’s career, not long after he first had Birdie as a coach, a teammate missed a steal sign two pitches in a row.

Birdie was growing frustrated with the runner, so instead of signaling the steal a third time and seeing his player stand still at first again, Geislinger simply hollered, “You’re going on this pitch!” from the third-base coaching box.

When I retold McCann’s story to Birdie, he laughed and said, “And I bet he went!”

In my experience, it’s the telling and retelling of these types of shopworn baseball tales that makes the idea of quitting amateur baseball so difficult.

It’s not the game itself, it’s the experience, the camaraderie, the community that baseball creates that keeps us coming back.

Or, as Birdie put it: “You get together with the guys after the game, have a beverage or two, and that’s living. That’s living.”

At age 66 and with 51 years of Eden Valley baseball under his belt, I asked Birdie how much longer he thought he would be managing the Hawks.

“As long as the Good Lord lets me,” he said. “What else are you going to do on a Sunday afternoon, Louie? I can fish during the week.”


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