ALEXANDRIA, Minn. - The visiting St. Cloud Rox are barely off the bus at Knute Nelson Memorial Ballpark when the final member of the home team arrives.
Bernice Wagner parks her bicycle across the street from the stadium. She is pumped. "Baseball is my sport," she says through her grin.
Bernice has faced many challenges in her 56 years, dating back to a high fever as an infant. But everything is sunny in her life when baseball is being played in Alexandria.
"I love baseball, I love baseball," she says, before repeating her words a third time for emphasis. "I love baseball." No one in Alexandria doubts that.
Bernie, as she's known to the college league Alexandria Beetles players, takes her place each home game down the left field line. From there, she's a one woman cheering section - a non-stop calliope of chants, "atta boys" and honks from her bike horn that drifts across the stadium whenever Bernice is present - which, by the way, is always.
Whether it's the Beetles of the Northwoods League, town teams, legion ball, VFW games, high school or little league, Bernice is there.
"If you're from Alexandria and you play the game of baseball, you know who Bernice Wagner is," says Drew Saberhagen, the Beetles manager who started with the team as a player seven years ago. "You see Bernie for the first game and you know the season's about to start."
Twice this season, Saberhagen has invited Bernie to ride the team bus to road games. When her radio broke, Saberhagen bought her a new one so she could continue listening to Twins broadcasts while she roots for the Beetles.
"She has more energy than anyone I know," says Saberhagen.
How many fans can say they've been given their own key to the stadium? Since Bernie was always at the ballpark anyway, the Beetles gave her a job cleaning up the stadium. She's often at the stadium cleaning by 5 a.m. before reporting to the dishwashing job at the local Holiday Inn she has worked since 1976.
When Shawn Reilly bought the team four years ago, Bernie came along with the deal.
"Pretty much every other day there's a list of things she would like to see as improvements here," he says. "She loves this field, this stadium."
That passion for baseball leads Reilly to worry about his dedicated employee sometimes. "If the Twins lose and we lose, I've seen her face down in the grass sometimes in the outfield." That's how much of herself Bernie has invested in her boys on the field.
"She wants to be part of the team and all the guys get it," says the Beetles' owner.
The game ends with the Rox ends with a Beetles win. Moments after the final pitch Bernie is out on the field fist bumping players.
"Did you have fun tonight, Saberhagen asks her. "I had fun," she responds.
"Love you Bernie," he tells her.
Later tonight, Bernie will bike back to her apartment. But at the ballpark, she's already home.
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