Twice the Memories

What they were witnessing was 32 years and 2,500 miles from the topic of discussion. But for Greg Odegaard and Randy Johnson, it had to seem much closer than that.

It’s not that it would be unusual for Greg and Randy to discuss their memories of being teammates on the 1980 Minnesota State Mankato Mavericks baseball team that went to the College World Series and finished third. After all, those are the moments that etch their way into a young man’s memories forever.

Matt Odegaard

Matt Odegaard

The intrigue is that this conversation happened in the stands of the 2012 College World Series, as the former teammates watched their sons—Matt Odegaard and Nolan Johnson—etch eerily similar memories of their own.

Nolan Johnson

Nolan Johnson

For Greg Odegaard, the experience was almost reflective of his own. For Randy Johnson, it was an opportunity to watch his son experience a moment he was oh-so-close to having during his own collegiate career.

In 1980, Minnesota State Mankato’s baseball team, under fourth-year coach Dean Bowyer, lost nine of its first 13 games, and then got red hot. Using a 13-3 conference record to catapult into regionals, the Mavericks dropped their first game before reeling off three wins by a combined 20 runs to earn a berth in the Division II College World Series in Riverside, Calif. There, the Mavericks defeated the No.1 ranked team in the country in its first game, but dropped two of the next three to finish third—a finish that for the next 31 years stood as the best season in Minnesota State Mankato baseball history. On that team was senior Greg Odegaard, a veteran leader, and upstart underclassman Randy Johnson, who ultimately didn’t make the trip to the College World Series because of roster limitations.

The 2012 Minnesota State Mankato baseball team, under fourth-year coach Matt Magers, won 16 of its first 19 games, lost consecutive games only once and won seven straight to gain entrance to the Division II College World Series in Cary, N.C. But the team promptly dropped its first game before stellar pitching and defense earned it three straight wins, placing it one game away from a guaranteed second-place finish. Despite carrying a 5-0 lead into the eighth, the Mavericks fell 6-5 in that game against Delta State, earning the school’s second third-place finish in the DII College World Series.

“It was heartbreaking, especially as a senior,” Matt Odegaard says. “Looking around the infield at those other seniors, it was difficult. But that’s the game of baseball, and it’s just one of those games that got away. It will stick with me for a long time, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been there.”

But the real story isn’t about heartbreaking losses or missed opportunities. It’s about Maverick lineage, and tales told in families with baseball in their blood.

Picture, for instance, young Matt Odegaard, visions of his own baseball future dancing like a knuckleball, raised around stories of Maverick success.

“He was always reminding me how good he was back in the day,” Matt says of his father, laughing. “He kind of rubs it in my face a little bit—and I give it right back. It’s fun to hear those stories of how he played back in the day, and now I’ve got some of those stories too.”

Randy Johnson made the trip to North Carolina to watch his son Nolan compete on a stage that narrowly eluded him during his own college career. The elder Johnson, who didn’t make the trip to California in 1980 and later competed in a regional final loss, had just one bit of advice for his son.

“He just told me to have fun and enjoy it,” Nolan explains. “No matter what happens. Going to the College World Series is an accomplishment in itself, and you can’t hold your head down even if you don’t win the last game of the season. He just said enjoy it, have fun, and that memory will last forever.”

Nolan and Matt will forever remember the remarkable run of their 2012 Mavericks team, just like their fathers recall Mavericks successes of the early ’80s. But there’s a funny thing about fathers: Both Randy and Greg relish the success of the 2012 team more than their own success decades ago.

“For them to have the run they did and be on the cusp of getting to the finals and just coming up short was really something,” Greg Odegaard says. “There was an excitement there that he’ll never forget. And that I’ve never forgotten. We get together with old teammates quite a bit and talk about our own World Series. We had a great run ourselves, but these guys, they duplicated it and then some. It was a lot of fun for me, and a lot more fun watching my son go through it.”