Priorities take on different meaning for Mayville State baseball coach

MAYVILLE, N.D. -- As Scott Berry walked through Paula's Cafe, the first three men he passed reached out to shake his hand and talk baseball. Ten feet farther along and it was more of the same -- a handshake, a congratulations and talking baseball.

MAYVILLE, N.D. -- As Scott Berry walked through Paula's Cafe, the first three men he passed reached out to shake his hand and talk baseball. Ten feet farther along and it was more of the same -- a handshake, a congratulations and talking baseball.

This city has seen a lot of sports success, at both the high school and college levels, through the years. And the latest is the Berry-coached Mayville State University baseball team, which won the Dakota Athletic Conference tournament Wednesday to earn a berth in this week's NAIA nationals.

"Mayville has always been wonderful in that way," Berry said of the well-wishers. "At the college, downtown, the gas station -- it's been like that. People are wonderful and supportive.

"But win or lose, it's a game. It (winning) isn't as important to me as it was a year ago. I'm competitive; I don't like to lose. But I have a different perspective."

That's because while the game of baseball goes on for the Comets, Berry and his family have been dealt the reality of life. His wife, Laurie, has been battling cancer in her brain and in her chest since last summer.


The first symptoms were noticed last July -- watery eyes, headaches and issues with her motor skills. When Laurie became forgetful in August and was struggling on steps, they went to a doctor who discovered the cancer. It was a too-familiar diagnosis for Laurie, who first battled breast cancer in 1993, then had cancer in her hip and spine in 2008.

"It's been quite the ride," Scott said, fighting back tears as he spoke of his wife's latest health issues. "It hasn't been a fun one. It's been hard on Laurie. It changes you, too, as a person, a man, a husband. I think I'm a better man, a better coach, because of it.

"From a competitive standpoint, you keep thinking you can beat it. My wife is a fighter. We don't know what will be the result. Nobody has told us it's terminal. But we know cancer has a mind of its own. It's very unpredictable."

Never far away

Scott didn't consider stepping aside from his coaching this spring.

The 54-year-old says it is not only a job he loves, but also a diversion. The diamond, however, is not an escape. There is no getting away from the condition of his wife, who spends most of her time on a recliner in the living room of the family's two-story home here.

"You really can't get away from it. And I don't want to," Scott said. "I'm into the games when we're playing. But she'll call me in the middle of the games. Sometimes, she'll have a story to tell me. Sometimes it's trying to remember something about her medicine."

Because of her health, Laurie, 53, has been able to make only a few trips to watch her sons -- Alex, a junior on the Mayville State team, and Christian, a senior on the Mayville-Portland-Clifford-Galesburg High School team -- play this spring.


When she has gone to the park, she's had a good view. Scott drives the family's car into the bullpen area, from where his wife watches.

"It's hard," Laurie said. "You don't mind so much missing the games of the kids who aren't your own. But you really want to be there to support your own kids. And being that it is Christian's last high school season, it's especially difficult."

The Berry family has long had ties to VFW Memorial Park here. Scott was a two-time all-conference player for the Comets in the 1970s, first as a designated hitter, then as a pitcher. He's in his 29th season as the Comets' head coach. His players have included oldest son Mickey, 26, a two-time all-conference pick and Alex, 22, an all-conference pick this spring. Christian plans to play for the Comets, as well. The couple also has a daughter, Larissa, 28, living in the Twin Cities.

Laurie Berry is supportive of her sons in their athletic endeavors. But. . . .

"The boys usually stop in and talk a little about their games with Laurie," Scott said. "But Laurie will be the first one to tell you she doesn't know all that much about the game."

In a lighter moment, Scott remembers a game in college in which he pitched a no-hitter. "Everybody was excited after the game and Laurie couldn't understand why. She said to me that it was boring, that nothing was going on during the game."

Mixed emotions

Mayville State takes a 29-21 record and the No. 5 seed into the Group 1 tournament at the NAIA nationals. The Comets play Robert Morris, an Illinois school, in the first round Tuesday in Joliet, Ill.


It's a trip that has mixed feelings for Scott. He knows his wife is more at ease when he's home.

"I'd be lying if I said I'm not concerned about Laurie when I'm gone," he said. "But my job is working with these young men. They're going to experience one of the most exciting things of their lives. I'm happy for them; it's been such a wonderful group. And Laurie understands all that."

Laurie sees the stress her husband goes through.

"Scott's held up real well. But I think it's had an impact on him," she said. "He's a tender-hearted person, although people don't always see that side of him. It's a catch-22 for him. He wants to be with me, but he wants to be with his team, too."

Scott is on the verge of a career milestone. His next win will be his 800th. He's gotten his share of recognition, as he's a member of four halls of fame. But he says he isn't into coaching for personal glory or rewards.

Right now, coaching isn't his No. 1 priority; his wife's health is.

But Scott says he doesn't feel sorry for himself or his family right now.

"Sure I have anxious moments. All the time," he said. "But personally I feel God's got a plan. I just don't know what it is. He hasn't told us.


"People ask how I handle it. I cry a few times a day. Then you go ahead and do what you have to do."

DeVillers reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1128; (800) 477-6572, ext. 128; or send e-mail to .

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