When Mitch Messer took the Rapid City Post 22 program over from Dave Ploof after almost 50 years, the expectations were enormous.
Six seasons and four South Dakota American Legion state championships later, the Messer era has ended for the Hardhats.
Messer confirmed Monday that he has resigned his position as head coach and general manager of Post 22 and taken a position with the upstart Expedition League, a summer wooden bat college league headquartered in Rapid City with teams in both North and South Dakota, as well as Nebraska and Wyoming. He will be the vice president of operations for the league.
Messer said the decision to leave was a hard one, but spending more time with his family was the reason for the move.
"After the last board meeting it became apparent to me that it was time to move on," Messer said. "If I'm going to be the dad and the husband I want to be I'm going to have to step aside."
Messer won four straight state championships with the Hardhats from 2013-16 and went 293-106-2 with the program in six seasons.
"I'm going to miss the kids. I love all those guys, that was really the hardest part of this decision and what probably held it up a few weeks," Messer said. "We pour a lot into those kids, and they give us a lot too. It's tough when you spend that much time around them and you get to know them and you develop good relationships with the guys. I'm definitely going to miss them."
Expedition League president Steve Wagner said Messer's responsibilities will be numerous, including overseeing the relationship between the league and the colleges they will get players from. He will also oversee the relationship between the league and umpires, pro-scouts and on-field operations.
"The list is probably as long as my arm," Wagner said of Messer's new responsibilities.
"His experience is great. He works well with people, he's had a lot of different, general manager-type responsibilities and he's seen a lot of different kinds of baseball operations," Wagner said. "Mitch operates with integrity. We love his experience, his love for the game and the things he's been able to do in the general manager capacity."
In July while hosting the state tournament, Post 22 came in as the No. 1 seed and failed to win a fifth straight state championship, losing to eventual state champion Pierre Post 8 and eventual runner-up Mitchell Post 18 to be knocked out.
Baseball Parents Inc. president Dennis Petry, who oversees the business operations of Post 22 baseball, said that the decision to resign was made by Messer and was not a result of the Hardhats failing to win a fifth straight state championship in late July, he admitted to being surprised by Messer's decision.
"As far as the board and the program towards Mitch Messer, there is no ill will," Petry said. "There are things that went very well and there are things that didn't go as well but that didn't have anything to do with his resignation. He's moving towards an opportunity. We certainly thank him for his service for the last several years and there's certainly no ill will or bad feelings. I wish him well."
For Post 22, the search begins for a new coach. Petry said the board will look internally and externally to fill the position and that the search has already begun.
"Right now our main focus is to get a head coach hired and to get a general manager hired and to get the program back on track, those are key positions," he said. "We already have a search committee together that will seek names, I've already spoken to some people about those jobs. I don't want to mention who those people are, not yet, but I've already talked to some people who are qualified and who will do a fantastic job."
Petry said that although there is never a good time to find a new head coach with the prestige of Post 22, he isn't worried about being able to fill the position
"I have no doubt we'll have good, quality people in those positions very shortly," he said. "That is a very coveted job, I've already got a lot of interest from people."
For Messer, he will be leaving an established brand in Rapid City for a new league, but he doesn't see it as a very risky move.
He is confident that the league will succeed and he'll be able to be a better family man in the process.
"If I was afraid to fail I wouldn't have been at Post 22 and I certainly wouldn't be taking on this new venture," he said. "It's not going to fail, it's going to be a success. The momentum that is has right now is pretty big and I'm excited to be a part of it."
Messer said he isn't sure if he has a favorite memory of Post 22, but instead looks back fondly on the entire experience.
"I just think it's good to reflect on the totality of the six years and think about where we came from and where we are now," he said. "We feel extremely blessed."
The Hardhats didn't lose a fan Monday, Messer said one just moved from the dugout to the bleachers, but he will always be a Hardhat.
"I love the program," he said. "I've played and coached the program, I'm going to be a Post 22 guy through and through."