It's always hard to say goodbye, but Sunday eight members of the Rapid City Post 320 Stars did just that.
It was the final game of the season at Pete Lien Field, and the Stars honored eight players that have built the program into the second ranked Legion baseball team in the state, and have amassed a 27-10 record this season.
Connor Burgess, Brett Beyer, Seth Brewer, Keegan Kast, Cam White, Greg Ebach, Brady Larson and Rylen Sudrala know they still have plenty of season left, but before Post 320's game against Sturgis Post 33 they took time to step back and realize what a ride it has been.
"Saying goodbye to a place you’ve been for four years, it was harsh," Burgess said. "It’s tough to get over the fact that we won’t be playing here again, also our season continues so we’re just going to push on."
The emotions of the players and their families were clear before the game. All of the departing players said it was difficult to compose themselves after the pregame ceremony and play the game (a 9-1 Post 320 win).
This isn't just any group of players. It's a group of players that have put Post 320 on the map as a team that can contend in South Dakota Legion baseball.
"Most of them have played three or four years with us, and they've really elevated our program to where we're considered one of the better teams in the state," Post 320 coach Paul Pool said of the departing players. "The work they've put in, the effort they've put in, they've meant a lot to 320 and a lot to our program."
The story of many of the player's time with Post 320 has been one of growth. Burgess remembers going to the state tournament during his sophomore season and being knocked out by Brookings Post 74.
He said his favorite moment with the Stars was getting revenge on them one year later.
"We came back the next season in a play-in game and (mercy ruled) Brookings," he said. "That’s the biggest moment I can think of because they knocked us out and then we made it so they couldn’t get into the state tournament, so we made a statement.
"We hit two or three home runs in that game. Everyone was on their feet, cheering loud, that was my most memorable moment on this field."
For others, their favorite moments were personal accomplishments, like Kast throwing a no-hitter in Winner to beat Sturgis, or a game last year that went 12 innings against Pierre Post 8, which the Stars ended up winning by 10 runs.
Most of the players who are leaving Post 320, however, can't point to one particular moment. It was the day-to-day grind made easier by being around a group of players everyone had known their entire lives.
"Everyday that we’re here we have fun," White said. "We’re always laughing, joking but we’re serious at the same time. Coming out and practicing with these guys makes it hard to say goodbye but it’s a great time, it's been a great experience."
Not everyone will be leaving each other when the summer is over. Burgess and Brewer will be playing together at Bismarck State College next year.
For many, however, the end of the summer could mark a very long 'see you later.'
"It’s going to be tough, it always is because you build up such a strong bond with your teammates, then it just gets broken away because eight seniors are going to be gone," Burgess said. "It builds a relationship that can never be broken."
Those relationships are built through dugout banter and the down time baseball provides, according to Beyer. He said he'll remember those moments the most.
"It’s not necessarily the moments on the field, because you remember when someone gets a big hit, it’s all the little things," he said. "People saying things and getting on each other in the dugout, it’s been really fun and I’ve enjoyed the last six years I’ve been here. It's been awesome."
Beyer has seen his fair share of people leave the program. The St. Cloud State redshirt freshman has been on the varsity team for six seasons.
After the game Sunday he wasn't interested in talking about the pomp and circumstance of the pregame ceremony. He was more interested in what Post 320 was doing to prepare itself for the end of the season run towards the state tournament.
"It’s good that most of the seniors got in, but today was a day that we needed to work on some things that we had gotten away from," he said. "We needed to work on our approaches, we got off track with those but today we got back on track with those."
The Stars take on Pierre on the road tomorrow, then go to Sheridan, Wyo. for a doubleheader Sunday.
For eight members of Post 320, the games are starting to count down. Some will play baseball in college, some will not. At some point, some of the Stars will get to the point where they will be playing the final game of their baseball career in the next few weeks.
They said they are ready.
"A lot of people have been on varsity for years and it’s been building up to this point pretty much," Ebach said. "We plan to take it home this year. We’ve been waiting a lot of years for this moment so we’re trying to take advantage of it."