MITCHELL | In the late 1980s, the Platte amateur baseball team ditched its green and yellow uniforms for bright red ones.
The players received new uniforms at practice and as the players were rummaging through their new gear, the Platte Killer Tomatoes were born.
"We are all kind of proud about these nice bright red tops and nice white pants and somebody said, 'Good Lord, we look like tomatoes,'" former Platte player Kevin Kuiper said. "And Sam Nachtigal — the way I remember it — coined the phrase, 'We are not just tomatoes, we are Killer Tomatoes,' and it stuck like glue."
Nachtigal took the name from "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!" — a 1978 film that was equal parts musical, comedy and horror — about a group of scientists that band together to save the world from mutated killer tomatoes, The Daily Republic reported. Nachtigal was watching Siskel & Ebert's 10 worst movies of all-time list and not only did it make the cut, but it sparked one of South Dakota's most unique nicknames.
"They had the 10 worst movies of all-time that they were critiquing and the 'Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!' was one of them and they played the opening song, 'It's the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!' " Nachtigal said. "It was kind of unique and then when our team uniforms changed from green to red, I just started calling us the Killer Tomatoes and then the name stuck."
When Nachtigal and Kuiper played for Platte, they even ran onto the field with the theme song from the movie blaring out of the speakers at the ballpark:
Attack of the killer tomatoes!
Attack of the killer tomatoes!
They'll beat you, bash you,
Squish you, mash you
Chew you up for brunch
And finish you off for dinner or lunch!
Platte, which didn't have a team name prior to the Killer Tomatoes, embraced the new nickname. It designed an angry-looking tomato logo and Platte's American Legion Memorial Field is nicknamed "The Tomato Patch."
"It was just amazing how that caught on and took off," Kuiper said. "We do get a lot of laughs, tongue and cheek comments, but we are pretty d--- proud to be Killer Tomatoes."
The nickname and its origin embody South Dakota amateur baseball, which is dotted with other unique nicknames across the state. The state has two types of frogs: Horned Frogs and Mad Frogs, fish (Mudcats and Slough Sharks), birds (both Bluejays and Bluebirds), horses (both Broncs and Broncos) and dinosaurs (Raptors).
Bankers, Outlaws, Merchants, Cormorants, Traders, Lakers, Flying Squirrels and Rats also represent amateur teams in South Dakota. Pony Hills League member Four Corners doesn't have a nickname but its name comes from its location at the intersection of U.S. Highway 14 and South Dakota Highways 34 and 63.
Cornbelt League member Canova has one of the more distinct names in the state: the Gang.
"It just kind of caught on years ago," Canova manager Dave Gassman said. "We would be playing and everybody would say, 'Come on Gang. Let's go.' We just decided we are the Canova Gang. Pretty simple."
Gassman has been involved with the Canova baseball for 53 years — either as a player or coach — and they've always been the Gang.
"I can't remember us not being called the Gang," Gassman said.
Canova, a die-hard baseball town of around 100 people, has embraced the nickname and its red and yellow team colors. The Gang is not only a traditional amateur baseball power, but the other levels in town go by the name, with the same hats and colors.
"It brings togetherness here and unity," Gassman said. "We are the Gang all the way from the 6 year olds all the way up to the amateur team. I think it just ties the whole program together nicely to make it a fun summer for everybody."
In Milbank, the amateur team sports another unique nickname: the Firechiefs. The name dates back to the early 1950s when nobody would sponsor the local amateur team.
"They were struggling getting people to sponsor them," Milbank coach Scott Hoeke said. "So the fire department basically just started raising the money and fees and that sort of stuff that sponsored amateur baseball."
Some of the players were also on the volunteer fire department. After briefly being called the Milbank Royals after Royal Insurance sponsored the team, the Firechiefs came back in the early 1990s and remains in place today. The birthplace of American Legion baseball, Milbank has a strong baseball community and it also embraces the Firechiefs.
"It's unique and it really adds to the mystique around South Dakota amateur baseball," Hoeke said. "Because I don't think there's many states in the U.S. that have the pride of amateur baseball like South Dakota does."