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BARNETT: Past generations would be proud of new stadium project
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BARNETT: Past generations would be proud of new stadium project

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I enjoyed the wrap-up story about Floyd Fitzgerald and the original Sioux Park Stadium. I was a boy in the mid 1950s when the Western League suggested that Rapid City might enter the league with a new minor league baseball team. I had never before watched my home town come together so rapidly as the excitement related to this great idea.

As the Journal reported, there were two key leaders in Rapid City at the time. Floyd Fitzgerald was a veteran of military service and served within the SEABEES in the Japanese Theater of Operations. His family was associated with baseball in the Black Hills throughout the 1930s. Floyd owned a house-painting business - and his DutchBoy Paint Store in the gap on West Main, the fishing tackle business now - and was well acquainted with every home builder and developer in the region. The hosing boom stimulated by the expansion of the Air Base was roaring in our city.

A local Beer Distributor, Al Steinmetz, was acquainted with the larger financial drivers in the city and an ardent baseball fan. Ralph Macy (Macy Trucking) was also a leader of the trio that provided the muscle for the design and construction of Sioux Park Stadium.

Before this ball field, the largest field in town was at the National Guard Camp. It was all wooden stadium but it had a lighted field. This is where the amateurs played their league games; the Air Base usually sent 2-3 teams to play in this league. Local teams were sponsored by Macy Trucking, Torgerson’s Music Center, and several more.

Floyd worked with the builders and they donated manpower and materials for much of the work to bring the new ballfield to a reality. Al raised large chunks of money from the local banks and utility companies and other heavy hitters throughout the city. Ralph did a lot of everything and provided his vehicles to pick up donated materials from regional contractors.

As spring approached, the Western League decided that the distance for their teams to travel to the far end of Western South Dakota was not a profitable arrangement.

They withdrew their offer. Floyd and the leadership of Black Hills Sports did not pause.

They immediately opened discussions with the officials in the Basin League that RC had a fine new field, the grass was growing, and RC wanted to join the Basin League. RC would be the largest city with a team in the league. The distances between the towns and cities was not a deal killed. In West River, the league had teams in Winner, Valentine Nebraska, Rapid City, and eventually Sturgis. In East River, teams in Chamberlain, Mitchell, Huron, and Mobridge were also active.

The Rapid City team was named the Chiefs. The team leader was Frank Howard. He a big bruiser of a man, starting center on the Ohio State Basketball team (and an All Big Ten BB collegiate star.) There was chatter that he might also try out with the NBA. However, his first love was baseball. He thrilled the fans with his gigantic (monster) home runs that sailed over the left-field lights (and were still climbing to the stars) before the balls landed someplace east of Sheridan Lake Blvd.

Attendance was very high.

At the end of his professional career in baseball when he was a batting coach for several major league teams, when his team played in at Coors Field Denver, I strolled down to the visitor’s dugout, nodding and waving for Frank to chat for a moment. We remembered his years in Rapid City with teammates like Don Quayle, Harlan Deluge, and many more. He was great friends with Bill Mitchell and Wes Storm. For several seasons, I worked the home games in the concessions area and made $5 per game, along with my summer pay at Skarty’s service station on the north side of Halley Park. Mr. Skartvedt and his family-owned an oil refinery and managed several service stations in RC. He was also a liberal donor to Black Hills Sport.

The local batboys for the first few seasons were Rollie Larson (who later was a leader on the RC Cobbler’s basketball team that won the State A when we were seniors in 1960s) and later stared in football, basketball, and track at Augustana College in Sioux Falls) and Doug Nelson, an all-around athlete at Rapid City High School.

A great challenge for Black Hills Sports was to repair the field and portions of the stadium that were flooded and heavily damaged by the June 9 flood in l972. Their goal was to have the stadium repaired and fully operational for the Post 22 Legion Baseball (“Fire Cracker") Tournament over the 4th of July weekend in l972. Thanks to Bill Nordermeer, our City Parks Superintendent in the 1970s, the grass for the tourney was in perfect condition. Bill recommended that Black Hills Sports use a combination of rich black topsoil and special sand as the base. Fans joked that they could hear the grass growing by the 20th of June.

Leaders like Floyd Fitzgerald, Bill Machaley, Al Steinmertz, and Ralph Macy and dozens of others provided keen leadership for Rapid City in the 1950s and far beyond. They never begged for city financial support and met this challenge out of their own pockets. These gentlemen will be busting with pride from above the new stadium when Rapid City and our taxpayers hold the grand opening festivities for the new stadium within a season or two.

They made us proud.

Don Barnett was Mayor of Rapid City during the tragic flood of 1972 and remains a supporter of the city today.

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