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BUSH: Making new memories at 'The Fitz'
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FROM THE EDITOR

BUSH: Making new memories at 'The Fitz'

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It may not be a field of dreams carved out of an Iowa cornfield and visited by the ghosts of baseball past, but it is a dreamy field surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills and the bustle of Rapid City.

"The Fitz" is Fitzgerald stadium which is home to Dave Ploof Field at The Black Hills Surgical Hospital Ballpark. After the Post 22 Hardhats won a state title last year, it was torn down and built back better. Thursday night, the Hardhats took the field for their first game in their new home.

As fans filled the new park before the final Veterans Classic game of the night, I was reminded of the speech in the movie Field of Dreams by James Earl Jones' character Terrance Mann. One part, in particular, was especially timely on that first truly warm night for baseball.

"They will come, Ray," he began the speech. Skipping forward a bit. "And they'll walk out to the bleachers, and sit in shirt-sleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game, and it'll be as if they'd dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they'll have to brush them away from their faces."

The bleachers Thursday night were all brand new. But the memories of that gilded ground were all there. It didn't hurt that many in attendance were the alumni from past teams - some as far back as the first Post 22 State Championship team in 1961. The program also won a national championship in 1993.

If there is any problem with The Fitz, it might be too perfect.

Take a first-inning play when one of the visitors was running from first to second base. His coaches wanted the runner to slide so they yelled, "Get dirty!" He did slide, but he didn't get dirty.

There's no dirt.

The new turf surface will steal the joy from parents who are accustomed to soaking baseball shirts and pants in five-gallon buckets of detergent trying to make uniforms presentable for the next day's games.

One change that will probably come to the new stadium sooner than later is a pad on the concrete behind the home plate. Otherwise, a fastball past the catcher might rebound all the way to centerfield letting a runner score from second.

Needless to say, I never played baseball on a field like the new version of The Fitz. I'm not sure I ever played on a field as nice as the one they tore down. It is a little strange being on a baseball field with no freshly groomed grass and dirt raked to perfection.

I was swinging a baseball bat soon after I learned to walk. My brother was a great baseball player. I could hit and pitch and played a little first base. I was never a star, but I always loved it. I loved the game for many reasons. A lot had to do with my dad being my first coach. He taught me everything I knew about baseball when I was a kid. He even coached my friends. Dad usually worked the night shift at a frozen waffle plant. He also had his own janitorial service, cleaning offices around town before he went to work at night or as soon as he got off from a shift at the plant.

It never mattered what he had done or how long he had worked, he would pull into the driveway and join a basketball or baseball game going on in the backyard. My kids will tell you I learned not to miss a game from him, I have made as many three-pointers in my driveway wearing khakis and dress shoes as I ever did in a real game.

My favorite memory of my dad coaching my friends was when he taught a friend to bat. We only had a right-handed batter's box and no one really noticed my friend was left-handed. He was a good hitter even if it was from his weak side. To this day, he still plays golf right-handed and fills out the scorecard left-handed.

Baseball to me, is as much about the memories as the competition.

The Hardhat alumni brought many memories from the old field to the new field this week. If Thursday's game was any indication, this year's team and the future Hardhats who filled the seats for the game will have no problem making their own.

Kent Bush is the editor of the Rapid City Journal. Reach him at kent.bush@lee.net

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