The last five years have been strange for Rich Downs.
The former assistant coach of Rapid City Post 22 has been away from baseball since his coaching career with the Hardhats ended after 30 years following the 2012 season, but now he will be back coaching the game he loves.
Late last week it was announced that Downs would be taking over as the head coach of Rapid City Post 320 after the board voted to let go of former head coach Paul Pool at the end of last season.
For Downs, who was across the parking lot for three decades, the decision wasn't an easy one, but it was an opportunity he said he knew he wanted to pursue.
"I really missed the interaction with the players, coaches and fans. There was a void, so when this opportunity opened up I took a look at it, didn’t jump at it right away, but I had to look at it," he said. "I went through the roller coaster ride of the idea of coaching for a team I used to try to beat, but I missed the coaches, players, fans, and this was an opportunity to get back into baseball, and it's a game I truly love."
Downs was one of nine applicants for the job, according to the Post 320 board of directors. Of those nine, three were chosen as finalists, and Downs was the one that stood out.
For 29 of the 30 years Downs was with Post 22, he was under the tutelage of legendary Rapid City baseball coach Dave Ploof, who passed away in June.
He said while he learned a lot about how to run a program from Ploof, he will put his own stamp on the Post 320 program.
"We all have our own personalities, I’m going to try to draw the positives from coach Ploof, try to eliminate the situations we want to avoid," he said.
On then field, it starts with the fundamentals, which is something the Post 320 board said made them excited about the hire.
Downs said he also wants to be a coach who is able to teach the game, not just manage talent.
"The game starts and ends with pitching, my philosophy is that we have to develop pitchers and have a solid defense behind them," Downs said. "We’re going to have to start with step one, which is evaluate what we have, improve what we have. We're going to teach baseball, work in a humble matter and hopefully we can play confidently."
Who will be helping Downs teach the game has yet to be determined.
Two members of the Post 320 board, Salley and Curtis Stoneciper, said while they hope Downs retains at least one of the assistant coaches that was with the team under Pool, the decision is up to Downs.
Downs said he hasn't made up his mind about who will be on his staff, but he does know what kind of coaches he wants.
"We’re going to be evaluating that situation in the next few weeks. I haven’t solidified any of the coaches just yet," he said. "We will put together a positive coaching staff and teaches the game of baseball, not just manages, that’s going to be our focal point."
Last season Post 320 failed to make the South Dakota State Tournament after being ranked No. 2 in the state for most of the year.
In addition, the Stars are also losing a lot of production next season, as eight seniors played their final games in a Stars uniform last season.
Downs said program-wide development will be a big goal of his during his time with Post 320.
"We want to teach them how to win. You have to develop the mental part of the game and it doesn’t happen overnight, it takes times," he said. "Baseball is a craft, and it takes years to master that craft."
Another point that Downs made was improving the schedule next season for Post 320. He didn't say what tournaments he wanted to go to or who we wanted to play, but said he thought the schedule needs to be looked at.
"It’s so early right now, but we’re finding out what things we’re about," he said. "There’s some relationships that have been good for 320 we want to maintain and we want to build other relationships."
The main goal of changing the schedule is getting more exposure for the kids, according to Downs. He said he wants to have his players prepared and wants to put them in situations where they are playing in front of as many college coaches as possible.
Downs admitted that in the years he wasn't coaching he still felt some allegiance to Post 22 baseball, the rivals from across the parking lot.
If anyone is wondering if those feelings might still pop up while he is coaching for Post 320, he said no one needs to worry.
"There’s not going to be a problem at all, we’re going to approach that game like any other game," he said of the future matchups with Post 22. "Hopefully it’ll be a show of class, put the kids against the kids and it won’t be the adults against the adults. That’s how I’m viewing it, and hopefully they look at it the same way across the parking lot."