From a kid first playing America's Pastime to now driving across the state to watch his grandsons play the game, Dale Weber's passion for baseball hasn't wavered.
And as the president of the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Association for the past 30 years, Weber has been dedicated to giving back to a sport that means so much to him.
Weber, who played amateur baseball from 1956 to 1976 for Delmont, Colton, Mount Vernon and Stickney, took over as president of SDABA in 1988 and is celebrating his 30th season overseeing the sport in South Dakota.
"I wanted to make sure the sport kept going," Weber said. "I had four sons playing and I figured I'd have a bunch of grandsons playing sooner or later. Sure enough, they came along," adding a chuckle.
"I've enjoyed it and the membership has kept voting me back in. I've been very fortunate to maintain my health and have the membership backing me."
After becoming the Salem school superintendent in 1976, Weber joined the SDABA as an officer two years later in 1978 as the vice president. Ten years later, former SDABA President Ray Antonen died and the by-laws stipulated that Weber become president and he's remained as the organization's eighth president ever since.
"We have a lot of good people across the state that help assure that we are going to keep amateur baseball going," Weber said. "At least one person spearheads baseball in a community and they just stick with it. There are a lot of family names in baseball. They pass it down to their sons and grandsons."
Weber, 78, credited SDABA's 14-person governing board of 11 commissioners and three officers for helping guide him throughout his tenure. In his time overseeing the sport, amateur baseball has added a second class, expanded the state tournament and switched back to using wooden bats.
Currently alongside Weber, Richard Rockafellow is the vice president, while Herb Sundall is the secretary/treasurer. The three Class A commissioners are Scott Healy and Ted Poncelet along with District 8A (Black Hills) commissioner Daryl Deneke. The Class B commissioners are Brock Greenfield (District 1B), Trent Osborne (District 2B), Brock Sundall (District 3B), Randy Sabers (District 4B), Bill Ernster (District 5B), Bob Altenburg (District 5B), Larry Anderson (District 6B) and Travis Lee (District 7B).
"When you surround yourself with good people, it makes it go a lot easier and I've had some great people on the commission," Weber said.
Herb Sundall, who began working with Weber in 2004, said Weber's dedication to amateur baseball has been second to none.
"It's been a pleasure to work with him. He has the best interests of amateur baseball at heart," Sundall said. "Being president of the organization requires a lot of time and commitment. He's given that for a long time and continues to do so. I think many people should thank Dale for his commitment to amateur baseball."
State of the sport
Since his playing days and throughout his 30 years as the head of amateur baseball, Weber has seen some drastic changes with the sport, which relies heavily on small towns.
Weber, a Delmont native, knows this all too well, but added the sport has held steady at roughly 60 Class B teams and 15-20 Class A teams for the past decade.
"I think it's fairly healthy as it is," Weber said about the current state of amateur baseball. "I'd like to see it maintain the number of teams. That's always a challenge because the population is decreasing in smaller towns. It seems like they are migrating to eastern South Dakota or western South Dakota. We need to keep baseball alive in smaller communities and that's going to be a challenge 30 years ahead of us."
But Weber noted usually when one team folds, a new team starts up and he stressed the importance of having new communities wanting to field a team.
"Periodically, we have a community or two that wants to start amateur baseball. That's a really good sign to keep amateur baseball alive in South Dakota," he said.
Sundall cited declining rural populations as the biggest challenge amateur baseball continues to face along with other the growth of other summer activities and the number of youth baseball players.
"That's not anybody's fault," Sundall said. "There's a lot of reasons why we've lost teams. If you go far enough back, every township had a team. Now, some townships couldn't field a team if every man, woman and child played. That's just a fact. But I'd say amateur baseball has remained strong and we are proud of the organization."
It's not all doom and gloom for amateur baseball as youth baseball has started to rebound in the state, along with many area towns investing in local programs and their ballparks. This year, Legion baseball in South Dakota grew by 13 teams.
"Our feeder programs are Legion posts around the state so we want the Legion players to keep playing and then move up to amateur ball," Weber said. "We are dependent on our younger players."
Weber also pointed to a study conducted by former longtime broadcaster Danny Olson, an eight-time South Dakota Sportscaster of the Year and South Dakota Hall of Fame member. Olson's findings pointed to South Dakota as being one of the top amateur baseball associations in the nation in terms of history and size.
The summer months for Weber are filled with numerous baseball games and as president, he said it's his goal to make it to as many district tournaments as he can.
"The product of amateur baseball today is fantastic. There's a lot of ability on the field," Weber said. "The players are getting a little bit bigger, stronger and a little bit better. Back in the day, guys would retire in their 30s, but now they retire when they are in their 50s. They can still play at a competitive level at that age."
Weber credited anyone associated with the sport of amateur baseball for helping keep the sport going. He added the sport of baseball helps bring communities together.
"Baseball has meant a lot to me personally," Weber said. "Not just for myself, but my family. Baseball has been very kind to me and the Weber family. I appreciate all the backing the coaches and players have given us."
And while another 30 years as the SDABA president may not be in the cards for Weber, he's not ready to call it quits anytime soon.
"As long as things keep going fairly well and membership thinks I'm doing OK, I'll stay with it for a few more years," Weber said.