There's just something special about South Dakota amateur baseball.
It's special for the nicknames. We've got everything from Killer Tomatoes to Mudcats to Horned Frogs to Outlaws to Bankers to Flying Squirrels and just about everything else in between. Each nickname is unique and fans beam with pride sporting their favorite mascot.
It's special for the fields. Towns with hundreds of people pump thousands of dollars into their ballparks for a few months of glory. Countless hours are put into making the fields shine on game days and fields serve as a point of pride for the small towns.
It's special for the atmosphere. Little towns come alive on hot summer nights to gab, eat, drink and watch baseball. It epitomizes small-town America and it brings communities together for a few hours on game days.
It's special for the support. Moms, dads, aunts, uncles, cousins and everybody else file into the ballparks to support their favorite teams. They load up on 50/50 raffle tickets and play trivia.
It's special for the tradition. Amateur baseball in South Dakota dates back to the 1930s and it's filled with history. There's even a South Dakota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame in Lake Norden.
It's special for the future. The fences are lined with kids and every foul ball is chased down for a buck or a freeze pop. The dugout is usually manned by a bat boy, who will one day be the town's next big slugger.
It's special for the camaraderie. Players began battling against each other in teener and Legion ball. But there's very little trash talk and instead fun chatter usually follows after a double play or pop up.
It's special for the love of the game. There are no salaries and it's all about playing for the guy next in the lineup. There are no airports or fancy hotels. Players travel hours for games and drive back that night with the dark South Dakota sky looking down on them.
It's special for the state tournament. After a one-year hiatus, it returns to Mitchell's Cadwell Park this year. Mitchell is surrounded by these tiny towns that ooze baseball and it's a perfect host for the tourney. Cadwell Park will come alive for 12 straight days of beer, bingo, burgers and baseball.