State baseball history examined in "The Basin League"

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Two decades that mark the golden age of South Dakota baseball walked under the lights once more.

Rapid City Communications Coordinator Darrell Shoemaker examined influences on state baseball with a presentation on "The Basin League" summer baseball circuit at the Journey Museum on Sunday. 

The Basin League was comprised of twelve college and semi-pro teams that played between 1953 and 1973. Eleven cities across South Dakota and Valentine, Nebraska hosted a team. 

It was not until after the league's run that youth leagues came about. Clinics and autograph sessions with the Rapid City Chiefs and Sturgis Titans inspired young players across the state.

Shoemaker was one of those kids.

"I remember going back - age eight, nine, ten ... running out to the parking lot to shag foul balls," Shoemaker said. "No one turned the foul balls in for 25 cents or a treat at the concession stand ... [I'd] take that foul ball and get it autographed."

Shoemaker exhibited game mementos, such as baseball bats, dated newspaper clippings and a Kansas City Royals baseball cap. Living memorabilia in the way of former players and organizers also made appearances at the presentation.

Many teams produced Major League Baseball (MLB) Hall of Fame players and world series champions. Former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer played for the Winner Pheasants and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990. Don Sutton pitched for the Sioux Falls Packers before joining the Los Angeles Dodgers, whom retired his player number (20) in 1998.

Each organization was a labor of love for their hometowns. When the Rapid City Chiefs entered the circuit in 1957, they had six months to gather a team and construct a stadium.

Finding aspiring players for a semi-pro team was easy, but the hard part was finding the money.

"The big challenge was getting a stadium built, and so they raised $35,000 in the community to help build Sioux Park Stadium," Shoemaker said. "It was a community effort in Rapid City, community effort in Sturgis - all these communities that were a part of the Basin League. It took a solid community effort to keep those teams - to establish them and keep them going."

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