The American Legion baseball program was formed right here in South Dakota in 1925. It was the first program in the world to provide teenagers the opportunity to compete at a national level. The goal was to teach baseball, but also develop American youth into upstanding citizens.
Today, American Legion baseball teams can be found in almost every town in the country. There are 87 teams in South Dakota, including several in the Black Hills. Over half of current Major League Baseball players grew up playing on Legion teams, not to mention the countless number of players who have gone on to college or the minors.
Where it all Started
Rapid City’s Post 22 has been one of the most successful teams in the sport. Since their first season, they’ve won 43 state championships, eight regional championships, and were national champions in 1993. Between 1970-1987 they won the state championship a staggering 18 years in a row — a tough record to beat no matter the sport. Dozens of Post 22 players have gone on to successful collegiate careers, and 23 players have been drafted by Major League teams and inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
General Manager Wayne Sullivan played for Post 22 growing up. He says what truly makes the team special is what happens after players leave the organization. “Every player that graduates from this program goes on to be incredible men and community leaders. And not just here in the hills, but around the country, and even the world.”
Head coach Kelvin Torve agrees the program has a big impact on the players. “Just because we’re a small town out in the middle of nowhere, doesn’t mean that you have to set your sights low,” he says. “Our players can dream about making it to the big cities and playing under the bright lights, and know that playing for Post 22 can make that a reality.” The boys he coaches have reason to believe him, too: Kelvin played professional baseball for 13 years, including time with the New York Mets and the Minnesota Twins.
Timeline of Post 22 and the Fitz
1926: Post 22’s inaugural season. They’re known simply as the American Legion team. Games were played at fields around the hills, including at Camp Rapid
1953: the Basin League is formed by four South Dakota teams and one from Nebraska
1956: Black Hills Sports, Inc., is formed and construction of the Sioux Park Stadium starts
1957: Rapid City Chiefs are admitted to the Basin League. Sioux Park Stadium is complete, Post 22 and other local teams host games there.
1970-1987: Post 22 Hardhats win 18 straight state championships
1972: Rapid City is devastated by a flash flood. Businessman Floyd Fitzgerald oversees the repairs to Sioux Park Stadium
1973: the Basin League is dissolved
1979: the Sioux Park Stadium is renamed for Floyd Fitzgerald
1993: Post 22 Hardhats win the American Legion World Series
1998: Post 320 officially becomes an American Legion team, making Rapid City the only community in the country with two teams drawing players from the same geographic area
2020: Post 22 Hardhats play their last game at the original Floyd Fitzgerald Stadium, defeating the Miles City Outlaws 12-6
2021: the Post 22 Hardhats played their season opener at the newly renovated Floyd Fitzgerald Stadium, defeating the 406 Flyers 5-1
Remembering a Legend
You can hardly talk about Post 22 baseball without mentioning Dave Ploof. He coached the Hardhats for 47 seasons, including 34 state titles, eight regional championships, and the team’s only national title. He never had a losing season, and his overall record was 2,483-808; making him the winningest coach in the history of Legion baseball. Both the field at Floyd Fitzgerald Stadium and the road next to it are named in his honor.