Puttin’ on the Fitz

The crack of a bat. The scent of a freshly oiled leather glove. The cloud of dust kicked up on the corner sandlot as future Mickey Mantles round the bases. 

Baseball isn’t just America’s pastime, it’s a big part of growing up. Whether your child swings for the fences or is content playing backyard catch, few activities blend fun and life lessons as perfectly as baseball.

Start Them Young

Whether it’s signing up for peewee football, tumbling, or taking dance lessons, most kids start playing sports from a young age. Baseball is no different, with young sluggers picking up a tee-ball bat as young as 4 years old. Sports give kids a chance to learn teamwork and make friends, but also instill healthy habits early on.  

For local dad Jordan Burbach, baseball was a large part of his childhood. He started young and worked his way up to playing on an American Legion team in high school. “When I was growing up, baseball was life in the summer,” he says. “We would play nonstop from May until the end of summer, not to mention practice in between games. It took a real commitment, especially for being that young.” 

When Jordan graduated high school his baseball career came to an end, but the lessons he learned playing baseball stayed with him. 

“From a young age I was interested in buildings and how they fit together,” he says. “But baseball taught me discipline, responsibility, and teamwork. I rely on those skills every day in my job, and I know a lot of my success comes from those early lessons.” After graduating from Montana State University, Jordan was hired as an intern at an architecture firm in Rapid City, where he is now a principal architect.

A New Beginning

In the Black Hills, there is one place that’s hallowed ground in the sport of baseball: Floyd Fitzgerald Stadium. The original stadium was built in 1957, and was named after local businessman Floyd Fitzgerald in the 70s. You won’t hear many people call it that, however: locals simply call it “the Fitz.” 

Jordan grew up in Montana, but he played baseball against teams in the Black Hills, including against Post 22 in Rapid City. He fondly remembers the games he played at the Fitz: “The original Fitzgerald Stadium is a gem within the area,” he says. “And not just the Black Hills. It’s known throughout the region, and really, throughout the American Legion baseball community around the country.” 

In 2018, it was evident the Fitz needed an update. Six decades of wear and tear — not to mention the flood of 1972 — were taking their toll. 

“A lot of the maintenance over the years was done by volunteers and parents of the players, and they did a great job,” Jordan explains. “But as the stadium expanded and changed throughout the years, it just became harder to keep up with.” When Rapid City started looking for firms to renovate the Fitz, Jordan jumped at the chance. 

Jordan’s team was selected to renovate the Fitz in 2019, and Post 22 played their last game at the original stadium in the summer of 2020. Once renovations began, Jordan was involved in every step of the process. 

“It was surreal, seeing that stadium come down, knowing what it meant to this community,” Jordan says. But he was excited to get to work and breathe new life into the Fitz. 

The Next Generation

By spring of 2021, the $5 million overhaul was complete. Fans were welcomed back to a new concessions stand and media box, accessible restrooms, and what quickly became a favorite addition: shaded seating. Jordan looked forward to attending games, but for the time being, it seemed baseball would once again simply be a hobby for him.

As luck would have it, baseball wasn’t quite ready to take a back seat. Jordan traded out his lead architect role for a new one: head coach of his son Hudson’s tee-ball team. It was an unexpected role, but one that Jordan has enjoyed immensely. 

“It’s a ton of fun to coach, even if it’s a little like herding cats at times,” he laughs. “But playing sports — even tee-ball — teaches these kids responsibility and teamwork at a young age.” 

“I think a fun part of parenting is just slowing down and including our kids when they want to be part of something,” Jordan says. “My parents did that for me, and coaching Hudson has given me a chance to do that with him.”

They’re lessons Jordan learned playing as a kid, and lessons he hopes to instill in his kids as they grow up. “Between baseball and my parents, I grew up with a really strong work ethic,” he said. “If I can give my kids even half of what I learned, I feel like I’ll have been pretty successful.”

Hudson is a few years away from playing games at the Fitz, but Jordan looks forward to watching his kids, grandkids, and maybe even great-grandkids play baseball there. For now, he’s simply proud to have been part of something that means so much to so many. “The Fitz is such a special place for so many people,” he says, “I just wanted to help build a facility that will stand the test of time for the next 70 years.” 

Jordan says the best part of the entire experience — from the renovation at the Fitz to coaching his son’s team — is showing his kids that hard work will take them a long way in life. 

Just like it did for him.