Home was an oft-repeated word at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new American Legion baseball field at Lake Farley Park in Milbank on Friday, July 1. Milbank — the official Home of American Legion Baseball since 1925 — suited up and signaled they are ready to up their game. State and local American Legion representatives, veterans, members of the Milbank Ball Diamond Association (MBDA), City of Milbank officials, the media, and hometown fans and supporters attended.
Milbank’s mayor, Pat Raffety, opened the ceremony and introduced Scott Hoeke, former player and longtime supporter of the project and local baseball programs.
Hoeke told the crowd, “We’ve always called this the birthplace of Legion Baseball, and a lot of people might not have given us credit for it, but here we are today. We’re going to show everybody this is a destination. Everyone needs to come. It’s something for the true baseball fans that want to be a part of it and see where it all started. We are lucky that it happened 100 years ago in Milbank.”
Raffety then introduced James Beever, CEO of business development for 4Most Sport Group, the company hired to design the field and determine the bid specs. Hoeke said, ”They are absolutely great guys to work with, and they are on board with this. They understand the importance of this being the birthplace.”
Beever said, “My father, my grandfather– who is the designer– and I all played American Legion Baseball. It was a very important piece of my development in going on to professional baseball. This is going to be a state-of-the-art natural grass playing surface in this small town. It will literally be a mini Target Field.”
Raffety then turned the microphone over to Tim Jurgens, American Legion Post 9 Adjutant. Jurgens greeted the crowd and said, “It’s great to see such a good turnout here today. The weather finally cooperated, and it’s easy to see the legacy is well and alive.”
During his remarks, he explained how Milbank and South Dakota became the birthplace of American Legion Baseball when the South Dakota Legion passed a resolution to establish the American Legion Baseball program at their annual conference on July 17, 1925, in Milbank.
He said, “American Legion Baseball started out in 1926 with 15 posts in the nation forming teams. Today, there are over 3,400 teams and nearly 55,000 youth participate each year in the United States and Canada” He noted, “Milbank’s first Legion team started in 1930, and since then, we have played on four fields. This will be our fifth field and hopefully our last”.
He went on to highlight the opportunities the field creates for players and the community. ”About 55 percent of major league baseball players have played Legion Baseball, and 75 percent of college players have played American Legion Baseball.” He also said, “This opens up the opportunity for Legion teams from other states, as well as college and amateur teams, and maybe semi-pros to play on a state-of-the-art baseball field and at the birthplace of American Legion Baseball.”
Jurgens emphasized how 2025 marks the 100th anniversary. “It is an opportunity for Millbank and South Dakota to showcase the birthplace of American Legion Baseball and carry on the legacy.”
He related how at a recent state department convention Post Nine submitted two resolutions regarding the anniversary. One stated the 2025 Legion state senior and A and B and the junior, A and B championship tournaments will be held in Millbank.
The second stated the Region 6 National Championship would also be held in Millbank in 2026. “Much planning and work needs to be done before that can become a reality, but with your support and help it will get done,” he added.
Jurgens also welcomed several American Legion members from other posts in South Dakota. Doug Feltman, the department commander from Chamberlain Post 3, who served as state vice commander and in many other offices and committees at the post district and state level was in attendance. Danny Brennan from Post 17 in Watertown, a former department commander and newly elected national executive committeeman, was also there. John Kirchner, a member of the athletic commission, and Dan Sudbeck, the athletic commission chairman were also in attendance. Both are from Post 194 in Parkston. Sudbeck has served 19 years on the athletic commission and 18 years as its chairperson.
Jurgens noted that Larry Price from Redfield, a past national baseball subcommittee member, could not attend. “But,” Jurgens said, “he has been very supportive of our project here in Millbank. In fact, right now, he is running a raffle for a baseball bat that many professional baseball players have signed. The proceeds from the raffle are going to our new baseball diamond. So, even though he is not here, we give Larry and his post in Redfield, a big thank you.”
Raffety extended more fundraising kudos to Darin Mertens and Travis Lester for their work with the MBDA. What he called “picking up the fundraising ball in Milbank and heading in the right direction.”
Mertens said, “I’ve been dealing with the fundraising portion of this, and it’s a lot of fun. I have only gotten two ‘No’ answers from the 70 to 100 people I’ve talked to. Everybody else said they will do something after they make sure it’s going to start.”
Pat Carey from Banner Associates, Commander Noel Cummins of American Legion Post 9, Mertens, Beever, Ron Krause, Sr., Hoeke, Jurgens, and Raffety, turned the first spades of dirt. Krause, who has been active in Milbank baseball programs for 50 years, placed the home plate in its theoretical spot on the future diamond.
Players and fans clapped and cheered. They had been warming up for this day for a long time. The project had stalled, but recently got a second wind.
City leaders committed $1.2 million to the construction of the new field. The funds include $825,000 from the city’s budget and $375,000 from the Milbank School District in an agreement that was drawn up when the previous Legion field was dismantled and the Milbank Elementary School was built on that property.
Improvements to Lake Farley have been underway for over a year, but the groundbreaking ceremony marked the official commencement of work on the baseball field.
J&J Construction of Milbank began the dirt work and installation of the water and sewer lines today, Wednesday, July 6. They had been scheduled to start on Tuesday, July 5, however, the 2.75 inches of rain that fell on Milbank over the weekend and on Tuesday nixed that plan.
J&J is under contract to complete the next stage of the development by August 4 to allow the baseball field construction crew to begin their work on August 8.
A call for bids for the construction phase of the project was issued by the City of Milbank on June 27. Bids will be publicly opened and read on July 14.