LAKE NORDEN, SD — Head to Main Street in Lake Norden and the building with the pair of replica Louisville Slugger bats on the exterior wall.
Open the door, watch the automatic lights come on, and discover more than a century of baseball history in South Dakota.
The South Dakota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame is a special place. Not just because it’s rare as a stand-alone building, but because of how it typifies what South Dakota baseball involves at nearly every level of the game.
“You can get up there with five other baseball players and you don’t leave for three hours because of all the stories and the good times that are going to come to mind,” said Dan Sabers, president of South Dakota. Baseball fan. Hall of Fame Board of Directors.
Exhibits focus on past champions and previous teams, as well as artifacts such as baseballs, bats, and gloves collected over nearly 100 years of play. More than 275 people have been inducted into the Hall of Fame since its inception 65 years ago.
“There will almost certainly be someone in the Hall of Fame that you didn’t know was there and probably have known over the years,” said Lake Norden baseball legend Burt Tulson.
For an outsider, the museum being located in Lake Norden — pop. 550 in Hamlin County – seems like an odd choice. But the reasoning becomes clear inside the walls of Salo Hall, the modest-looking building that houses the state’s baseball artifacts. The building is named after Joe and Hanna Salo, Joe being the former mayor of Lake Norden and the owner of a hotel that previously stood on the site of the current Hall of Fame. Helen Mitchell, Salo’s daughter, donated the yard and provided funds for construction.
The projected cost was $47,000, with the SDABA only accepting the hall of fame plan on the condition that there was no cost to the association for the building. It cost over $52,000, but Mitchell covered the entire cost, and amateur baseball history had its home.
The Hall of Fame is on a multi-year campaign to raise $25,000 to help fund the Norden Lake Museum and secure its future with an endowment. (The museum is open daily in the summer from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and by appointment in the winter. Admission is free and donations are encouraged.)
The area has always been a hotspot for amateur baseball. About 40 miles north is Garden City, where two young businessmen organized the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Association in 1931. Two years later, the first state amateur baseball tournament was held in Watertown, Langford winning the title. At the start of the state tournament, it was only open to league champions and the tournament was played over five or six days, ending in early September on Labor Day.
But as the Hall of Fame shows, amateur baseball is much older than that. The photos show teams from the 1910s and 1920s and a Castlewood team from the mid-1890s.
“That’s the thing with baseball, there’s a story every day,” Tulson said. “There are always rosters, stats and old stories that come up every time you talk or think about the game.”
The Hall of Fame has been around since 1957, but the building itself didn’t come into existence for 20 years. Ray Antonen of Lake Norden was the president of the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Association and wanted to have a physical presence to honor the game’s history in the state. Ray’s son, Rusty, now maintains the Hall of Fame as a curator on a daily basis and has been recognized by the SDABA as its 2021 Man of the Year.
A Hall of Fame wall notes some of the state’s northeastern city teams that have rallied around the Watertown area. Many of them are long gone – Alsville, Naples, Elrod, Foley, Bemis, Wallace, among others – a reminder of how much amateur baseball has changed. Decades ago, Lake Norden had a 3,000-seat grandstand in its baseball stadium, and the baseball tradition has stood the test of time.
“There’s 70 years of great baseball history in Lake Norden,” Sabers said. “And that’s just well-documented stuff, because we know it probably goes back further.”
Tulson has been there for the most part. He has been part of the Lake Norden municipal team since 1966 and led it for nearly five decades.
“We’re just lucky, I think,” Tulson said. “We’ve had some really good young players and families who are really committed to having a strong baseball program here. And then the community really supported the team and our ballpark.
Sabers said the Hall of Fame continues to work on adding new items to display, including items about South Dakotans playing baseball professionally and in the majors. The jerseys of Dave Collins and Mark Ellis of Rapid City are on display, as are the Detroit Tigers uniform of Sparky Anderson of Bridgewater, Dusty Coleman of Sioux Falls and the Baltimore Orioles uniform of former Corsica resident Kerry Ligtenberg and Mitchell.
“It’s something we want to increase and add to,” Sabers said. “We focus on amateur baseball, but kids who have played pro ball are an important part of our presentations.”
But there are tributes to more than baseball games between the lines. There’s a tribute to Bryant native John Martin, who worked on the Kansas City Royals’ field team at Kauffman Stadium. He donated a piece of the stadium’s artificial turf to the Hall of Fame when the Royals took to the turf in 1995.
There’s Bob Lind’s basic chalk tool from the 1930s used in the Salem area on land built by Lind. It is a long stick with a drum-shaped container at the end that has serrated holes to let chalk out.
Without a trip to the Hall of Fame, few baseball fans would know of the talents of Joe McGovern – the father of George McGovern – who played second base and was lucky enough to join the League’s St. Louis Browns. national, but let him pass and went to seminary instead. Or Amanda Clement of Hudson, who umpired semi-professional baseball in the early 1900s and is considered the state’s first female umpire.
Probably few baseball fans realize today that amateur champions North Dakota and South Dakota played a playoff game between the best in the states. But they did in 1970, won by Aberdeen, with the Calvin Griffith Award – named after the former Minnesota Twins owner who brought the major leagues to the Upper Midwest – on display in the hall of fame.
“There’s so much out there and it’s a chance to bring all that old history to life,” Tulson said. “When exposed, it continues to live.”
Sabres, of Mitchell, said the selection process is often difficult, in part because of the number of players with strong credentials in the game of baseball. The board tries to select five new members each year, and members must be nominated for induction, with an emphasis on the person’s impact on amateur baseball.
“Playability is still No. 1,” Sabers said. “And you try to recognize the guys who have been there for a long time. If you look at the inductees, they’re the ones who have spent their whole lives there, whether it’s coaching, refereeing, managing the city team. They are the ones who maintain the land, they are the ones who collect money to keep their fields beautiful.
Five other hall of famers will be honored at this year’s state tournament and will be formally inducted in Tabor in November at a banquet. This banquet is one of the Sabers’ favorite parts of the year, he said, as each individual will have a table where they can bring items and albums from their career to display.
“The stories that come out when these items are on display are really special,” Sabers said. “It’s a big, big thing.”