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Someone You Should Know: Preserving amateur baseball history

Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 7:04 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The baseball season is winding down with the World Series underway. While the amateur baseball season ended in August in South Dakota, you can still learn about the legends of the game as a special small town hall of fame.

Rusty and Kathy Antonen are preserving history.

The brother and sister, play a big role in running the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame, in their hometown of Lake Norden.

“Yeah, you know it’s a unique thing. We bill ourselves as the only amateur baseball hall of fame in the United States or possibly the world. And it’s a unique museum, you know, we’ve got a lot of old stuff. There’s a lot of interesting artifacts from all over the state of South Dakota some of those from the late 1800′s to the early 1900s. Some homemade, so it really tells the history of South Dakota amateur baseball,” Rusty said.

“Well, for a small town, and you’ll be going down the highway and it will say so many miles to the hall of fame. And you’ll go, gosh that place better be clean today if someone comes in there you know. That’s kind of the responsibility part,” said Kathy.

Among their many jobs with the hall, Rusty does the bookkeeping, while Kathy does much of the cleaning. Baseball has been a big part of life for the Antonen family. It was Rusty and Kathy’s father Ray, who got the hall going.

“My dad was heavily involved and really loved amateur baseball in South Dakota. And the hall of fame was formed I think back in the 50′s as a South Dakota corporation, and they’d elect people to the hall of fame every year. Then about the mid 70′s, dad said we need a building to put pictures up and to honor these people,” Rusty said.

“My mother, when she gave birth to my brothers and sisters she always wondered when they could get baptized. Because if they had been born in the winter, it had to revolve around the baseball schedule. Once my dad was talking about the love of the game and he said well, especially after his wife died, my mom, he said where would I be without baseball,” Kathy said.

The two are part of a family of four kids, which included brother Mel, who went on to become a nationally known Major League Baseball writer and broadcaster.

“He’s always hounding the state and talking to people and trying to get artifacts and unforms. Also, he’s helped us with the displays for the major leaguers. He had some good contacts there, so we’ve got uniforms from some of the South Dakotans that played in the major leagues. And Mel was responsible for getting most of those,” Rusty said.

Kathy is a retired teacher, while Rusty works in a feed business across the street from the hall. And they open and close it each day.

“We’re open May thru October every day 9 to 7. And we’ll open it up, if somebody comes to town and they come to the hall of fame it’s locked they might stopover at the Bullpen or someplace and people will say ‘oh yeah you can go across the street and they’ll open it for you, or the Bullpen has a key.’ They’ll open it for someone who’s come a long way,” Rusty said.

“Sometimes we’ll just be walking down the street and someone will be going in. So then we can go in and talk to them. They’ll tell us about the people that they know in the hall and then we might be able to point out some exhibits or some stories that they didn’t know,” Kathy said.

With new hall of Famers being inducted each year, the hall is growing. And the Antonen family plans to always be a part of that.

“People donate artifacts, things pop up to give to the hall of fame and we try to put it up and display it. And then through the years, a couple of times, we have some professional people come in and redo the museum and set it up,” Rusty said.

“It became part of the routine. And sometimes Rusty’s children would help. We’d clean it in the early spring, and we often said well this is what dad and your grandpa would want you to be doing,” Kathy said.

There is no charge to go to the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame, however, they do accept donations.

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