- Associated Press - Sunday, July 3, 2016

CANOVA, S.D. (AP) - Jerry Kampshoff was sitting a few rows behind home plate, soaking in the sunlight, taking in the game he loves.

The Canova Gang was hosting the Colman A’s in a Cornbelt League amateur baseball game earlier this month, and Kampshoff along with about 60 other spectators couldn’t help but admire the state of the ballpark.

The baseball field in Canova - population 105 at the most-recent 2010 census - just went through roughly $90,000 in renovations, the Mitchell Daily Republic (http://bit.ly/29bQmXO ) reported.

“Baseball is about everything in this town and baseball is what put Canova on the map,” said Kampshoff, who was inducted into the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Association Hall of Fame in 2014. “Everybody comes to watch baseball. That’s just the way it is. I can’t explain it.”

And Kampshoff has reason to be proud of Canova’s new-look ballpark. He helped spearhead the renovation project through his construction business.

The home of the four-time state Class B amateur champion, Canova is one of several towns in South Dakota that has pumped thousands of dollars into its ballpark in recent years.

Whether financing the project through fundraising, donations or city dollars, these ballparks must receive upgrades to preserve America’s pastime, local officials say.

In a survey of nearly 30 towns that play the majority of their games in eastern South Dakota and field a Class B amateur baseball team, 14 have conducted a renovation project at their ballpark in the past five years, the majority of which occurred either in 2015 or this year. An estimated total of $915,000 has been spent on those projects.

Throughout South Dakota, it’s hard to find a town that depends as much on baseball as Canova.

“It’s the lifeline of the town,” said Canova Gang manager Dave Gassman, who also played a crucial role in the renovation process. “Without it, we’re pretty much non-existent other than a couple of businesses. Baseball and Canova go hand in hand.”

The upgrades in Canova began in early 2015 with the installation of a new concession stand, lights, dugouts, a backstop, grandstand bleachers and a sprinkler system throughout the park. The ballpark was netted from dugout to dugout and concrete was poured. After the season, seed was planted for a grass infield.

“There wouldn’t be a town any more,” said Duane Miller, who helped start the Canova Gang in 1946.

At age 91, Miller still attends Canova games. He joked that the ballpark in Canova has been nicknamed “Little Cadwell,” referring to Cadwell Park in Mitchell.

In 2016, the work continued with a press box built behind the grandstand bleachers and shelter area constructed next to the concession stand. Throughout the process, the baseball complex also added another teener field and has made Canova a baseball haven in South Dakota.

“We’ve done this mainly to make sure that we have a future that’s going to be hanging around baseball and the tradition that we’ve had here,” Gassman said. “It’s just a love for the game by a lot of families in the area.”

Ensuring a future for kids in baseball goes hand-in-hand with upgrading ballpark facilities.

On June 6, Canova’s complex had three games going on simultaneously, with the McCook/Miner Legion team playing on the main baseball field and midgets and pee-wee teams were also playing on two nearby fields.

“You couldn’t believe the cars there,” said Gassman, who estimated around 100 cars were at the ballpark. “Our population grows about seven or eight times on nights like that.”

For the town of Corsica, which recently had a dedication for its newly remodeled baseball field on June 11, the renovations coincided with an influx of younger players. The field installed a new grass infield along with a concrete backstop, nets, foul poles and bases.

“It’s for the kids,” said Michael Plooster, a member of the Corsica Summer Recreation Association, who added youth teams continue to add numbers in the town. “We want to give them an opportunity to play at the best level that they can. The new field just gives them so many more opportunities.”

The same case can be made in Alexandria, where the amateur baseball team has played a big role in helping the sport thrive. Alexandria Angels manager Chris Marek said the youth program of kids 12 years old and younger had 100 kids out this summer.

“Baseball is flourishing over here,” Marek said. “As a community, we see baseball is growing, the community is growing and we’re being proactive by making some of these changes.”

With the buzz around baseball growing, the baseball field in Alexandria is seeing upgrades this summer. A new brick wall backstop from dugout to dugout with a new net for better viewing was installed along with new foul poles and a new scoreboard. The total costs came in around $40,000, and Marek added Alexandria will look to possibly add a grass infield and a new grandstand in the future.

“The more friendly the complex is for the viewers, the more people are willing to come out and watch the game,” Marek said. “We want to have a really nice small-town ballpark.”

The upgrades of baseball fields isn’t only found in the east side of the state. Winner, which recently won the Class B high school state tournament with co-op partner Colome, has put in around $300,000, with the costs shared between the city of Winner, the Winner Baseball Association and other fundraisers into the historic baseball field Leahy Bowl, officials said. Winner/Colome’s amateur team plays in the Sunshine League, which consists of other teams from the eastern half of the state.

In many cases, the baseball fields in South Dakota’s small towns have been around for more than 50 years. In Canova, the baseball field predates World War II and it’s not uncommon for baseball fields to go on spans of 10 years or longer without renovations.

Each town and baseball field has gone through the renovation process differently and many people involved with the upkeep of baseball fields agree there’s no perfect way to approach it.

Some teams have had large fundraising pushes and try to knock out all the changes in one year or two, while some ballparks have taken the approach of a project every five years.

No matter the process, one aspect remains the same in renovating baseball fields_money. For Canova, Gassman said the cost of the renovations were nearly $90,000 without paying labor. Most of the labor was provided by volunteers or donated by area businesses, and Gassman estimated with the cost of labor factored in, the project cost closer to $120,000.

Gassman said the field received two grants from the Minnesota Twins and the South Dakota Community Foundation and a small grant from the Hy-Vee/Sanford Legends in Sioux Falls.

The team and ballpark sold signs for families and businesses to put their name on. He said the price was $500 for a sign, and many businesses gave funds beyond that amount.

“People have just donated,” Gassman said. “We have probably gotten close to $35,000 in donations from businesses and families.”

One of those businesses that supported the ballpark in Canova was Miner County Bank in Howard. Don Nolan, president of the bank, said businesses such as the bank should “be supporting the good things that are happening.”

“We support it because of the amount of volunteer efforts and the amount of pride that’s gone into that baseball program over the years,” said Nolan. “It flourishes there because of the long tradition and the number of people committed to make that thing continue to happen.”

Without the investments into the baseball field and smaller teener fields, which sit near the center of the town, Canova would be much different.

“A lot of volunteer help, a lot of money collection,” Kampshoff said. “A grass infield takes a lot of work.”

The work at the ballpark never stops, as Kampshoff added the next project will be to upgrade the facilities bathrooms.

The grass infield allows Canova to host the district tournament for the Cornbelt League this summer.

The ability to host a district, region or state tournament also plays a factor in upgrading facilities at the ballpark. In Salem, around $200,000 has been spent to install a grass infield, along with building a new press box and adding tile and drainage to the field. For its upgrades, Salem was awarded the Class B Legion baseball tournament last summer, which the McCook/Miner team won on its home diamond.

The renovations were needed as more than 50 years passed without much change at the baseball field, according to Craig Cheeseman, an assistant coach with the McCook/Miner team. But Cheeseman added the money can only do so much as volunteers are just as important.

“It takes a strong community and getting volunteers to roll up their sleeves and follow through with it,” Cheeseman said. “There is a strong tradition of baseball in a lot of small towns and we take pride in having a program together and keeping baseball alive.”

Fundraisers, community donations and some city tax dollars were the most common methods of finding money to pay for upgrades. Many small towns have also taken advantage of the Minnesota Twins community fund, which provides grants to help maintain small town baseball fields. Canova, Corsica, Kimball, White Lake and Tabor have all utilized the Twins grant to help cover some of the upgrading costs in the past five years.

Canova has fielded an amateur baseball team every year since 1946, without ever taking a break. In its history the Gang has had plenty of success. The team has won the Class B amateur baseball title four times (1966, 1971, 1979 and 2009) and appeared in the state championship game eight times between 1986 and 2002. Kampshoff said throughout the state, the Gang is well known because of the team’s history.

“That’s 70 consecutive years,” Gassman said. “You’ve got dads and grandfathers who have played the game beyond Legion and it’s just passed on from one generation onto the next.”

In the summer, especially the Fourth of July, Canova thrives. Gassman said on Independence Day, all of Canova’s teams play with the amateur team capping the night off with fireworks after the game. Gassman said total gate profit brought in is usually around $2,000, without adding money made from concessions.

“There is no other activities other than baseball,” Gassman said. “In the winter, everything goes to Salem or to Howard, but in the summertime, it comes alive.”

___

Information from: The Daily Republic, http://www.mitchellrepublic.com

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