An attribute common to all Black Hills communities are busy athletic fields, often in settings with alpine vistas. But they're more than pretty. Some are etched deeply into the memories of big-time pro athletes. Considering its relatively small population, the Black Hills area produces a surprisingly big number of sports pros, not to mention major college athletes and Olympians.
Let's focus on Black Hills athletes who have made an impact in professional football, basketball, baseball and hockey. In the NFL, Adam Vinatieri of Rapid City is the league's oldest player currently, and the winner of four Super Bowl championships (with the Patriots and Colts). This kicker won two of those Super Bowls thanks to his own late-game heroics. Rapid City is also the hometown of NFL Hall of Famer John Dutton. In basketball, Rapid City's Becky Hammon played 16 WNBA season's and was one of the league's most popular personalities in its early years. Recently Becky made NBA history with the Spurs when she became the league's first woman to work full-time as an assistant coach. Also in the NBA, Rapid City's Eric Piatkowski wrapped up 15 solid seasons a few years ago, playing with the Clippers, Rockets, Bulls and Suns.
But Major League Baseball is where the Black Hills have really stood out over the years, beginning with Jim (Death Valley) Scott. A hundred years ago this Deadwood man was a dominant, 20-game winner who pitched for the White Sox. Later came Carroll Hardy of Sturgis. With the Red Sox Hardy gained distinction as the only man ever to pinch hit for the great Ted Williams. In the 1970s, when the Athletics won three straight World Series, Rapid City's Dick Green was the starting second baseman. A generation later another Rapid Citian, Mark Ellis, played the same position for the Athletics. It's been said the only type of big league player never produced by the Black Hills is a true power hitter. But a few years ago Mark Ellis and Belle Fourche native Jason Kubel entertained local fans as they competed for the most career home runs hit by a Black Hills major leaguer (not that either man ever gave it a thought). Kubel won, hitting 140 homers, mostly for the Twins, to Ellis's 105.
As for hockey ... well, let's not go there. But Rapid City is home to a popular minor league hockey team now, and interest is growing among youth. And, as you'll see in evidence on those pretty fields this summer, soccer is huge. Rodeo? That merits its own section on this site.
Photo by Paul Higbee