WEST SALEM — There were two defining moments in Friday night’s inaugural American Legion baseball game in West Salem.
One was something West Salem coach Sean Gavaghan wanted his players to forget soon after it occurred. The other, however, is something his players won’t soon forget.
Clinging to a four-run lead entering the seventh inning, Post 51 struggled to find the strike zone, and Mauston rallied for eight runs to eventually earn the 11-7 victory.
That was the forgettable.
The unforgettable came earlier in the night and transcended the outcome of Friday’s first home contest.
Before the game officially got under way, Don Buisman, a member of the Post 51 Legion for over 50 years, threw out the first pitch to commemorate the first American Legion baseball game to be played in West Salem.
“That was the first time I’ve thrown a baseball in about 65 years,” said the 83-year-old Buisman, who threw a strike right down the middle to his grandson, Jay Buisman, the team’s backup catcher. “It felt pretty good.”
By throwing that first pitch, Buisman made a special night that much more special for his family.
It was special for eveyone involved because of the process of building a team from scratch. Finally, after the planning and fundraising that went into the season, a home baseball game was finally being played.
“It’s quite an honor to get called to throw the first pitch, especially to get to throw to my grandson,” said Don, who spent half of Game 1 in the West Salem dugout and the other half in the bleachers with his wife, Delores, and another 150 people.
For Don, Friday night’s visit to the diamond was a little unorthodox, despite being a regular during the Panthers’ spring season.
Lately, Don has been working construction at the field, building a new concession stand that has been funded by community donations.
“He’s been helping us up on the roof shingling,” Gavaghan said. “He’s that type of guy. That’s why we live the life we do, because those types of guys are tough as nails like that.
“We’re very appreciative. We don’t take it lightly when representing American Legion Post 51.”
West Salem is scheduled to host four more doubleheaders and four single games this summer.
“It’s really a special feeling being the first group to ever go through this,” said West Salem’s Luke Schultz, who will play baseball at Dakota Wesleyan in Mitchell, S.D., next year. “It’s really exciting for us.”
This was the first season the Panthers played in the spring instead of summer, and for some it might take a little getting used to.
But for West Salem High School baseball coach Chuck Ihle, who coached the Panthers to the WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinals in their first spring postseason, he’s fine spending the summer as a spectator.
“It’s a lot more relaxing and enjoyable, that’s for sure,” Ihle said. “You still root the guys on, but you don’t have to be in every pitch.”
Friday’s American Legion home debut in West Salem signified more than a new team competing in the new Coulee Region Baseball League. It marked the continuation of a longstanding tradition in West Salem — summer baseball.
“For the last 30 years, the community has enjoyed summer baseball,” Ihle said. “They’ve grown accustomed to coming out and enjoying (baseball) when the weather is nice and warm. So this is replacing that void that was left when we went to spring.”