Sunshine League newcomer Devil Rays add to amateur baseball history in Parkston
May 12—PARKSTON, S.D. — A new creature will appear at The Pond in Parkston this amateur baseball season.
Sticking to the theme of aquatic nicknames for amateur clubs that call the community home, the Parkston Devil Rays are the newest member of the Sunshine League for their inaugural season in 2023.
Flush with youth, including several active college baseball players, amateur baseball newcomers and former members of the Parkston Mudcats, the Rays have their sights set high in Year 1.
Player and manager Landon Sudbeck, a sophomore infielder and pitcher at Dakota Wesleyan and Dimock native, gets pointed to as the primary leader behind the formation of the Rays.
"It kind of all started our senior year of high school," explained Sudbeck, a 2021 Parkston High School graduate. "We wanted to get something like this together, whether it was on the other Parkston team or creating a new one. It just kind of turned out to be a bunch of guys on the Mudcats splitting into younger and older.
"We just had to find the right time to make this work," he continued. "We didn't have enough numbers last year, but we decided we wanted something of our own. It's nothing against Mudcats; they're a really great team, too. You know, the more people playing ball, the better."
The situation isn't completely unlike what occurred in Plankinton with the creation of the Gold Sox to stand alongside the Bankers in 2021. However, after two seasons with two teams, the Bankers are back to being the lone team in Plankinton this year.
The Rays are hopeful their roster has the staying power to establish a second full-time team in Parkston. It's a community that has done it before, including having three teams at one point — the Mudcats, the Rock Bass and the age 35-and-over Bullheads.
"We obviously tried to put together a squad that's going to compete," Sudbeck said. "We added a lot of guys from the Mitchell area and then tried to build a solid foundation of Parkston-area guys. So far, it's looking pretty good. We've got 18 guys out here and they all love to play ball."
In addition to rounding up several Parkston area talents, Sudbeck made connections with Austin Kerr and 2022 Mitchell High School graduate Seth Muth (also a teammate at DWU) working for the city of Mitchell.
Sudbeck had also reached out to Jonah Schmidt and Jake Helleloid, two more members of the MHS Class of 2022 and teammates at Northern State, about the possibility of forming a team. Among the Rays' other original starters were Jay Storm, Max Scott, Ty Neugebauer, Logan Heidinger, Isaak Bialas and Josh Polreis.
"This winter, [Sudbeck] texted us and said, 'Hey, we're going to do this. If you guys want to join, you have a spot on our roster.' So we just went from there," Schmidt said. "It's made it really fun and pretty competitive for all of us to play with guys that we know have been good ballplayers."
Opening the season on May 7 against Crofton (Neb.), the Rays made quite the first impression. Parkston put up three or more runs in four of the six innings they came to bat en route to a 21-9 run-rule victory in seven innings. In the Rays' second contest, they out-hit Salem six to four but came out on the losing end of a 3-1 final.
Both Sudbeck and Schmidt expect a deep lineup of pitching and hitting options to be major assets for the Rays this season. With a group that hasn't played together much to date, defense — with eight errors across two games — is an area Parkston looks to improve, along with finding ways to offset other teams' veteran savvy with upsides to the Rays' youth.
"It's probably going to have its ups and downs. We're playing in a tough league, so we'll probably get humbled a few times," Sudbeck said. "But we're just going to play hard. We're young, we're fast, and we're going to use that youth to our advantage."
Though it's early, the Rays have already felt the support that has allowed Parkston to have two teams. With time, the goal is to add their own robust chapter to the town's amateur baseball legacy.
"We saw quite a few cars that I've never seen before pulling up all over the field," Schmidt said of the opener against Crofton. "The guys are already talking about some of the big games against our rivals and how it's going to be packed. It's going to be fun, it's going to get a little chirpy, and that just makes baseball so much more fun."
"Parkston is a great baseball community, and this just wouldn't be possible without them," Sudbeck added. "There's obviously a great history, too. We're not trying to take away from that. We're trying to start something new and hopefully, we can be a part of that history. Give us a couple of years and we'll be looking even better than where we are now. We're young and only going to go up from here."