SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Saturday night, a Sioux Falls man will raise the flag at the Minnesota Twins game. Don Toft was picked for the honor for three reasons. He’s a military veteran, the oldest living Sioux Falls Canaries baseball player, and 96 years old.
Inside Don and Florence Toft’s apartment at Good Samaritan’s Prairie Creek Lodge, it’s obvious there is a love of baseball in this family. The walls are adorned with all sorts of baseball memories. There is even a picture of Don playing at the front door. That’s because Don played semi-pro baseball for the Sioux Falls Canaries and the Vermillion Eagles and, to this day, has a love for the game.
“We played about four games a week, and it was really good baseball, the guys, most of them had played pro ball,” Don said.
Don will raise the flag at tomorrow’s Twin’s game, not because of his baseball past, but because of his military history. World War II ended while he was in basic training, so he never had to see combat. But, while in the army in Germany his job was to drive a jeep and play shortstop for his unit.
When he came home he tried out for the Canaries. He played for the team in 1947 and 1948. Last year, he and Florence were the honored guests at the Canaries home opener.
Don went on to play for other semi-pro teams in the region. It was during this time that he met the legendary Babe Ruth who flew into Sioux Falls for a quick stop. Don says he had a nice conversation with Ruth who he calls “the best ever.”
“He was taller than I was, he had a good firm handshake because I hung onto to it as long as I could. It was something that you never thought would happen and when it did you just was tickled,” Don said.
Not many experiences could top that but Don and Florence say tomorrow could be one of them.
“I think the whole day will be very emotional. I feel it’s a moment of history that’s being recorded for our family. Like our kids who are under one, they are not going to remember us but they can point and say hey that’s your great-grandpa there and grandma,” Florence said.
Don says he will be thinking of the special people in his life as he raises the flag.
“It’s going to be sobering, I had two brothers in the service too, one brother had two purple hearts I think I will think of him a little bit,” he said.
A tear shed not just for those who are gone, but for the chance to see those who will be there. Memories are made in the moment and tomorrow will be a moment. Seventy-one members of Don’s family will be at Target Field to watch him raise the flag. Some of the grandkids are flying in from as far away as Oregon and Illinois.