SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Many are mourning the loss of South Dakota native Mel Antonen who passed away late Saturday night at the age of 64 after battling a rare autoimmune disease and COVID-19 complications.

Mel Antonen had a love for baseball that began south of Watertown in Lake Norden, South Dakota.

“He never approached baseball as a sport. He approached baseball as a metaphor for many things, including life,” long-time friend Chuck Raasch said.

Antonen took that view and made a career out of it. He started as a sportswriter for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls and then moved to USA Today. Most recently, he worked for the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network covering the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals of Major League Baseball.

He really understood people.

Larry Fuller, former editor of Mel Antonen’s

“He is, certainly, the most outstanding sports reporter to come from South Dakota,” former editor Larry Fuller said.

“Mel would dig under things and dig around things and he would just really get to the unique aspects of a story,” Raasch said.

“He was an exceptional sportswriter and exceptional interviewer because he listened so well and people loved to open up to him. I mean, Mel got interviews that a lot of people wouldn’t get just because he was so welcoming and so nice and people just wanted to talk to him,” former co-worker Kevin Woster said.

He was one of the few journalists who, late in his career, was able to get the great Joe DiMaggio.

Chuck Raasch, long-time friend of Mel Antonen

The legacy he leaves behind him is something young writers could be inspired by. 

“Here’s a guy from Lake Norden. I mean, that’s pretty South Dakota and he grew up there, he played baseball there, his dad was head of the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame, he went to Augie and he just kept plugging along,” Fuller said. 

“He loved the idea of journalism as, first as storytelling and not as a way to get people to fight or to recite facts or whatever. You could tell him a fact and he could tell you a story behind that fact,” Raasch said. 

“Stay true to yourself. Become who you are and stay who you are. Allow yourself to be who you are and that is going to be enough. And also, I think Mel would tell you that the values he learned here, the work ethic he learned here and the way he learned to treat people here, I think, carried him through wherever he went and helped make him successful,” Woster said. 

Antonen never forgot his South Dakota roots.

“His entire life, I think, he looked at the world through sort of the prism of Lake Norden and what it meant to him. The values he got there and the friends that he still had there,” Raasch said.

“He was a South Dakotan who lived in, incidentally, in Washington, D.C., but he never forgot his home,” Fuller said.

That’s why being inducted into the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame in 2017 meant so much to him.

“Yeah, it meant a tremendous amount to him. He talked about it a lot to me,” Raasch said.

He was surprised that he made the South Dakota Hall of Fame. The rest of us were going, ‘duh.’

Kevin Woster, former co-worker of Mel Antonen

Even while battling challenges to his health, Antonen didn’t stop writing.

“His last column, for his employer, MASN, was in October after the World Series, in which he predicted next year’s World Series winner which will be the San Diego Padres. So, if you’re a betting person, as well as I know Mel, I would go bet on the San Diego Padres right now,” Raasch said.

Antonen left a lasting impression on those who knew him. 

“I will remember him as a friend, who could, you know, joke about anything. Even in his bad days in the hospital, you know, he wanted to joke about things. And also, I will remember him as somebody who always, always, always looked at the brightest side of any situation that he was in,” Raasch said.  

“And I’m going to remember him for a guy who lived up to his potential and did something really special with his life and impacting others,” Fuller said.

“And I’ll just remember the kind, genuine, thoughtful human being he was most of all,” Woster said.