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These Fantastic Photos of a 1890s-Style Baseball Tournament Will Transport You Back in Time

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These Fantastic Photos of a 1890s-Style Baseball Tournament Will Transport You Back in Time

With sagebrush covering the outfield, willow trees hugging the first-base line and four teams of ballplayers channeling their inner Cap Anson, leave it to a Wyoming ghost town to host possibly the coolest baseball tournament in the world.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Mike Gualdoni and Alyssa Lozier

The Gold Rush Days tournament, held annually in July in historic South Pass City, features four teams of players from the surrounding area. Loosely following rules from late 19th-century "base ball," the athletes wear old-fashioned uniforms, swing wooden bats and try to catch the ball with small leather mitts (inevitably resulting in broken fingers every year).

Image Credit: Courtesy of Mike Gualdoni and Alyssa Lozier

Playing on uneven terrain at an altitude 2,600 feet higher than the Colorado Rockies' Coors Field, the players are prone to mishandling the baseball or losing it in the tall sagebrush. All of this makes the play chaotic, which is exactly how Mat Johnson, a six-year veteran of the South Pass City team, likes it.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Mike Gualdoni and Alyssa Lozier

"You never know how the ball is going to bounce or where it is going to stop, so fielding can be wild," Johnson, an admissions counselor by day, said.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Mike Gualdoni and Alyssa Lozier

"The experienced outfielders have learned to catch the ball like a [football] punt return, pulling it into their bodies and bear-hugging the ball so that it can't run away," Johnson's teammate Travis Foutz explained.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Mike Gualdoni and Alyssa Lozier

With the same four teams competing each year, rivalries and friendships have been formed between the players, most of whom reside in nearby (by Wyoming standards) Lander and Riverton. But first and foremost, the tournament is meant to be a crowd-pleaser. As such, a team is allowed to pull anyone out of the crowd and let them bat at any time.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Mike Gualdoni and Alyssa Lozier

According to Johnson, no one is quite sure who came up with the idea for the tournament, but the two-day competition (which started in 2001) was created with tourism in mind and has helped turn the Fourth of July weekend into a 2,000-person draw for the former gold rush town.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Mike Gualdoni and Alyssa Lozier

"The story is that during the curation of the historic site and the old [South Pass City] buildings, a journal or book was discovered that talked about the baseball league and the rules that they played by," Johnson said. "What started as an idea to draw more tourists to the historic site has turned into us rekindling the field for one weekend a year."

Image Credit: Courtesy of Mike Gualdoni and Alyssa Lozier

The idea of a vintage base ball competition isn't unique to Wyoming — leagues exist all across the country — but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more picturesque backdrop for America's pastime. Or a more difficult place to play.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Mike Gualdoni and Alyssa Lozier

"I would say we play on the most challenging field in the country," Foutz said. "If you happen to find one that plays on the side of a live volcano, I would be willing to have a discussion about which is more difficult."

Image Credit: Courtesy of Mike Gualdoni and Alyssa Lozier

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