It Always Comes Back to Baseball
By Jim Gates
As our curators often say, “It always comes back to baseball.”
This is their way of explaining that no matter what topic you want to discuss, they can find a way to include baseball as a relevant element of the conversation. We see this everyday at work, but this motto became especially relevant while I was on a fossil dig in the middle of the Wyoming high plateau this past August.
I have a friend who is a partner in the Green River Stone Company, which owns a quarry in the fossil-rich Green River Formation near Kemmerer, Wyoming. At his invitation, a group of Cooperstonians ventured out to the quarry site during the second week of August to try our hand searching for 50-million year old (Eocene Epoch) bug, fish and plant fossils. We experienced 90+ degree days, night temperatures in the 30s, a wonderful meteor shower, and lots of hours on the rock pile. It was an educational experience for everyone involved, and we all want to make a return trip.
One would think that baseball is the last thing you would come across while digging through rocks at 8,000 feet of elevation with the nearest town being many miles away. However, while relaxing after lunch on our last day at the site, I overheard some of the full-time staff calling out baseball terms while playing a game of horseshoes. Not being able to leave this alone, I walked over and asked what they were up to.
Well, having achieved complete boredom with the standard game of horseshoes as part of their after-lunch activity, they had invented a new game – horseshoe baseball. As explained to me by Jerome Montgomery, the quarry’s Director of Paleontology, they use a variety of targets for different base hits, and outs occur on any misses. After a few minutes, any baseball fan would be able to quickly understand the complete game. Scorekeeping is also an important part of the game as the back of the work shed door is used to track wins and losses. It should be noted that Jerome is the reigning world champion.
I quickly snapped some photos and enjoyed watching them play for awhile. Not having seen a game for almost a week, it certainly helped fill the baseball void. I made some notes of this game and have added this to my files of how our baseball has worked its way into our shared psyche.
So, if you are ever driving down US Highway 30, west of Kemmerer, look off to the south as you pass the Fossil Butte National Monument, as their may be a number of horseshoe players up on the hill who found a way to keep “baseball” alive in a most unusual way.
Jim Gates is the librarian of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.