1880’s Baseball in Southwest Colorado
America's Pass Time Finds a Place in the West
Originally, baseball was a gentlemen’s pastime played in the Eastern cities like Boston. In the style of an elite fraternity, baseball was a medium for comraderie between the socially privileged rather than the competitive sport of today. Players on these early base ball teams were called
ballistsand membership was by invitation only. Social standing was the priority; skill was of little merit. Players often dressed in suits and ties, even derby hats. Players were expected to conduct themselves as gentlemen at all times. Swearing resulted in fines and the scorekeeper could collect from the offender right on the spot. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd baseman, known as base tenders were required to hold a foot on the base until the ball was hit – creating huge holes in the infield. While gloves were unheard of, fly balls that were caught as well as balls that had bounced but once were outs. At the plate, the player holding the bat – then known as the striker would indicate to the pitcher (known as the hurler) just how he wanted the ball to cross the plate and the hurler was obligated to comply as best as he could. Curve balls and other deceptive deliveries were unknown.
By the 1880’s, the mining communities of Southwest Colorado were robustly coming into their own. While parades, boxing and horse racing were popular attractions for crowds, these events were more singular and didn’t provide the cohesive allegiance that leads to the enthusiasm and rivalries of fans rooting for their teams. In this light, baseball was the first sport to create fans. Perhaps more importantly, baseball often served as a magic stepping stool where an unknown immigrant miner could be an instant town hero based solely on his skill and performance. Here in the West, winning was everything and betting proliferated. With money on the line, prejudices were assuaged and fans routed for the players at hand – Cornish and Scottish miners, Indian and Asian railroad workers, Black or Mexican cowboys or Asian, Italian or Greek store clerks. Here in the Rockies, those responsible for the score was everything; social standing was irrelevant. As the game required little in the way of equipment, it was often played anywhere. Balls were stuffed with rags, a tree branch could serve as a bat, a boulder often represented home plate. The earliest newspaper publications here reported lively contests between the base ballists of Silverton and Durango, well before a railroad facilitated the transport of teams and fans.
Silverton and Durango played on July 4, 1881,
Baseball rematch scheduled July 16, 1881, and again July 25, 1881. After Durango beat Silverton July 4, 1881, the captain of the Durango’s team claimed the ball as a trophy, wrote hieroglyphics on the battered ball commemorating the highlights of the 6 inning game and placed it for the town to view in the cigar case of the Newman, Chestnut and Stephen’s drug store – where Old Tymer’s Cafe now stands. Within a couple of years, Ouray, Telluride, and Rico all joined in playing Silverton and Durango well before these latter towns were accessible by rail. 8/2/1884: Telluride issues challenge, 8/2/1884: Silverton beats Durango at home 38 – 30, 8/16/1884: Silverton to play at Howardsville, Rico renews challenge, Silverton downs Ouray 8/29/1885 and so on. During Silverton’s celebration of July 4, 1884, two of the town’s teams, the Roughs and the Toughs played at the baseball grounds near Mineral and 11th Streets. Fully 1,000 persons witnessed the game which ended in the Toughs winning 26 – 7. Contrary to the Eastern precepts for baseball, players here in the San Juans were hard working lowly paid workers who could only play on rare holidays. Understandably then, the influences of gambling and drinking prevailed. While the members of the original gentlemen’s clubs of the East would be aghast, Casey Stengel once remarked:
They say some of my stars drink whiskey, but I have found that the ones who drink milkshakes don’t win many ballgames.
5875 Highway 550
Durango, Colorado 81303
We are located 12 miles South of Walmart
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