COOKE CITY — Say 'Cooke City, Montana,' and plenty of things come to mind: Montana's highest town, sitting above 7,500 feet; a snow-lovers paradise, averaging almost 200 inches per year; and a tourist mecca, sitting just 3.5 miles from Yellowstone National Park's northeast entrance.
But residents of the tiny hamlet have come to treasure a different pastime - softball.
"This was what brought everyone together," said Scott Denniston, spending his 26th summer in Cooke City. "We'd get over 100 people here on Mondays."
In 2007, Cooke City built a softball field just south of Highway 212, which runs through the middle of town, and ever since, the town has organized a pick-up softball game on Monday nights.
"We would start the little kids around 6 p.m.," said Vicki Denniston, who's family has been in Cooke City since the 1930s. "They would play for about an hour, and then the adults would come around 7-7:30 p.m. and play."
"We’d have six people in the outfield," Scott joked. "Everyone who came got to play."
And it wasn’t just locals.
"We taught people from all over how to play baseball," Scott said. "I’ve seen a Turkish guy hit one in the outfield, and then run around the bases and pass the other runners. So I'd have to stop him and explain that you can't do that.
"I called it Cooke City International Softball. It was a joy to teach."
Was...because on June 12, Soda Butte Creek, which runs just outside of the left field fence, flooded over its banks and destroyed almost everything: chain-link fences were ripped out of the ground; bleachers washed away; and three of the bases lost - only home plate was found.
It was an event previously unthinkable.
"It was built up so that if there was some floods, it would be high enough that it wouldn’t damage it," Vicki said.
It’s hard to plan for a 500-year flood, like we’ve seen in so many places.
Perhaps no one loved the field more than 5-year-old Luke Wolfe.
"He wanted to come almost every day to the baseball field," said dad Joda Wolfe.
Luke’s love of the game really started at a Billings Mustangs game when he was two.
"He chased down a foul ball, and a player came off the field and started playing catch with him," said Luke's mom Anna. "He was obsessed from that moment."
Now Luke's sandlot is gone, so Joda and Anna have started a GoFundMe to help rebuild the 'Field of Cream,' the local nickname for a place that’s become so important to so many.
"There’s an urgency about it," said Anna. "I think this field serves so many different purposes for people in the community. It’s something that lifts everyone up."
"We’re always so busy - we always have so many tourists," said Vicki. "But we take this time off so that we can come and play and enjoy each other and be a community."
Where they can truly feel at home.