The story of Burt Keeeley, Ely’s century-old and largely unknown link to the major leagues

(Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series written by Anthony Bush, a baseball historian).
by Anthony Bush
Ely, Minnesota, is an eternal frontier town. Established in the late 1880s as a mining outpost in the remote wilderness of the Vermilion Iron Range about 20 miles south of the Canadian border, Ely was a typical wild-west town. It is also an unlikely baseball town.
Legend has it that professional-baseball-player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday visited on occasion and is credited with the comment, “The only difference between Ely and hell is there’s a railroad out of Ely.”
Sunday would preach one day and then play in the baseball games between Ely and nearby-logging-town Winton the next.
“In 1916 Winton was a bustling metropolis [of 500 people],” wrote local historian Charles Aguar, “…Baseball was ‘the’ sport since there was a large five acre baseball park on the edge of town. The Ely and Winton teams were great rivals. When a game was played at Ely, a special train was used to take practically the whole town of Winton to Ely.”
The mines closed in the 1960s. The railroad is long gone. Ely reached its peak population in 1930, at 6,156; the city claimed 3,460 residents in 2010.
Ely is still quite literally at the end of the road, however, as it serves as the main gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a 1.1 million-acre tract of forest and lakes where motorized vehicles, and even bicycles, are outlawed.

Raad the complete article this week and the next in the Ely Echo....