I send you ice cream shop greetings from the glorious rocky middle of absolutely nowhere, which is also the site of a blood battle for workable WiFi. I am, as you have likely guessed, at a National Park in July.

“What’s the password?” people ask at ranger stations, balefully holding aloft phones, tablets, or, in my case, an entire laptop, electrical cord dragging woefully behind. No password. Not because the WiFi isn’t open. The electrons issue lazily through the wilderness at a slow trickle, however and whenever they will, and my fellow citizens are unable to access their YouTube accounts. They’re not even able to access their YouTube login screen. And they’re panicking.

It’s great to unplug. It is necessary to unplug. But as a freelance writer, I never have to report to work, which means work trails after me at all times like my sad laptop cord. The deadlines are daily and relentless, and finding myself with a single bar on the cell phone is akin to showing up at the Master’s with a tank top and no golf clubs.

So while I vanished far into the rocks and trees this morning on horseback (no pictures; the horse made me look fat), the evening was spent cruising slowly up and down the main street of the nearest town, looking for food, shelter, and an outlet.

I’ve been to this park before, years and years ago. I don’t need to tell you how many years ago; you can estimate when I tell you that I toted a Walkman. The isolation revolution was underway, but unimaginable in its current scale. For I don’t remember seeing then what I now see nearly every minute of every day on the giant lawn of the visitor center: Families. Families gathered on the grass. Families in small groups, couples sitting on benches, teenagers in rocking chairs.

No one held a phone, perhaps because they were taking a moment apart to grieve the fact that the TikTok feed wouldn’t refresh no matter how many times they tapped. But they sat in little circles, and I saw every pair of eyes.

For a massive introvert such as myself to notice such a thing is a marker of how far gone we are as a family of human beings. These same faces earlier choked the trail Josh the PIlot and I attempted to hike. Not a second went by when we weren’t seeing, hearing, or being seen by other people. I was fully prepared to personally finance and install however many Starlink satellites were necessary to make them and their Snickers wrappers go away.

That is the state of our National Parks at the moment; driven by Instagrammable views and two summers during which the only place to go was outside, they are smothered with love as they have been never smothered before. Gates that once stood wide open now charge $35 per car, and popular hiking destinations–not entire parks, mind you, but specific rocks within them– are visitable only by reservation and lotteried permits.

This makes a great deal of sense, given the concurrent pandemic of virtualness. Nothing is real and nothing is permanent, so by primal instinct we seek out the river and the skies, the trees and the mountains. They were here long before Wikipedia; they will be her long after. In an America in which we fancy ourselves in charge of our entire kingdom–the background on the laptop, the precise balance of the bass system in the base model compact car, the house climate down to the exact degree–we have long since forgotten that we’re not in charge of nature. We’re just visiting. We are but guests of this planet.

And yet, the same throwback appreciation has not extended to America’s pastime. If we’re suddenly rediscovering all that is slow, windblown, and naturally flavored, why aren’t our baseball stadiums full?

It’s because baseball has dragged the worst of 2022 with it. In some ways this is the only road: Athletes must have the best of care, in solidly-built stadiums, the farthest reaches of which enjoy the most robust possible WiFi. A trip to the ballpark is an invitation to instantly-delivered food, virtual payments, and looming, eternally flashing scoreboards.

In other words, we have brought our airtight living rooms into the ballyard.

I like a virtual queue as much as the next girl, but a family night at the Reds game picks the family up off the couch and plops it right back down into a plastic seat with cupholders, tablets still in tow. There’s Jonathan India, live and in person! And there’s Jonathan India right in the very palm of your hand between innings, complete with every stat he has ever amassed from his first trimester of existence.

There’s no way to cram the Google genie back in the bottle. In many ways, I don’t want to. But I also miss seeing grandfathers providing tutoring sessions in keeping score, boxscore debates, moms pointing out the birds swooping over the river, and groups of friends sitting together, smiling at one another instead of a strategically positioned glowing rectangle.

We can recapture some of that. But it will require a massive group project, and we’re not too good with that sort of thing at the moment.

Maybe it won’t turn out to be as tough as it seems. Two of the people I endured with such initial frustration yesterday consisted of a dad and his daughter. He’d pulled her over to the side of the dirt path, instructing her in basic trail etiquette, explaining that she must walk on the right to allow others to pass her on the other side.

“And,” he added, “you must look around. Look up and around. There are 360 degrees of views here.”

So it is at the ballpark; the first baseman hovering, the batter tapping, the pitcher gazing about, even the dugouts restless or complacent or bored. These tell the story; they write the story, they are all part of it and it, as much as the dirt and the grass and the sky. The game is enormous, enduring– here before us, and here long after. A titanic struggle indeed. But only if we tend to it.

The outfield is the nation’s front lawn. We just need to remember to sit there every now and again.

20 Responses

  1. Oldtimer

    I am spoiled rotten by memories of Crosley Field in the 1960s, when I could get within two feet of actual, live Cincinnati Reds to get their autographs on a scorecard. I remember trying to see how many times Howie Nunn would sign my scorecard in 1961. He ALWAYS signed and never looked to see if he had already signed it.

    Once a year on Picture Day, we could walk out onto the Crosley Field infield to take photos of our favorite Reds.

    We could arrive two hours early on day games to watch both teams take batting and field practice. Do they still do that? Not on the field.

    I am similarly spoiled by Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park in the 1970s (when I lived in Chicago 1975 to 2015). Once again, arriving early to sit by the bullpen to chat with future HOF players like Rich Gossage (and others).

    Days gone by are just that. Gone by. They will not return. Box seats were a few bucks then.

    • Jerry Tracey

      Great post Oldtimer, I remember we could go to the lot where the buses were to take the visiting players back to there hotel after the game. Once, I got PeeWee Reese’s autograph and his baseball cap. Good memories!

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        The cap too?! Good on you, PeeWee!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Aw. Well done, Howie.
      I understand that at Crosley, people sat in the outfield on Opening Day. Can you imagine?!

  2. LDS

    I hope there’s never WiFi or even good cellular coverage in most of the national parks. I go to get away from people not to listen to them chatter on the phones and post to Instagram/TikTok or the tech flavor of the day. I wish a day at the game still held an allure, but baseball isn’t as fun as it used to be. Good article as usual but you did uncharacteristically typo a sentence and interrupted the flow (or more likely your writing tools helped too much – paragraph 6, sentence #2). Keep the articles coming.

    • Rednat

      i agree with your statement LDS that “baseball isn’t as fun as it used to be”. I think most reds fan would agree. But is it because we have been bad for so long? I wonder if dodger or Yankee fans think the game isn’t as fun as it used to be? the game has certainly changed and has left teams like the reds in the dust but I am always curious how other fans feel

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        I also wonder what a Rays fan would say…oof.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Unfortunately, a lack of WiFi doesn’t stop people from screaming at each other on the trail or acting like fools. Lost count of the number of plastic bottles we found scattered around the otherwise gorgeous scenery.

  3. Earmbrister

    Unrelated, Mahle just was put on the IL with a shoulder strain. Looks like he’s staying put.

    • LDS

      Maybe that’ll work out. Probably move him by next year’s trade deadline. Since all the “whispers” suggest he’s on the block, I can’t imagine the Reds paying him enough to forego FA.

  4. LDS

    Couldn’t find an analysis of 2019 vs. 2022 so it’s hard to say and I’m too lazy to do the analysis myself. I did see though that the Reds have the oldest roster, excepting SF & NYY. That says something.

  5. SOQ

    Famer back in the lineup, Votto sits again

  6. Bred

    For some reason looking in the rear view mirror always looks rosier than it really was. The past wasn’t as wonderful and carefree as the rear view mirror displays, and the present and future are not as dour as forecasted. Was life simpler back then, or was I easier to please? On sunny days in the 60s while living in “Tree That Grew”, I could get WHIO channel 7 out of Dayton. That made 4 channels to choose from. I was a happy guy watching F Troop and My Three Sons reruns one more time that day. I was a kid, very simple minded, and easily pleased. Nostalgia can be a curse because what we often see is not what was, but what we wished it to be. Thirty years from now Generation whatever will look back and pine for the good old days of their youth, and their kids will wonder why they think it was so fantastic.

    • LDS

      I was well past the kid phase. As for kids, we could walk to school without major concern – watch for traffic when crossing the street. That’s true in few cities these days.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        None of my nephews ever walked to UDF like my sister and I did because of lack of sidewalks and crazy-busy streets. It wasn’t until I moved to an older neighborhood that they experienced that. Next up: running through a sprinkler.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I will say that I used to struggle to choose which tapes to haul with my Walkman, and pondered if there would ever be a way to transport all the music you owned in something much easier to pack…

  7. Andrew Brewer

    Lesson 1: The Great Yogi Berra said, “Nobody goes there any more, it’s too crowded!”

    Lesson 2: “If people don’t want to come to the ball park, you can’t stop ’em.”

    I just heard a couple of Pete Rose interviews. He said, “What, you’re rebuilding ? Let me know when you’re done… Then I’ll come to watch you.”
    He also said his father used to take them out to eat when they won, if they didn’t win, they didn’t eat… Pete was always big on winning…

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      “If people don’t want to come to the ball park, you can’t stop ’em.”
      Wow, that’s some hard-core Bob going on there.

  8. Mark Moore

    Some beautiful word pictures in simple terms. We want to go back to Maine this Fall and see Acadia again. Hope you truly enjoyed yourself.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      We very much did, thank you! Most of our wanderings are to the West, but a trip to Acadia would not be at all unwelcome 🙂