I knew I’d moved out of my youngest nephew’s Everything Is Fun era when he looked up at me and said, dead-seriously, “Aunt Beth, stop dancing.”

And I knew I’d moved out of Acceptable Company Range when I used the phrase “Touch grass” in his hearing and he looked down at me and said, dead-seriously, “Aunt Beth, you can’t say that.”

I can’t say that, apparently, because I am too old, and to appropriate the language of the adolescent languid is to be frontin’. But the sobering moment forced me into a moment of literalism in which I evaluated the last time I truly did touch grass.

It was within the last week, I am pleased to report. I was in the park (taking a shortcut on the paved path) walking to my car (that I’d used to reach a location .7 miles from my home) in order to retrieve my lipstick (that I’d brought with me but dropped to look good on the selfie video.) Maybe I’m not so hopelessly Not-Gen Z after all.

So I touched the grass, and wound up pitching the lipstick because it also  had touched grass, and mourned the $1.99 I’d have to pay Wet ‘n’ Wild for the replacement (see, I really haven’t moved past the age of 12.)

I never considered contact with grass as a major life accomplishment to schedule, since I enjoy hiking and do my best to regularly walk outside as long as the air doesn’t hurt my face… but the paths are too often slathered with concrete or are well-marked treks over carefully maintained and authorized trails. The only time I touch grass in these wilderness flings is when I have to go to the bathroom– I have peed in the wilds of just about every major National Park– and to retrieve grocery store cosmetics.

I was closer to grass when working in the middle of the city, while conducting tours of Great American Ball Park, when the greenery was a topic of heavy discussion: How it grows, where it grows, why it shouldn’t be touched, when it goes under the growth blanket, how quickly security will arrive should anyone attempt to step upon it.

This grass really was God’s art– perfectly green, evenly bladed, mowed to perfection. There were no thick, unsightly  blades of the Bermuda grass that formed the yards and soccer fields of my youth. This grass ate solely from the salad bar at Whole Foods. It was a wonder. We were finally exposed to grass, and then we were threatened with death by firing squad if we even looked directly at it for too long.

What always struck me in these moments was how much more awed adults were in these moments, despite the children’s presumed lack of contact with any form of photosynthesis outside the realm of their Uncle Taco’s grow lights. The parents understood what a turn of opinion the grass field represented, how we grew up simply accepting that synthetic turf was The Thing of the Future and for decades mockingly wondered how baseball put up with high-maintenance turf for so long.

That hot take eventually turned ice-cold, of course, and while I was regaling a Reds co-worker once with tales of my mother taking a teacher’s workshop tour of Riverfront Stadium after the foundation was laid, he stopped me with, “Hey, the Astroturf served its purpose.”

“But it was so hot in the summers, and the injuries!” I said, having listened to my fair share of Boomer laments on the subject. “It was literally a 1/8 inch carpet laid on top of blacktop! That affects everything!”

“Yes,” he said, “and sometimes for the better. Do you think Tony Perez’s  reputation would have been as stellar if he didn’t have that hard surface to his advantage?”

And he was playing almost exclusively in carpeted parks, come to think of it. Our Doggie would have shone even in a meadow of a football field, but the boost from the faux terrain can’t have hurt.

That being said, we all know what came of our rush to embrace the new and shiny just because it was new and shiny and deceptively more simple, less expensive. But that alone isn’t what should have stopped us from flinging off the pasturage and laying down the plastic.

We should have questioned what happens to us when we get off the grass. Baseball, after all,  belongs with the living.

24 Responses

  1. David

    The thrill of the grass.

    Isn’t that what Shoeless Joe said about it in “Field of Dreams”?

    And Perez would have done just fine hitting on grass fields. He did fine for several years playing in Crosley, on grass, before Riverfront was finished. The fielders played closer on grass, as it killed the speed of the ball more. On artificial turf, the ball was much faster, and the fielders played back a few steps.

      • David

        Tony was a great guy. Joe and Lee May are gone, then there are the Griffey’s, Davey and that other guy that we try to forget…Rose I think.

        Eduardo used to say on TV (when he was on ESPN for a while) what his Dad meant to him, always complimenting him on being his father.
        As a man, he was an All-Star. Some one we can all still admire.

  2. rednat

    i don’t know Mary Beth I am an old guy so I have seen the reds play at Crosley ,Riverfront and GABP and probably my top 100 reds moments were from Riverfront. We dominated the game on the turf and drafted and developed players that really thrived on that surface. And Injuries? I dont recall nearly the amount of injuries then as I do now.

    I wish the reds would go to a faster surface with larger dimensions like we had at riverfront, especially with our young players coming up

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I don’t have the injury stats at hand, but I have heard players from the Astroturf era complain that the carpet was tougher on the lower bodies and back and that hard landings were nightmares. Andre Dawson, for example, asked for a trade to a team with real grass to ease the strain on a knee injury.

      • SOQ

        Didn’t the Reds replace the artificial turf for Barry Larkin after he complained?

  3. Andrew Brewer

    I’m with you 100%…Dirt and grass are where the game is played.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      You have to hand it to Comiskey to staying firm with the grass the whole time (in the outfield out least.)

    • TR

      It follows the American baseball tradition of taking an unused piece of land, usually rural, making a diamond and putting up a backstop.

  4. Mike Adams

    I thought even from the earliest artificial turf that there was a thin pad installed between the pavement and the green turf.
    Could be wrong maybe someone with knowledge on the subject could comment.
    Wrong or not turf was indeed hard on the athletes who played on it.

  5. Mark Moore

    Aside from the “patented” skip throw from Concepcion to nail a runner from deep in the SS hole, I’m happy to see natural turf around the leagues. It just feels right somehow. A little ironic that the best college football stadiums are the newest turf, but that’s a different theme entirely.

    I was thinking about the grass at Fenway as I watched the game last evening. It just looks so perfect. I have a few patches of Zoysia at my house and wish there was more. I also have a “wild band” at the back of the property so the butterflies have a home. And when the breeze wafted through the farmer’s field behind me about a month ago, creating waves, it just looked fantastic.

    Thanks for the article and the “grounding”, MBE. We need it often so we keep things in perspective.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Ah, now I’m kicking myself for not including my old friend Concepcion. thanks for bringing him in.
      Him and the butterflies <3

  6. Harry Stoner

    I played soccer on many an astroturf field when I was young.
    Brutal….but the ball did bounce, skip, ricochet….

    Uncle Taco?

    What’s up with that?

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Uncle Taco is a reference to the comedy “The League.” Befuddled stoner character.

      I played soccer on the good old Ohio clay, but yikes that was good and baked in the late summers.

  7. LDS

    I touch grass nearly every day in some form. Stay 12 – it’s a good age to strive for. That Perez used the turf to his advantage just shows how good he really was

  8. Rut

    I am solidly with Tug McGraw on this subject.

    “Artificial grass? Never smoked the stuff”.

    Give me the real thing baby!

  9. Ghostrunner_onthird

    Lovely capture; thank you as always Mary Beth for bringing Redleg Nation back to our proverbial baseball “roots,” grass and otherwise via your reflections.

  10. Scott C

    Ha! I’m so old, I did not realize what “touch the grass” meant. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s so I thought you were referring to marijuna.
    But I agree baseball needs to be played on real grass.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That’s why Nephew was appalled!! “Aunt Beth, you’re too old to say that.” I think I preferred when he criticized my dancing…