Just before Josh the Pilot and I once again departed Ohio for the single-bar reception life of a National Park in the West, the Reds played the Orioles. The first of these matchups did not, in the words of every social media account of every sports team, “go the way we hoped.” So I texted my best friend, a Loveland native who lives just outside Baltimore and was therefore in charge of the situation.
“CARAH. MAKE THE ORIOLES STOP SCORING RUNS,” I type-yelled. “YOU’RE CLOSER. This is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.”
She issued the worst possible response: Many happy emojis and the words “Let’s go O’s!”
“what have you become,” I responded, because there is no emoji for “appalled” and all that was left was to lowercase everything.
Although once a state-hopper like me, she responded that she’d now lived in Maryland longer than she’d ever lived in Ohio, and her loyalties shifted accordingly.
Then again, this is Loveland we’re talking about– we claim it, but it doesn’t necessarily claim us. The ties aren’t nearly as binding from 45 minutes away. When Carah and I met as freshmen in college, the hometown nametag on her dorm door read “Loveland, OH,” and, when I exalted that we were both Cincinnatians, she politely informed me that no, she was from Loveland.
Normally I wouldn’t press the issue, for now my Carah is unquestionably lost. What truly concerns me is the eternal fate of her eight offspring. The mother has defected from the True Faith, but the children may yet be saved.
That wasn’t going to happen with the general state of the Reds over the past three decades. But now there’s a chance to bring the little chicks home, as their familial destiny demands. And now that the Reds are no longer an object of pity–for three whole weeks, but aren’t the clouds 1% less lowering?– we might pull them back to our side through awe, if not affection.
Baltimore reappeared in my life later that week, as I sat on horseback somewhere in Yellowstone National Park, doing my very best to avoid becoming murdered and/or eaten. Jouncing along in front of me was a man who indicated that he was from the DC area of Maryland, and, forced to make human conversation while all the horses stopped, having decided that the best thing possible under these circumstances was pee in unison, I said, “Do you claim the Orioles or the Nationals?”
“Yankees,” he snapped.
The Almost-Insufferable Harrison Ford
I quietly resumed my place behind him on the trail, wondering how such a thing had come to pass. I certainly wasn’t going to ask. How does a person possibly form a warm attachment with the Yankees?
They aren’t lovable. They win, yes, which commands respect, but not necessarily love and affection. Love and affection only go so far– some would say the cutoff is 33 years since significant advancement in the playoffs– but human fallibility inspires human attachment. Surface perfection in humans disquiets. Harrison Ford would be insufferable to gaze upon without the dashing scar on his chin.
Then again, there’s a limit. Were you happy for the Stupid Cubs when they finally won a World Series? Sure, we all were!
And now how do you feel about them?
It’s a delicate balance– we dole out affection on spec, don’t we, demanding an offset of mechanical perfection with the occasional inability to cook pasta correctly. Too much magnificence and the other party is offputtingly pristine, unrelatable. Too much in need of help to navigate basic life skills and you’ve got Jar-Jar Binks. Or the 1991-2022 Cincinnati Reds.
Brute, Might, and Bison
I suppose that’s why I left Yellowstone with a sense of appreciation, but not attachment. It was so big, so wide, so tall, so intent on slaying anyone daring to look it in the face. The rental car company included a free can of bear spray in the glove compartment. Everything about this part of the country is specifically calculated to ward off human activity– not that I can blame it. There is no seduction of the heart, just unstoppable and mighty forces of nature. Yellowstone demands where the likes of Cincinnati’s gentler hills modestly request.
There’s a reason why I’ve often referred to Yellowstone as Darwin’s Playground. If it isn’t bears, it’s bubbling pools of Acidic Death. If it isn’t boiling water shooting straight out of the surface of the Earth, it’s subzero windchills in June. If it’s not clouds of mosquitos, it’s Rip Wheeler and a convenient cliff.
Or it’s the the bison. Our first fifteen or so bison sightings were a delight, but we got over closeup views of this threatened species with alarming rapidity. Despite the massive crowds tromping through each year, Yellowstone does not experience traffic jams. They have bison jams. Blatantly ignoring acres of native woodlands set aside specifically for them, these beard-cows favor wandering about the middle of the road for hours at a time, pretending to nuzzle hot asphalt in search of nutrition.
At some point such behavior stops demonstrating dumb animal curiosity and becomes downright spite. The cloven hoof becomes a middle finger. The bison, once driven to near-extinction, now strike back through brute stubbornness and a total refusal to give a *&@^.
On our last day in the park, Josh ordered a bison burger for dinner.
The Long-term Relationship
Yellowstone dares you to love it, but first you have to survive it. I often said “This is spectacular!” but never “I will dwell in this land.” The Yankees will accept your words of praise, but they will never return them. And that, for me, is not the basis of a long-term relationship.
The Reds, on the other hand, surfaced every so often from the whirlpool of endless losses to throw us a Little Red Machine, a Home Run Derby, the decade-long balm of Votto. We’re given just enough to live on until we reach the next oasis. Our patience is criminally tried, and sometimes the head of the body is downright insulting, but a team that’s a living thing is far easier to embrace than one you will not survive looking upon.