Why the Baseball Playoffs Drive Us to Distraction

Not always a good thing, a baseball addiction
Hearing the title of this post, "Why We Love Baseball," FD told me that it has been done before.
So I changed the title.
What is it with baseball? Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, you might have noticed, are flush with exuberant Go Cubs Go adulations. FANDOM

Cubs hoodie-to own it

Kris Bryant- Go Cubs
But really, it makes no sense, and I don't understand it myself. Why all the excitement? It is just baseball. Just a sport. Why should anybody really care? .

My friends asked me to dinner last night. Could I get free? 

"No I'm really sorry, uh…"

They compassionately text back before I finish: 

Oh, right you've been working all day, and your back will hurt if you sit a minute longer. Right? It's okay, another time. We get it.

But I can't let it go with a lie, even if it might be true, sometimes.

"Don't be ridiculous! To go out with you, for the opportunity to catch up, I would take drugs! (Advil, we're talking). For sure. But it's the Cubs playoffs, see, and like, I really, really, love the Cubs."

You can feel them shrug and shake their heads side to side as they text back, simultaneously, OK

Then we all feel bad, me especially, because friendship should trump watching baseball. Maybe.

It's not as if I don't record the game. It is something one can watch later. But it's just much better live, in vivo, as it is unfolds in real time. Fans want their games immediately, like addicts with drugs. It's been said before, sports is addictive and one never wants to get in too deep. But once you're there. What to do? Is there a 12-Step program?

For a therapist to justify giving into the compulsion, she has to have real reasons, should probably get to the etiology, the possible causes, sift through them and chew on the relevance,

We could say that it starts young, during early childhood, in my case, maybe in 1966. As a free-reign kids (it was safer back then), riding the Skokie Swift for the first time with my older brother, taking it down to the Howard Street EL, and from there to Wrigley Field, the stop on Addison. Paying the five bucks for a ticket. That felt empowering, cheering on baseball greats, Lou Brock (yes, he was a Cub first), Ernie Banks (number 14), Ron Santo, and Billy Williams.

Or maybe it begins playing baseball, again, as a little kid. If you have brothers, your chances of learning to throw and catch increase exponentially (probably). You see yourself as a big league hitter, too, even if you are a girl. It is how the brain works, or should, gender-blind until life spoils that lovely judgement-free assumption of unlimited possibilities.

That would be considered a very strong neurological connection, attachmentas we say in psychological parlance, established as a pre-adolescent child with baseball players, particular teams. We don't break those well-traveled neurological paths that form connections easily.

Obviously people say that it is all about the competition, rivalry. But what drives that? Some say that we want to hate someone, or some symbolic thing, want to beat, overwhelm, displace our rage because we all have some anger dying to spurt. The opposing team, the one playing against us, serves nicely. Our team becomes an extension of ourselves. Frankly, this is much better than coming home from work and taking grief out on the dog.

This projection of self, unconscious merging with a baseball team, explains why we own the win, or the loss, whichever. When the player we love, our player, our self, hits it out of the park, that vicarious identity confusion comes out as a community shout: WE did it! 

It is as if we were the ones playing, making those winning runs, fielding those plays that rob the opposing team of what could have been a game changer. 

Not everyone takes it this seriously. Certainly for millions, spectator sports is merely a social exercise, sitting around with friends and watching the game, maybe having a beer or three together. But we don't all drink, and for some of us, there are no friends who like baseball or any sport for that matter. I have FD, thank God, but he's a Cardinals fan, which makes things uncomfortable sometimes.

But staying with that social bonding theme, Yesterday, while watching the Cubs-Cards playoff game, I thought. . .  I must call my brother! And or just text him, How about those Cubs? But then Starlin Castro hit a homerun and I forgot. Definitely not a social thing for all of us.

Baseball might be a vehicle for showing off a knack for remembering statistics, a numbers acumen, letting them roll off the tongue at appropriate moments: batting averages, rankings, runs batted in. Numbers people don't always get the respect they deserve any other way.

The obvious answer, certainly, is that we all need escapism, want to forget for just a little while about the next crisis, the next shoe to drop. Why not live in the moment for a few hours, lose one's self in a spectacular display of athleticism. Athletes are performance artists, and it is something to behold, men throwing pitches at 100 mph, more incredible still when somebody hits one of those rockets. 

Not bad, right, as a theoretical exercise, finding the variables, the reasons we're so distracted by baseball games. But why do some of us go crazy and others don't? They might be interested, they might watch, but they don't get high off of baseball wins, or upset about losses. 

It might even be the norm, actually, for baseball fans, for the entire population of sports fans, during playoff games, or the World Series, World Cup, Stanley Cup, etc. to feel a little better than usual if their team is playing well. Maybe most fans, even the stoic ones, are able to leave their prozac behind when this happens. It can be that good.

That would point to a biological explanationthat games contribute to sustained surges of serotonin or dopamine, and we get naturally high, even with the anticipation of winning. Surely, too, some of us are just more biologically excitable than others, our brains more easily aroused by fast movement, drama. We thrive on anticipation, the possibilities of good things happening. Baseball is a slow game, but when it comes to being a Cub fan, we're patient sorts.

FD tells me to prepare for the fall, in any case, because the Cardinals, his Cardinals, have been known to rise to the occasion, to come from behind to win the pennant, take it away. They're behind the Cubs 2-1 at this writing. 

I told him, naturally, Wishful thinking on your part dear. Not to let anyone burst my bubble.



clairesmum said…
Interesting review of possibilities involved in sports fandom and identification with particular team. As a New Englander I've long maintained that it's in some ways a chronic infection acquired in childhood, influenced both by hereditary and environmental factors, that can be managed but not cured, and that waxes and wanes over the lifespan. The condition may manifest in one, two, three, or four domains - Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, Celtics.
As lifelong Red Sox fans, this household is rooting for the Cubs to go all the way and win the Series! We do know how you feel, and hope that Theo Epstein can work his magic again, for Chicago this time.
Go Cubs!
therapydoc said…
It is most definitely a fever. But a good kind. Yes thanks for Theo Epstein! Joe Maddon is simply amazing.
clairesmum said…
My condolences on your loss....
As a Red Sox fan who knows that there are a million ways that baseball can break your heart between mid August and the end of the World Series, I do feel your pain.
Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon are on the right track.
So wait til next year....pitchers and catchers report in about 120 days.....
therapydoc said…
Thanks CM. I had to let it go (after the third game, The writing was on the proverbial wall).

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