Over the past few weeks, I spent many, many hours watching Cubs playoff baseball. This year, the National League series went to six games, and the World Series went to seven, which (at roughly four hours per game) adds up to about fifty-two hours in front of the television, biting my nails and cursing. For now, we'll leave aside the myriad other things I could have done with this time ...
In spite of a childhood spent closely following both baseball and football, I don't know that I've ever done such an intensive "immersion" watching any sport. Even when my beloved hometown Red Sox broke their curse in 2004, I was a college sophomore with a lot of rehearsals and no TV. This year, I am an adult with a television, and few plans between the hours of 8pm and midnight. Given Susan's longtime Cubs fandom and the fresh wound of our former Chicagoan status, we found ourselves fully committed. We plopped down on the couch and implored our cat to cheer more loudly. (She was typically asleep by the second inning, although in later games, she perched mid-television to bathe.)
Some of what I discovered about myself, watching the Cubs, wasn't too pretty. For example, I realized that when watching my team lose, my highly critical self-talk—usually silent, and directed inward—becomes audible, and directed outward. When Javier Baez started swinging at terrible pitches, and seemed unable to stop, I found myself genuinely enraged at him. "You're swinging at garbage, Baez!" I snarled. "What the hell is wrong with you!?"
I also discovered my inherent despair and pessimism when facing defeat, or when up against a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. If the Cubs squandered a huge lead (see: Game 7), I was immediately sure they'd lose. If a pitcher looked disoriented and wild (see: Lester, Game 7), I assumed he would fall apart and need to be removed. If the manager made a questionable decision (see: Maddon/Chapman, Game 6), I imagined the next day's headlines bemoaning his failure. Below is an illustrative text message exchange with my Dad:
In other words, I often assumed the worst. Fortunately for my personal development—and the entire city of Chicago—the Cubs proved me wrong.
There's a style of psychotherapy in which you set up a group of people—or even just objects—around a room, to represent important figures in your life. If you're in a group, you'll choose people to play various roles. Or, if it's just you and the therapist, you'll use objects: a domineering lamp as your father, an overbearing armchair for your mother. Then, you interact with them. According to proponents of the method, what comes out of your mouth can be quite astonishing.
This fall, baseball has revealed to me its potential to enact our psychological dramas. Perhaps that's what makes us care so much about a group of young, athletic, wealthy strangers. Little parts of yourself are on the television screen, playing out various roles: the pumped-up hero, the struggling rookie, the seasoned veteran, the stressed-out boss. If you can learn to root for them all, you're getting somewhere.
Stay salty and happy weekend,
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PPS: In case you ever doubted Susan's longstanding fandom: