The Thrill of Defeat, The Agony of Victory

July 30, 1995|By JIM COX

Starting in late May of this year, and without warning, mental health experts in northeast Ohio noticed what was later diagnosed as group depression and mass hysteria involving large numbers of their patients. Psychiatrists and psychologists noted three factors that cropped up in each case, causing deep concern and much puzzlement.

First, the patients had been treated by these mental health professionals, off and on, for years, so they naturally thought -- wrongly -- that they knew their patients' every neurosis, anxiety and personality quirk. Second, each and every patient's symptoms were absolutely the same. And third, all were grown men and women who had lived in the area for close to 30 years.

What would prove the strangest twist of all is that, to resolve their mental problems, all eventually relocated to another Great Lakes city.

Recently, a transcript of a counseling session between one of these patients and his psychiatrist came into my possession. Because not everyone can afford psychiatric help, and in the hope that the transcript might help others similarly afflicted, the former patient called me long-distance and asked me to have it published.

Doctor: What seems to be the trouble?

Patient: It's difficult to talk about, doctor. I'm embarrassed to even be here. It's . . . it's . . .

Doctor: Relax. Think of me as an old friend, someone you can confide in.

Patient: It's the Indians, doctor.

Doctor: Oh, you saw that documentary on the Discovery Channel too? Wasn't it terrible the way Indians were brutalized by Western civilization?

Patient: No, no, doctor -- the Indians. The Cleveland Indians.

Doctor: The what?

Patient: The Indians -- the baseball team. The team that's winning all the time

Doctor: I don't understand . . .

Patient: It's the winning. I can't get used to the winning.

Doctor: But winning is good. It's positive. It's healthy.

Patient: I know, I know. But I've lived in Cleveland too long, rooted for the Indians too many years. Too many decades,

actually.

Doctor: You've lost me -- I'm sorry to use that verb -- but I don't understand your problem.

Patient: Let's see if I can explain it. I rooted for the Indians for 20, almost 30 years, and all they did was lose. At the start of every season, like baseball fans everywhere, my hopes would get renewed. This year was going to be different, I'd tell myself. And, as sure as death and taxes, the Indians would disappoint me again and chalk up another losing season.

Doctor: Life holds many disappointments, but people adjust. . . .

Patient: You got it, Doc. That's exactly what happened. I adjusted. I adjusted to the Indians losing all the time, year after year after year. Boy, did I adjust. Not only that, I began to accept it. Losing became sort of a . . . I hate to admit it . . . a way of life, I guess.

Doctor: That's a pretty negative way of looking at things.

Patient: Did you see the Indians play much in the last 30 years?

Doctor: No, I can't say I have. I'm a Browns fan, actually.

Patient: Maybe you should get some help.

Doctor: Let's not get off the subject.

Patient: Well, losing became almost like . . . like a drug. As long as the Indians kept losing, I was fine, I could go to work, socialize with friends, act like other normal people. Then, my world fell apart.

Doctor: What happened?

Patient: Don't you read the sports pages?

Doctor: I stopped after the playoff game with the Steelers.

Patient: Oh. Well, the best answer to your question is, the Indians double-crossed me. Here I was, faithfully accepting loss after loss, year after year, decade after decade. I was happy. Content. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. And then . . . and then . . . it's too difficult to talk about . . .

Doctor: Would you like a tissue?

Patient: Thank you.

Doctor: Take your time. Take a few deep breaths. When a patient makes a breakthrough and confronts his devil head on, moments like this can be stressful.

Patient: I don't mean to get so emotional.

Doctor: That's all right. I know what you're going through. Having faith in a sports team can have psychological consequences. Perhaps I shouldn't say this, but . . . some nights I have these awful dreams where I take out my hostilities on a ghostly figure who strongly resembles Art Modell. My wife says I scream out the most virulent things during these nightmares.

Patient: My wife sleeps in the guest bedroom now. With the cat.

Doctor: I'm sorry -- but I got off the subject, didn't I? We were talking about your problem, weren't we? You say the Indians double-crossed you? How?

Patient: They started winning.

Doctor: The Indians?

Patient: Hard to believe, eh? All of a sudden, they got power at the plate, fantastic pitching, an unstoppable bullpen. . . .

Doctor: The Indians?

Patient: Not only that, now they got fans filling Jacobs Field. Remember in the good old days how easy it was to get a ticket for an Indians game? Show up in the third or fourth inning and you could get a seat anywhere.

Doctor: Sellouts for Indians' games?

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