No Joy in Mudville (at the Park Either)

The Phillies' near-perfect 2010 season provided Philadelphians a potent adrenaline shot of pride, hope and glory. Although they did not go all the way — no Giant killers, after all — can their fans carry the boost into post-season reality?

Or will they be plagued by what is known as sports depression?

The general consensus of experts interviewed for this story is that the spectacle of the Phillies' athletic prowess provided the city with an emotional boost while providing an emotional release for individual fans.

As Paul Jay Fink, a professor at Temple University's department of psychiatry and behavioral science, sees it, die-hard fans can be paralyzed on game day. However, this magic spell is transitory.

"I don't think feelings — positive or negative — based on a season's outcome carries over to the post season," says Fink, as a new football and basketball season are under way. "People may be intense about it while it's happening. However, when baseball season is over, it's over. They move on to the next team and sport. When you have an exceptional team or a heroic player, it inspires the fans and captures their imaginations."

When the Phillies lost their bid for the World Series, as they did in 2009 — and for the pennant this past weekend — Fink observed that the city gets depressed for a couple of days and then gets over it. Life and other sports go on.

"Everything then returns to normal after fans get their under-their-breath cursing of their team out of their system," he continues. "Fans in this city take their teams seriously, but not to the point where it is disruptive."

While Beverly Hills-based clinical psychologist Shirley Impellizzeri points out the collective emotional boost of a winning season is important from a social-psychology standpoint, the impact of that season affects everybody's sense of well-being differently.

In an aura of winning, "studies have shown emotions are contagious," says Impellizzeri. "This explains why even non-baseball fans" got excited by the team, "moved by the Phillies' success for different reasons."

Though other cultures react to championship losses in their favorite sport differently, such as soccer fans in Europe and Latin America (a reality that promoted World Cup planners to install extra security to keep the peace), American sports fans are culturally inclined to mourn and then go about their business.

Sharon Chirban, staff sport psychologist at Children's Hospital Boston, notes, "The ride is more important than the outcome. Celebrations and parades last only a moment, but what people remember is the process and the actions team members took to get as far as they did."

Though attorney Brad Coren has lived in Florida since 1997, the Phillies have enabled him to remain in Philadelphia emotionally. "It takes me back to growing up and watching the games in my parents' living room with my dad. Keeping in touch is important to us, and my dad keeps his cell phone next to him during big games so we can talk about things as they're happening," he says.

"No matter how tough a case I am working on is, the game-day mindset is something I take into trial, stepping up my strengths and doing my homework," he says of the game's impact. "Baseball players and lawyers work through any kind of anticipated scenario in order to win."

Like Coren, Kenneth Rigberg, business developer for a staffing agency, found following the Phillies during his years in Los Angeles an ideal way to keep his emotional and familial ties with Philadelphia strong, especially when the Phillies claimed their World Series title in 2008. However, he admits coming home to Philadelphia in the midst of the current season's fervor added an extra dimension of ease and warmth to the process of reacclimating to his hometown.

"While I have always been close with my family," he discovered that he was getting together a "lot more often at bars or people's houses to watch playoff games. Work was also a pleasant place to be when everybody was in a good mood when the team" was winning.

But now? Rigberg says that he feels the cumulative effects of several good seasons have benefited the city even without the pennant this year.

Stephanie Fine, program and marketing coordinator at the Klein JCC in the Northeast, says that although she is a relevant late-comer to the Phillies fan club, she notes that her emotional connection to the team has enriched her life on many different levels.

Says Fine, "It's great living in a city that has a team like this to call its own — championship or not."


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