late 19th century: from French anhédonie, from Greek an- ‘without’ + hēdonē ‘pleasure’.
This word kept popping into my head this long baseball season. Not as much about my own reaction to the season as to how a lot of Dodgers fans I see reacting to it online or even in person. After the Dodgers won the World Series in 2020, I personally vowed to be less stressed by whatever happened in the next one, it will be "gravy," I told myself. Easier said than done of course, and I've failed this stress test many times in 2021, but I knew how bad this year would be in the greater world around us, and that sports were there for us to merely be distracted by as long as it remained fun to do so. Otherwise, our fragile psyches will take too much of a hit beyond what they're already managing.
But let's get back to this one, as Vin Scully would say. The word anhedonia, basically, in a nutshell, "an inability to feel pleasure."
I first heard this word when I was a child and my family would rewatch the Woody Allen film Annie Hall, and I read stories of how that film's original title was to be "Anhedonia."
Which always seemed strange to me, but made sense later when you are an adult and rewatch that film, and then even later, more recently, when you learn that Woody Allen is indeed strange, and in many respects horrible, and I can no longer receive the same kind of pleasure from watching his films that I used to. So, anhedonic.
But I digress. I have come to the realization, at least, that baseball needs to be a day to day, game to game, pleasure, in the hundreds of unique little moments in every game that give us pleasure and keep us watching.
What it has become instead of most fans, not just Dodgers fans, is purely a championship exercise. And for us, it made sense, before last year it was a very long drought since 1988, full of close calls, a classic World Series that the team and its fans were arguably cheated out of, many other cruel playoff series. So for this fan base, the angst and inability to derive pleasure from game to game was very understandable. It all seemed a fruitless exercise leading to whatever cruel fate was to befall the team in the playoffs THIS time.
The "fanhedonia" made sense for many years, alas, up until last year when, despite having to deal with fan-less games, COVID protocols and constant scares, an elongated playoff series (after a paused and truncated regular season), playing most playoff games on the road, the team ended up exorcising all those demons and won the Damn Thing.
While a championship is still the prize, and we all want them to win the title again asap, especially since fans were cheated out of celebrating it in person last year, you'd think there'd be less stressful angst about it last year, more relaxed enjoyment.
I will not sully this essay with a bunch of embedded tweets from typically angsty fans because we've all seen them and no one needs to relive them (and some of you probably wrote them).
Clearly, the amazing record the Dodgers have had this regular season despite an enormous amount of crucial injuries throughout the season, has been sullied in most fans' view by the Giants having an even slightly better season. I think that has caused a lot of the anhedonia and inability to find joy in the wins this season. In any wins. Or find enough of it.
Like Gavin Lux thrust into playing CF, a position he'd not played before, and making an incredible catch next to the wall in Arizona. Or home run robbery by AJ Pollock. Or exciting young pitchers being pumped up like Vesia and Graderol. Or Trea Turner's magical pop-up slide.
Many of us put aside the stress of the division and managed to find joy in those moments, in a year that offered so little joy in the world around us. Much of the time though these feelings quickly evaporated as soon as the Giants won, or when the Dodgers had lost one game for the whole week. This franchise of the last 10 years has spoiled us, they've stressed us, they've delivered and they've disappointed but they are always there in the thick of things, and after awhile if that involves any other team hoisting the trophy, that can make any of us anhedonic.
I can't give any fan advice here, we feel what we feel. (Hell, I just had a bad dream, surely deepened by too much melatonin, in which the Dodgers playoff game with the Cardinals started as so many of them in the past seemed to, with LA down 3-0 in the first. This was a DREAM I had. A combination of boring and stressful and depressing.) So I am no stranger to the irrational fear and depression caused by sportsball. (Growing up a Broncos fan in the '80s will also give you an attitude problem, for that matter.)
But if you can find some joy in that moment, that great play, that celebration, even if it's not the big one, maybe there's a lesson for the life outside of sports, too? We can use all the little joy we can find right now.