Date: September 7, 2019
Patient: Mr. L
Mr. L  began our session by telling me he had “that dream again,” his very specific variation on the dream in which a person shows up for the final exam and realizes they haven’t been to class all semester. In Mr. L’s case, it’s what he calls “the baseball dream”. It’s not the first time Mr. L has discussed “the baseball dream” with me in therapy, but it had a different twist today.
As usual, it starts with Mr. L wandering around in a mostly empty baseball stadium in winter. He says it’s sort of familiar to him , but not a place he knows intimately. In the dream, he again refers to “an agent” who was supposed to be “my agent,” except in “the baseball dream,” the agent is now an authority figure inviting him to join a new baseball team. At first, Mr. L is happy for the invitation. He is considered a fairly ordinary baseball player in this dreamscape, so he is delighted to be fussed over. In “the baseball dream,” Mr. L describes vividly this moment where he is taken outside despite the cold and asked to pose for a picture. He is wearing a baseball cap and a baseball jersey, but not the entire uniform. “They told me to put the jersey over my dress shirt and stand in front of the scoreboard, so I did it,” Mr. L said.
The disturbing part of “the baseball dream,” according to Mr. L, is how that picture  haunts him, because it’s the only evidence that he was invited to play baseball for this team. As the dream goes on, he never actually plays baseball. He tries, he says, but something always goes wrong, usually physical. “It’s my knee. It’s my hip. It’s my calf.” Whatever is ailing him in “the baseball dream,” Mr. L says, the end result is feeling “like I don’t exist in reality. I only exist in that picture from winter.”
What made today’s session different was where “the baseball dream” took Mr. L. Usually, he says, he wakes up frustrated and confused with a lower-body ache that he can’t trace to any particular activity. But today, he said, the dream continued in a way it never had before. “This time, my body felt good. I went to the stadium where I took the picture.” Previously, Mr. L said he’d been in stadiums to play baseball in the dream, but it was never the right stadium. They seemed tantalizingly close, he said, maybe even in the same state or city but they weren’t THAT stadium.
In the version of the dream Mr. L described today, he shows up at the stadium  where he took the picture and gets to put on the entire baseball uniform, both the jersey and the pants, plus the baseball shoes. The cap, too. “It was like I was really going to play baseball with this team that wanted me,” Mr. L said. He went on to elaborate in great detail what the scene was like.
“The baseball season was almost over, but for me it was like my ‘opening day,’ even though it was at night. There were all these guys, my teammates, I guess, most of whom had never laid eyes on me before,” Mr. L said. “A few kind of nodded at me, like they knew me from somewhere before, but most of them were younger and never heard of me. Everybody was talking about a polar bear and ripping the bear’s shirt off the night before. I don’t know what that’s supposed to symbolize. Maybe it was me waking from a long hibernation and shredding the anxieties that had cloaked me since I took that picture in winter.” (In past sessions, Mr. L has said something about a “bear” and a “squirrel,” though he couldn’t tell me where he thought those images came from; still, I’m encouraged the patient is striving to make these connections on his own.)
I asked Mr. L to tell me more. He said he was in the dugout watching at first. He saw a pitcher he “vaguely recognized,” but one who seemed “out of place in this stadium. He was smaller than a baseball pitcher is supposed to be, I think. And he wore one number on his back, which I don’t think baseball pitchers usually do.” In the dream, Mr. L said, the uncommonly small pitcher  kept getting in trouble, trying very hard to succeed but never quite getting past his obstacles — and that “his friends” couldn’t help him by catching all the balls that were hit to them. (Perhaps this is Mr. L projecting aspects of “the baseball dream” he’s repeated to me on numerous occasions.)
Mr. L’s team met with great difficulties. “They kept standing on the bases,” Mr. L said. “It’s like I could see them on first base, on second base, on third base, yet I never saw any of them come home.” (Mr. L has previously used the phrase “I don’t feel at home” to describe the sensation that overcomes him in “the baseball dream”.)
I asked Mr. L to continue. He told me that the game he was watching was apparently important to his team, though maybe not so important. I asked how he came to that conclusion. “The smallish man pitching was suddenly pitching not very well, yet nobody hurried to remove him from the game,” Mr. L said. “The players around me were watching the scoreboard, seeking good news from elsewhere, yet the pitcher kept pitching despite not being very good at it. Maybe the manager of the team didn’t think he had a better option to replace him.” (Mr. L showed impressive empathy here.)
I interrupted Mr. L to ask if he thought there was significance to his mentioning “the scoreboard,” as it was a scoreboard that served as a backdrop for that picture from winter that had so haunted him for so long. “No,” Mr. L answered. “This was a different scoreboard. It was in a different portion of the stadium. Nobody was looking at the scoreboard that I posed in front of. Nobody was looking at me.” (Mr. L went silent for a few moments, perhaps struck by the feeling of isolation that baseball has come to represent in his subconscious.)
For the first time in “the baseball dream,” Mr. L said, he got to play in the stadium. “It was weird,” he said. “The pitcher, our pitcher, was finally done pitching and the manager told me to hit instead of him. I forgot that pitchers sometimes hit, but this was my job now, to go to the plate, with my team losing. I heard a woman’s voice announce my name, and suddenly I noticed the crowd because they were applauding for me. I mean A LOT of people clapped at the sound of my name. I couldn’t tell if they were sincerely welcoming me or simply making fun of the fact that I hadn’t come to class all year and now I was taking the final.” (Mr. L sometimes slips into the “test dream” metaphor. Recognizing this as a tic of his, I let him go on.)
“Finally I get to stand at home plate. I get to swing a bat. I get to be in the game. I realize I’m wearing a blue jersey. It’s different from the one in the picture in ‘the baseball dream,’ and it has a little yellow ribbon of some sort on the front, but apparently it’s official because nobody tells me I’m dressed wrong and no polar bear comes to rip it from my body. Anyway, I’m standing there, and the pitcher starts to throw the ball. He doesn’t seem all that imposing, but none of my teammates have scored against him. I’m very conscious while I’m standing there that they’ve hit the ball hard and they’ve gotten on the bases, but nothing ever comes of it. I don’t remember the pitcher’s name. He didn’t seem all that remarkable, but my team couldn’t do anything against him.”
I ask Mr. L to focus on what happens while he is batting, not just what he is thinking while he bats. “First, I stand there and let him pitch to me. Then I swing a couple of times and miss completely both times. It’s like I’ve never done this before. Usually in ‘the baseball dream,’ my agent or whoever he is tells people how good I am and how good the team is going to be and something about coming and getting us, but here it’s as if I’m helpless. Or maybe I just haven’t played baseball for real in so long that I don’t remember what to do. Then I stand and don’t swing again and I hear more applause, though not as many as when that woman announced my name.” (Mr. L couldn’t identify the woman’s voice. We may have to revisit mother issues in future sessions.)
“At first, I feel kind of good, because somebody tells me I have a ‘good eye,’ and I can be a little self-conscious about my appearance. But then I saw only one more pitch,” Mr. L told me. “And I swung. I swung mightily. I swung to the best of my ability. But I didn’t hit the ball at all and I was told to sit down again. I had struck out. I had waited so long for this chance and that’s what happened. I struck out.”
I told Mr. L he should see this portion of “the baseball dream” as a sign of progress if not a breakthrough. He is now “in the game” in his mind and if he’s “in the game,” he can shake loose from the feeling that his entire existence has been “just a dream,” to use that silly expression. Mr. L nodded, but didn’t seem convinced.
“I went back to the dugout after I didn’t hit the ball,” Mr. L said. “Nothing much happened that I remember after that, except everybody was kind of glum , except when they looked at that other scoreboard. To be honest, it felt a little like winter, where ‘the baseball dream’ usually starts. Very quiet, very eerie. Except this time I’m wearing the blue jersey. And the thing about the polar bear. What do you make of that, Doctor?”
I told Mr. L our time was just about up.