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Can Baseball Become an Addiction?

Experts explore the fine line between being a dedicated sports fan and addictive behavior.
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WebMD Feature

In the movie Fever Pitch, the main character is so obsessed with the Boston Red Sox that several girlfriends have left him.

When he finally gets another girlfriend, he chooses a Red Sox home game over a free trip to Paris with her.

The movie is billed as a comedy, but Stephen Lombardi saw too much of himself in it to find it funny.

"My father-in-law told me, 'You have to see this movie; if it were about the Yankees, it would be you,'" Lombardi said. "When I saw it, I had to agree with him. So many scenes hit close to home. There's even a scene where the male lead (Jimmy Fallon) emails a greeting card to the female lead (Drew Barrymore). It says, 'I wanted to send you a dozen roses,' and each rose turns into a picture of Pete Rose. On my first date with my wife back in 1990, I gave her a picture of Pete Rose and said, 'Here, I wanted to give you a rose on this special night.'" View WebMD's animations. View WebMD's animations.

Yes, Lombardi is a baseball junkie. He readily admits it.

"I think about baseball all the time," he says. "I've tried to suppress it, but then, while I'm having a conversation with someone, I'll start wondering, 'Who starts for the Yankees tonight?'"

Lombardi is not alone in his obsession. The baseball web site he created, aptly called www.netshrine.com, has attracted more than 212,000 visitors since it appeared on Jan. 4, 1999. Visitors to the site can absorb baseball facts, compare players from various eras, read interviews, and exchange opinions.

They can also find a link for ordering Lombardi's book, The Baseball Same Game, which he managed to write in three feverish months beginning on New Year's Day this year, even though he has a full-time job and two small children.

And a wife.

"She must be a saint," Lombardi says of her. "But then, baseball is my only vice, and it's pretty harmless. My job, my income, my family -- they're all doing well."

According to psychologists, those indicators separate an avid fan from a baseball addict.

Attributes of a Sports Addiction

"For most individuals, following baseball is a healthy pastime," says Dan Wann, a professor of psychology at Murray State University in Kentucky and the author of two books on sports psychology. "But for a small number, their interest and involvement become so great it disrupts their relationships and their work efficiency. A die-hard fan may adjust his work schedule so he can attend games, but I've met people who consume 100 hours a week of sports, either by watching TV or logging on to the Internet. It's all they care about. They tend not to have relationships."

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