|Eric Leskowitz of Needham. (BILL POLO/GLOBE STAFF)|
Can good vibes fuel Red Sox victories?
Cousins explore positive energy, team chemistry
For Red Sox fans, spring training this month means the first look at Daisuke Matsuzaka pitching in his new uniform.
For filmmakers Eric and Joel Leskowitz, it's the wind up of a science lab of sorts.
The cousins are making a documentary, "The Joy of Sox: Weird Science and the Power of Attention," which explores how team chemistry and fan energy influence the game.
Can fans will a team to win with their prayers? Can your uncle's lucky undershorts really help Big Papi knock one out? Is Fenway Park a sacred place? Can sports help us become more spiritual? The answer to all four questions is "yes," the cousins say. And they say science backs them up.
"It's pretty tantalizing," said Eric Leskowitz, a staff psychiatrist at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston.
The 55-year-old Needham resident heads an alternative medicine research and treatment program at Spaulding. He teaches patients suffering from depression, anxiety, or chronic pain to use techniques such as meditation, yoga, and acupressure to relieve their symptoms. In doing so, he said, he taps energy fields that emanate from the body.
Through baseball, Leskowitz hopes to broaden awareness of energy medicine and its potential. And he's not concerned that some may scoff that he's just hurling a wild pitch. "They're entitled to their opinion," he said.
Working on a $250,000 budget, the cousins have spent the past year talking with alternative energy specialists, fans, and a former Sox player, Gabe Kapler. Next week they will fly down to Fort Myers, Fla., hoping to chat with Sox players about home-team advantage, the relationship between fans and players, and how they psych themselves up for a game.
They've set their sights high, hoping that the documentary will be picked up by PBS or ESPN. But that's a ways off for now. They're still figuring out how they'll structure the film. One approach may be to explore team chemistry and fan support in the years leading up to and following Boston's 2004 World Series championship; another is a first-person narrative about the player-fan relationship.
The project grew out of a column that Eric Leskowitz wrote for the Globe in September 2005 about how the Red Sox have their fans to thank for breaking the legendary "Curse of the Bambino."
The essay got Joel Leskowitz, a film producer in Oregon, thinking about making a movie. Even before consulting his cousin, Joel was on the phone with the Red Sox public relations department to obtain permission to interview fans at Fenway.
The pair formed 2 Cousins Productions and were issued a press pass to film fans at a Red Sox game.
At Fenway Park, Joel, 51, said he had his own spiritual experience. A downpour in the afternoon didn't bode well for the night game going on as scheduled. He stood in the silent, empty bleachers at 4 p.m. But the clouds parted as the fans filtered in, he said, providing a setting that he called "magical."
An usher told the filmmakers about fans having religious experiences, jumping up and down and shaking almost like Pentecostals speaking in tongues. A fan told them she kept wearing the same sweatshirt when the Sox were on a winning streak.
Another woman mentioned that she and her friend had a special good luck chant: "Johnny Damon, he's my hero!" When he got a hit, she said, "We think we did it." (This was before Damon turned into a Yankee.)
They edited these interviews into a movie trailer that is available on their website, thejoyofsoxmovie.com.
The cousins also traveled across the country to interview scientists.
At a conference in New York, biologist Rupert Sheldrake told them about a sixth sense people have of being stared at from behind -- even without any other sensory clues of the observer. Sheldrake hypothesizes that a visual experience is not just confined to the brain. In a paper published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Sheldrake suggested that our minds emit perceptual fields just as magnetic fields surround magnets and a gravitational field surrounds the planet.
"What happens when 50,000 people are staring at you? Players get energized; the rest of us collapse," said Eric.
Physicist William Tiller, with Stanford University's materials science and engineering department, told them that cheering is more productive than booing.
"It's a stronger energy if you're hoping for something positive," said Eric. (Chalk one up to the Fenway officials who banned the "Yankees Suck" T-shirts.)
Tiller also suggested that fans not direct their wishes at specific goals, such as a home run, but rather send out overall good vibes.
"If you have a particular outcome in mind, that's your ego talking. You have to step aside from your ego, since you're working with something greater," said Eric. "The process will unfold. You don't know if the win will come from a hit by David Ortiz or an error by the other team."
As for your uncle's lucky underpants, Eric and Joel both doubt that they have supernatural powers. But they agreed that superstitions can help people focus their attention on a positive outcome.
The cousins say their documentary will include skeptics, such as Andy Andres, who teaches a course in baseball statistical analysis at Tufts. When the cousins asked him about energy medicine, Andres said: "I'd rather have Babe Ruth than Kumbaya."
Eric grew up in Framingham and received his medical degree from the University of Massachusetts. He was in the news last spring when he urged Needham Town Meeting to approve a resolution against the Iraq War. The resolution failed on a voice vote with forceful yays and nays.
While his cousin sports long, gray hair in a ponytail, Joel is more buttoned-down looking. The Bethany, Conn., native describes himself as a get-up-and-go guy, compared with Eric's more analytical approach. He said he was glad he called Fenway officials immediately after Eric's column appeared. "You have to strike while the iron's hot," said Joel.
Joel has been in the film and video business since 1986, producing documentaries and corporate videos. He was a field producer for a documentary, "Voices in War," which opened in theaters in April 2005.
Joel said that working on the Red Sox documentary has not only allowed the cousins to explore their own values but to mind the mystical forces that connect humans.
"There's an ocean of intelligence that we can plug into if we're adept."
Lauren K. Meade can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.