Monday, March 28, 2016

Oh, screw it.

I've done a dangerous thing this spring. A very dangerous thing. After years of pain, disappointment and malaise, I've allowed myself to actually get excited about the upcoming 2016 New York Mets season. I have plenty of reason to be excited obviously. The Mets are the reigning National League champions after a stunning second-half run last season. In the interim they've bolstered their bullpen, improved their infield, somehow re-signed Yoenis Cespedes and, well, there is, of course, that stellar, young starting pitching. Everything seems in place for what should at least be a pretty decent shot at a repeat World Series appearance.

But then, on Thursday, this arrived in the mail.

I've said before how I pride myself on rationality and prefer to ignore ominous portents, jinxes and superstitions. They are all nonsense with little basis in logic or reason. Well, except for one. It is a scourge so vile, so effective, so all-encompassing as to inject fear into the hearts and minds of any fan base, particularly one as psychologically fragile as the hordes in Flushing.

The Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx is real. The magazine itself has statistically given credence to the notion, and in its wake lay dozens, nay, hundreds of broken hearts and, on occasion, limbs. In this arena, it is seemingly a plague unlike any other, and the Mets are no stranger to its far-reaching effects. As recently as last fall, then-Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy was on the postseason tear to end all tears, earning him a spot on the cover. A week later Murphy's bat went cold and his glove was responsible for two crushing errors in a Game 4 loss as the Mets fell to the Royals in the 2016 World Series.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

March Madness 2016: The year of the perfect bracket

You guys. It's going to happen. I can feel it. After so many years of straining and stressing it's finally my time. After 16 years of filling out brackets, this is the year I go for perfection. This is the year I go 63-0 because play-in games are generally stupid.

This is the year I fill out the perfect bracket.

Now, I know what you're saying. "Dave, filling out a perfect NCAA Bracket is virtually impossible." Sure, there's that argument to be made. But in recent years I've recognized that I have a cause, a purpose, that I have been ignoring for years. For you see, I am a graduate of Northwestern University. And as a graduate of Northwestern University, I have committed to a life of never having a vested interest in the NCAA Tournament.

Rooting for the Wildcats is a nasty, brutish and, unfortunately, long experience in which you know the end result will never involve dancing. Northwestern, after all, is the only power conference program to never reach the NCAA Tournament and even our few mid-major comrades in arms are beginning to fall off the map. In recent years, Buffalo, Norfolk State, Stony Brook and Cal State-Bakersfield have all managed to reach March Madness and even NU's snake-bitten former coach Bill Carmody somehow rode a purple wave into the bracket this season. The Cats, however, will be watching on TV Thursday for the 77th year in a row.

That's not necessarily a bad thing though. Much like Bender's inability to taste freeing him of personal preference so he can focus on pure flavor, I have no emotional pangs stretching me in awkward directions when it comes to selection bias. This is something I have not recognized prior to this season, when even 20 wins and some near upsets at Maryland and Michigan weren't even good enough to reach the NIT. Now, however, it is clear. As a Northwestern fan, I have been given a gift, and with my mind free of incursion from popular passions, as Thomas Jefferson might have called them, I am able to harness my mental energy toward picking the perfect NCAA Tournament field.

There's simply no other conclusion to draw. Why else would Northwestern's men's basketball program be granted such futility if not for the purpose of creating the possibility that one of its alums might be granted the opportunity to pursue this noble effort without interference? It must be the case. And after past flirtations with a perfect bracket that have lasted almost two full days into the three-week-long tournament I can only assume these were past hints of what is possible. It must be someone.

And maybe it's me.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

And so it begins.

It has been a long time since a baseball season has left me antsy and anxious for the next go-around to begin starting with the moment the previous one ends. And why is that, you ask? Well, if you've never read this blog or, you know, met me, you may not realize that I made the pivotal lifetime commitment of rooting for the New York Mets, a professional sports franchise that has turned sadistic treatment of its fans into a raison d'etre.

Make no mistake. I love the Mets. My dedication to this team has grown to be an irreplaceable part of my identity. But the last decade has been a trying one, with 97-win team letting the pennant slip through its fingers, back-to-back September collapses and then another half decade in baseball purgatory. I need not recount the pain. If you know me, you know it well.

But after years of walking through the darkness, something strange happened last season. The Mets became fun again.

The 2015 season, despite its painful, error-wracked ending, might have been the most fun I've ever had watching the Mets. It was a campaign so exciting, so packed with unanticipated child-like joy that I actually took a daily three-hour break each morning from my Japanese vacation to keep track of the Amazins' return to relevance. And from the moment that wild ride to the 2015 World Series ended in the early hours of Nov. 2, 2015, one though has remained a constant in my head.

"Is it baseball season yet?"