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.

Murphy's fall from grace, however, was the latest in a long line of heartbreaking Mets moments that were preceded by a spot on SI's cover. Matt Harvey's cover story in 2013 came just before he would miss all of 2014 with Tommy John surgery. Johan Santana was featured in 2008 Spring Training as the precursor to a second-straight September collapse and a torn shoulder capsule that would effectively end the career of one of the top pitchers of his era. The 2007 Mets were featured as a melting pot emblematic of their home city three months before a historic slump down the stretch cost them a division title. A 2006 cover appearance precluded a shocking NLCS loss to the Cardinals, the 1999 team's greatest defensive infield ever came before a brutal NLCS loss to the rival Braves and Darryl Strawberry's 1988 cover appearance came before his stunning, drug-induced fall from grace, one of many times he and Doc Gooden would appear during their downfalls. Even Tom Seaver's appearance in 1983 highlighting his heartwarming homecoming portended a return that was as short-lived as it was disappointing.

The Mets even fell victim to the curse before they had played a regular season game, as manager Casey Stengel's 1962 appearance gave way to an MLB-record 120-loss season in New York's inaugural campaign. Their relationship with the preeminent sports publication in the U.S. is a strained and tattered one if the history of pain and suffering is any indication, and as I steel myself for a season that is now just six days away, I don't think it's terribly surprising that a Mets-centric cover from the 2016 SI MLB season preview might send my brain into a tizzy.

If there is any solace I can take, it's that unlike SI's foolishly wrong 2009 preview, the issue reveals that New York is not SI's pick to win the World Series, but rather the Astros are the pick, continuing to arrive ahead of schedule. As well, and I recognize this may undermine my neurotic fears, but the Mets are not the only team featured on regional covers this week, as the Astros, Cubs and Giants have also given their fans a reason to freak out.

Still, I can't fight the inner compulsion to give up on a year that has only begun because my brain tells me a history of disappointment is preparing its next chapter. I've already concluded, even though the season has yet to begin, that there is no point in bothering this year. And, clearly, it's all Sports Illustrated's fault.

Oh well. On the plus side, even though my bracket is dead I've at least won a split of my NCAA Tournament survivor pool thanks to Syracuse and UNC. And Geelong opened its 2016 season this morning with a stirring win against rival Hawthorn. I'm sure you're all keen to talk with me about that, right?


Ok, maybe not. Anyone excited for Northwestern to kick off?

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