Saturday, April 2, 2016

Facing our pain: 2016 MLB season preview

This is now the fourth time I've paid a visit to Kansas City, the Paris of the Plains, the City of Fountains, Cow Town. I like it here. I'm not sure I could really live here, but my friends in town are a good group, the atmosphere is overtly friendly, and as the menu at tonight's restaurant declared in the most Kansas City-ish of statements, the food is right up my alley.

If there is one food item it lacks, however, it is a good bagel. I know this because at 6:45 this morning, I went to my local bagel shop in Long Island City and bought two dozen of them before immediately boarding a plane for the plains. As I disembarked in Kansas City from a jet filled with dozens of Mets and Royals caps, one of which was worn by Royals fan Rob Riggle, I grabbed the bagels out of the overheard compartment and a young man in a Royals hat next to me asked if that was me fulfilling my end of a bet after last year's World Series. He and his friends wagered the cost of fantasy camp.

He was spot on.

Before the 2015 Fall Classic matchup was set, I had already discussed plans with my KC crew to visit them for the opening series of the 2016 season as it had been announced that the Royals would host the Mets in the first game of the year. What followed was an unexpected chain of events that led the two otherwise unconnected franchises on a collision course with a championship at stake. If you know me, which I assume you must if you're bothering to read this, you know how that went.

I need not re-hash the pain and inner turmoil I experienced when the Mets lost the World Series just five months ago, but I will have to face it this week as I make my way to the K to watch the Mets and Royals open the 2016 Major League Baseball season. I will decide in the next 18 hours if I want to pony up the cash to see the Royals raise their 2015 World Series champions banner on Sunday night with the runner-ups watching from the third base dugout, but I already have tickets to see the Royals receive their rings on Tuesday afternoon, and that might be brutal enough.

On Sunday night the Mets and their fans who made the trek to this town so unlike their own, will come face to face with those three or four moments on which the 2015 World Series turned. Jeurys Familia's ill-advised quick pitch in Game 1. Daniel Murphy's crucial errors in Game 4. Matt Harvey's last pitch and Lucas Duda's errant throw home in the decisive Game 5. They will all flash through our eyes in addition to the Kauffman Stadium scoreboard, and even with the impending excitement of a new season full of promise and potential, these reminders will be harsh, and the belief will hang heavy that it very well could have been the Mets playing this opener with the bragging rights. It could be their fans claiming victory in these silly wagers.

The bagels I brought halfway across the country will no doubt taste like a particularly bitter 30 pieces of silver every time I take a bite, but as this is Kansas City, I'll at least be able to wash that taste away with a tidal wave of Boulevard Beer and Gates Bar-B-Q sauce. It's ok to face your pain, though. After all, you can't get past it otherwise, and as the Mets watch the raising of a banner and the distribution of rings this week that could have been theirs, maybe they'll be able to make that most irksome of sports axioms, that you must lose before you learn to win, come true. After all, the reigning 2015 World Series champions were in the same position 12 months ago of starting again after being so close to greatness. Blowing three saves in a five-game World Series, as the Mets did, is a difficult weight to shed. But so is losing Game 7 of the World Series with the tying run on third base, as the Royals did a year before.

They learned. The Mets can, too. Even if it means watching a banner fly for the first time with a lump in your throat and thoughts of what could have been, maybe those men in the third base dugout will think about what could be, too. I'm not sure I want to see the Royals' self-congratulatory sturm und drang this week, but maybe I need to so I can move on. Maybe as a fan, I need to learn what it is to lose, too. Is that how it works? Is that how I find a way to accept this frivolously trivial and yet deeply meaningful pursuit's bias toward hurt?

I'm excited to find out. Because, goddamnit, it's baseball season. That's what watching the Royals raise that banner means. And even if I can't stand what it says, I can't wait to see it.

My insanely inaccurate 2016 MLB Predictions
NL East
1. New York Mets - 95-67
2. Washington Nationals* - 89-73
3. Miami Marlins - 79-83
4. Atlanta - 68-94
5. Philadelphia - 64-98

NL Central
1. Chicago Cubs - 97-105
2. Pittsburgh Pirates* - 94-68
3. St. Louis Cardinals - 83-79
4. Cincinnati Reds - 76-86
5. Milwaukee Brewers - 66-96

NL West
1. San Francisco Giants - 91-71
2. Los Angeles Dodgers - 85-77
3. Arizona Diamondbacks - 82-80
4. San Diego Padres - 74-88
5. Colorado Rockies - 69-93

AL East
1. Toronto Blue Jays - 94-68
2. Boston Red Sox* - 90-72
3. Tampa Bay Rays* - 86-76
4. New York Yankees - 79-83
5. Baltimore Orioles - 73-89
AL Central
1. Kansas City Royals - 92-70
2. Detroit Tigers - 85-72
3. Chicago White Sox - 81-81
4. Cleveland Indians - 78-84
5. Minnesota Twins - 70-92

AL West
1. Houston Astros - 96-66
2. Texas Rangers - 85-72
3. Seattle Mariners - 80-82
4. Los Angeles Angels - 76-86
5. Oakland A's - 71-91

National League Playoffs
Wild Card
(4) Pittsburgh Pirates over (5) Washington Nationals

(1) Chicago Cubs over (4) Pittsburgh Pirates
(2) New York Mets over (3) San Francisco Giants

(2) New York Mets over (1) Chicago Cubs

American League Playoffs
Wild Card
(5) Tampa Bay Rays over (4) Boston Red Sox

(1) Houston Astros over (5) Tampa Bay Rays
(3) Kansas City Royals over (2) Toronto Blue Jays

(1) Houston Astros over (3) Kansas City Royals

2016 World Series
(2) New York Mets over (1) Houston Astros

I am almost never right. Baseball predictions are silly. There really is no point, and I hate myself for making this pick. But, hey, hoping is the whole point, isn't it? Maybe I'm due to be right once in a while. And after 30 years, maybe the Mets are, too.

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