David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
KANSAS CITY — Welcome back.
You remember this place, right? The waterfalls, the big crown atop the scoreboard. Six months ago, it all felt so new. What did the Mets know about Kauffman Stadium? Nothing, really.
The Royals could have been any American League team. White Sox, A’s, Blue Jays. What did it matter then? We never imagined the Mets in the World Series a year ago, and the fact that fate dumped them in the Show Me State seemed like a happy accident. The trip there was a blur, a giddy romp through October. You didn’t care where the Mets ultimately wound up, as long as it was the World Series.
Kauffman Stadium? Just a ballpark. Grass, dirt. A flyover speck on the way to the serious rivals in L.A. or San Francisco.
When the Mets take the field Sunday night, they’ll be returning to the scene of the crime, the place where the Royals stomped on their dreams. Alcides Escobar’s inside-the-park homer. Alex Gordon’s tying shot off the invincible Jeurys Familia. The errors, the crossed signals. The stunning fallibility of both Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey.
All of that. And it’s going to come rushing back from that pit in your stomach, like a bad egg-salad sandwich. Until the Mets make that feeling go away. That opportunity begins tonight, when the two previous World Series foes meet on Opening Day for an unprecedented rematch.
That’s fine for the Royals. They won. To them, the next two days are all about the banner raising and ring ceremony. Celebrating the past, frolicking in the memories. A baby-blue love fest.
For the Mets, it’s comparable to attending their own funeral. Only this time, when the first pitch is thrown, they get to start all over again. After a winter haunted by regret, the Mets will have the chance to shape a new experience at Kauffman Stadium, perhaps as the launching pad for even greater things. That’s how the Mets choose to look at it. The only way they can, really.
“At some point, you turn the page,” David Wright said. “It’s time to move on. Let’s worry about 2016. We can’t just continuously talk about what happened in the World Series. We’re opening up there. It’s a good story line. But it doesn’t do us any good right now to start thinking about what happened last year going in just because we’re playing the same team.”
Despite Wright’s insistence on pushing forward, the Mets won’t truly get the World Series out of their system until this opening series is finished. In the final days of spring training, they had to hear about the Royals’ considering retaliation for Noah Syndergaard’s Game 3 purpose pitch. Also, Lucas Duda ripped the defending champs to Newsday’s Marc Carig for openly criticizing his defense after his errant throw doomed the Mets in the deciding Game 5.
As much as Wright would prefer this stuff to evaporate, the Mets still wear the stain of that disappointment. A sluggish spring training probably didn’t help. The Mets ended a 14-game winless streak with Friday’s Vegas victory over the Cubs, so they at least changed that conversation for the weekend. Switching venues, however, doesn’t helping much when the next stop is Kansas City.
“I think it’s going to be one of the great events in baseball history,” Terry Collins said. “The two teams that were in the World Series opening up the next year. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The expansion of interleague play helped create this one-of-a-kind event, but the scheduling quirk feels mostly cruel for the Mets, as no Series loser has ever had to endure what they will over the next few days. Whatever highlights the Royals choose to display on the Kauffman video board, they all will contain footage of the Mets being the fall guys.
Normally, opposing teams watch these types of celebrations. But we can’t blame the Mets if they stay back in the clubhouse a little longer than usual. Or avert their eyes while warming up. Wright talked about the “sting” of witnessing the Royals raise the banner Sunday night and then get their rings Tuesday.
“If I’m out there during my routine, I’ll watch,” Wright said. “I’m not going to make a conscious effort to go out there. But if I’m out there when they do it, I’ll pay my respects, because they beat us up pretty good.”
It’s a new season. The World Series is long over. But consider these Games 6 and 7.