Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Terry Collins paused for dramatic effect Tuesday when asked what it was like to spend four days here watching the Royals and their fans bask in the World Series afterglow, with the Mets as awkward observers.
“This is family TV,” the visiting manager said, thus not saying what he was tempted to say. “It is what it is. They won. They deserve the ceremonies and all the accolades, and we get that.”
Collins did admit it was “disappointing” to have to watch Sunday’s flag-raising, then Tuesday’s ring-presenting, but finally he said something that put a unique series into perspective:
“We’re glad to go home and get our regular season under way.”
Sure enough, while technically part of the 162-game regular-season slog, this detour on the journey from Florida to Las Vegas to Friday’s home opener had a surreal, outside-the-box quality.
The Mets became the first World Series loser to face the winner the next time out, playing two games at Kauffman Stadium that they had hoped to play last November.
(Final tally for the seven-game, five-month series: Royals 5, Thor 2.)
And not only that, the first two games were spread over five days, a quirk caused by switching the opener from Monday to prime time Sunday for maximum television exposure.
All that is over now, and in the grand scheme of things, it was not all that much of a burden.
A group of Mets took advantage of the off day Monday to visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum here, a shrine to guys who had to overcome real hardships to play the game.
Most important to everyone involved with the National League champions was the notion that after a day off Wednesday and a workout at Citi Field on Thursday, Friday will bring what baseball players crave most: routine.
“We have to go through the introductions once more [for the home opener], but it’s nice to get into a routine and just play,” David Wright said after stealing two bases in the Mets’ 2-0 victory Tuesday, putting on hold calls among many fans and journalists (including this one) to start picking out a tie for his retirement ceremony.
(Wright’s thoughts on the harsh reviews he got after the opener: “I don’t care.”)
“With the crazy days off and the intros and the ceremonies and this and that as a player you just want to get into a routine and you can’t do that with this kind of wackiness of a first week,” Wright said.
Newcomer Neil Walker, the hitting star of Tuesday’s game, agreed with his captain.
“I think we’re all looking forward to kind of getting settled in,” Walker said. “We’ve gone from Florida to Vegas to here with lots of off days in between. As baseball players you’re looking forward to getting into the routine and the continuity of the season.
“We’re going to be ready to go. Citi Field is going to be rocking Friday and we’ll be ready for it.”
It should help that the level of competition will plummet, the Mets having traded in the 2015 World Series winners for the 2008 World Series-winning Phillies, who went 63-99 last season.
Baby permitting, Jacob deGrom, the next in line among the Mets’ imposing starting rotation, will face the Phillies.
Collins informed both Matt Harvey and deGrom during spring training that he considered the starting assignments for the openers against the Royals and Phillies to be equal in status.
“I told them, ‘Listen, there are two major openers for us, one is here in Kansas City playing [the Royals] and one is at home in front of our fans Friday afternoon, and we’re going to raise a flag, too.’”
The fact that it will be the National League pennant and not the biggest prize is a crucial difference compared to what happened here. As is the fact the Phillies did not lose the NLCS to the Mets last season.
Whatever. That’s all in the past. Only 160 games to go.
“It’s over,” Collins said of the Mets’ autumn flashback in early April. “Fortunately we have a chance to take a day, catch our breath and get ourselves ready for Friday.”