Let’s talk about sports

Let’s talk about sports, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about sports
Let’s talk about sports

OK, so that’s the PG-13/Jock Jams version of the classic Salt-N-Pepa song.

But the excitement that the female hip-hop trio had for fornication in their early ’90s hit is the same excitement I feel right now for sports.

This is one of my favorite times of the year. March Madness is reaching its climactic end. The NBA and NHL are gearing up for the playoff season. And most importantly, baseball season is just days away.

There’s something about the great American pastime that invigorates me. The fresh-cut grass, the dirt spraying into the air when a batter slides feet-first into second base for a double, the mental chess match between a pitcher and hitter before a 3-2 pitch, and the arduous grind of a six-month, 162-game season where your team hopefully ends up on top.

When baseball is happening, it feels like natural order is being restored. It’s the only major American sport without a clock, which, in turn, has been a source of controversy as of late due to the increasing length of game times (an issue Major League Baseball targeted this year when they eliminated the need for pitchers to actually throw the baseball during an intentional walk).

Mets

I can’t help but think of the quote uttered by James Earl Jones in the movie Field of Dreams, as the character Terence Mann, whenever I want to describe what it is that makes me love baseball so much:

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

When James Earl Jones talks about baseball, you listen.

Last year, I predicted my beloved New York Mets to win the World Series. Unfortunately, injuries derailed their season and they fell short, despite their best effort.

This year, they have nearly their full complement of young pitchers ready to go, and things look much more promising.

And even if things didn’t look bright, I’d pick them to win the World Series anyway. I will do it every year until they do. Hopefully, one year I will be right.

Baseball starts on Sunday. For many, Sunday is already a day of worship and reflection. For sports fans, it takes on extra meaning.

In other semi-sports related news, the North Carolina Legislature voted to repeal the controversial House Bill 2 today, also known as the “Bathroom Bill,” which required men and women to use public bathrooms that align with their gender at birth. Human rights advocates (and any one with any human decency) considered it egregiously discriminatory towards transgenders, which number more than 37,000 in North Carolina.

Tar Heels

The bill basically cost Republican Governor Pat McCrory his job, and cost the state from hosting the 2016-2017 NBA All-Star game, several NCAA March Madness games, and many other high-profile events.

The newly passed bill is not a straight-forward repeal, however, and as a compromise to right-wing hawks in the Legislature, it maintains a stipulation from the original bill that places a moratorium on local nondiscrimination ordinances through 2020, and thus leaves the regulation of bathrooms to state lawmakers.

LGBT activists say it still does not provide the protection needed to safeguard an already vulnerable population of people.

They’re probably right, but with Republican and Democrat ideologies being as divergent as they’ve ever been in the modern political era, sometimes a compromise is a victory. Even if it’s just in the short term.

The timing of the repeal is even more significant given that the North Carolina Tar Heels are one of four teams left in the NCAA Tournament, where they will face the Oregon Ducks on Saturday. The other game is between the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the South Carolina Gamecocks.

They promise to be some pretty damn good games, and as an added bonus, if South Carolina beats North Carolina in the finals, I win $650.

Go Cocks!

…I stand by it.

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I’m calling it right now: My Mets are winning the World Series

Last April, I half-jokingly gave my coworker $25 to bet on the New York Mets to win the World Series during his trip to Las Vegas.

I say “half-jokingly” because while I am a die-hard Mets fan, and always have faith that they could exceed all expectations, I still never expected them to go that far.

Still, the odds were at 15 to 1, so I thought, why the hell not?

So you can imagine my horror when, six months later, the Mets made the World Series, and I had no idea where the ticket was. I never found it, and it ended up being moot since the Mets lost.

Nonetheless, any Mets fans will tell you it was an absolutely magical season, highlighted by a group of dominant young pitchers and a late-season turnaround spurred by the acquisition of Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes in late July. The experience was so great that every few weeks I watch this amazing fan-made video recapping the season just to relive the memories.

But here we go again. April is right around the corner, and I am again going out out on a limb to declare my optimism for my beloved Mets. But this time — I’m not joking.

The New York Mets will win the World Series in 2016.

Mets pitchers.jpg

And this is no bold prediction. Many people, including baseball experts, will probably say the same thing.

For one, they’re hungry for a championship after coming so close last year and falling short. Their dominant young pitching staff — Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and the returning Zack Wheeler — is one of the most hard-throwing, dynamic assemblage of young pitchers arguably in baseball history. And despite their tendency to spend conservatively in the offseason under their cheap ownership, the Mets somehow managed to retain Cespedes on a three-year deal.

The pieces are there. Now all they have to do is win.

And I’m not kidding when I say I am a die-hard fan. Since I started watching the Mets when I was about 7 or 8, I have barely missed a game. And we’re talking about 162 games per year for 20 years.

So it was a complete joy to finally watch them make the World Series last year for the second time since I’ve been alive (I was born six months after the Mets won the 1986 World Series.)

Amazingly, I am an avid supporter of four professional sports teams — the Mets, the New York Rangers, New York Knicks and New York Jets. And in my lifetime — one championship. One.

One.

And it was the Rangers in 1994, when I was 7. Two decades have passed since then.

Needless to say, the sports gods owe me one. And in 2016, the stars are aligned for that team to be the New York Mets. I have waited long enough, and damn it, I deserve it.

As we say in Metsville, ya gotta believe.

I’m already preparing  for the misery of repeating this same blog post next April.

I’m the guy who bets on the Mets to win the World Series and then loses the ticket

Back in April, a coworker of mine made his annual trip to Las Vegas. At the time, the New York Mets had just completed an 11-game winning streak to hit the ground running right out of the gate at the start of the regular season.

I was riding high with excitement. The Mets had not experienced a winning season in seven years, and with the improvements they made to their team — led by an influx of young, powerful starting pitching — it looked like the 2015 season might break that trend.

But even the most optimistic fans still had tempered expectations. We’d simply be satisfied with a playoff berth — something that hasn’t happened since 2006. Meaningful baseball in October is all we wanted to see, even if it resulted in an early postseason exit.

New York Mets World SeriesSo with that in mind, I gave my coworker all of the money in my wallet ($25 — I’m poor) and told him to bet it on the Mets winning the World Series. He did, placing the wager with 15 to 1 odds, and returned the bet receipt to me upon arriving home.

Flash forward six months: the Mets are in the World Series, and I have no god damn clue where that bet receipt is.

I’ve searched far and wide for it — in my home, my car and my office. That thing is gone.

I’d be more upset about it, but I’m just too freaking happy that the team I have loved and cherished since I was 6 years old is in the World Series. As a sports fan, this is what it is all about.

With as many as 30 teams competing for the same goal — whether it be baseball, football, basketball or hockey (or cricket for my south Asian readers) — winning a championship is damn near impossible. So many things have to go right for your team throughout the course of a season.

It’s so difficult that I have yet to see one in my lifetime. The Mets last won in October 1986. I was born six months later. Yes, they got there in 2000, but I was only 13. I hadn’t experienced enough suffering to appreciate it.

Fifteen years and nine losing seasons later, I finally have come to appreciate the meaning of success. Here in New York, it’s Mets mania. And it’s all because nobody saw it coming.

The team shocked the world, and even more so, shocked Mets fans.

Unless that ticket somehow reappears, then that’s $375 that I will not be able to claim if the Mets win the World Series. Do I wish I could add that money to my checking account? Of course. That’s a lot of Jello pudding snack packs I otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

But after 20-plus years of barely missing any Mets games, through all the pain and suffering, and all of the memories I’ve forged watching this team over that time with my friends and family, there’s no greater reward then to finally watch them achieve something you’ve waited for your entire life.

And you can’t put a price on that.