The World Series, which kicks off in Kansas City Tuesday night, marks the latest annual battle for baseball bragging rights – if not around the globe, as the misnomer of a name suggests, then at least in the U.S. and Canada.
But the Mets and Royals, two very different teams from two very different cities, are united by a common additional motivation: to deliver a de facto beating to the other longer established, more historically successful team in their respective home states.
The Mets uneasily share New York City with the Yankees, who hold a record 27 World Series trophies to the two won by the Amazins. The Mets' last trip to baseball’s biggest contest came when the Bombers blasted them back through the turnstiles in the 2000 Subway Series.
The Royals, meanwhile, share Missouri with the St. Louis Cardinals – the team with not only the best record in baseball this season, but with 11 World Series titles, second only to the Yankees. The Kansas City crew, who lost last year's Series to the San Francisco Giants (well, to Madison Bumgarner), at least beat the Cardinals for their only Commissioner’s Trophy, in what was dubbed the I-70 Series. But that was way back in 1985, a year before the Mets’ last World Series triumph, which came thanks in part to Bill Buckner’s bumble on a Mookie Wilson ground ball.
Now the Royals and the Mets are out to prove their World Series berths are no errors, as they bid to show up their regional rivals – and give the rest of us a show for the ages.
The Royals, led by sure-gloved, lightening-footed center fielder Lorenzo Cain, arrive as the reigning kings of small ball, relying on speed, defense and a lineup of contact hitters for whom strikeouts are a rare as a trip to Oz.
The Mets, meanwhile, come to the best-of-seven contest armed with a staff of young pitchers who rack up strikeouts and accolades at a furious rate. The team also boasts a mix of veterans, among them Daniel Murphy, who is on a potentially record-breaking tear. He’s homered in his last six playoff games, tying him for the post-season mark with Carlos Beltran (a veteran, incidentally, of the Mets, Yankees, Royals and Cardinals).
Murphy’s drawn attention on the field and off, via controversial comments and uncertainty over whether he’ll return to the Mets next season. The Royals, meanwhile, step onto the big stage amid some drama of their own, after losing closer Greg Holland to a late-season injury.
Few gave the Royals or Mets much of a chance of making it this far – both began the season as 28-to-1 shots, according to the gambling site, Bovada.lv.
Still, the two teams thrive on defying expectations – an ethos that dates to their origins as bookends of the 1960s expansion era, which made them eternal newcomers compared to the Yankees and Cardinals, whose debuts predate the birth of the airplane. Meanwhile, there’s not much history or bad blood between the Mets and Royals (save for those of us still bitter over the Mets basically giving away a young Amos Otis to the Royals 45 year ago).
Otis became his franchise’s first star, a Kansas City hero playing a sport built on local fan loyalty and fueled by hope (as the Chicago Cubs faithful have proved since 1908). It's a game where legends are forged from the batting box and the mound, with a premium on underdogs unexpectedly writing their way into baseball history.
We’re headed toward a new chapter, on the wings of the annual fall winds of the unknown – with a team of strikeout pitchers facing a team that never strikes out as both squads vie to deliver a hit big enough to resound throughout New York, Missouri and beyond.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.