Come every March, every baseball fan in existence is excited about the possibilities of the coming year. Even on the North Side of Chicago, the saying after every baseball season goes something like this: "Wait until next year." Teams from Kansas City to Pittsburgh have the chance to change their persona and start anew. Kansas City hadn't won 86 games since the 1994 season and did so this year, in a year whose off-season was seen as being marred by a trade that many didn't want. Baseball can do that. The Pirates hadn't made the post-season since 1992, had been above .500 at the All-Star break two seasons in a row to only finish 18 and 14 games under .500, then won 94 games this year to play in the Wild Card game as the third best team in the National League and 5th best team in baseball.
As a Royals' fan (second), it was so heartening to see hope for that team last long into the summer and slightly into the fall for the first time since I moved to Kansas City back in the fall of 2004. Hope can be seen in many different places: the hope that Eric Hosmer has turned the corner with his .322/.372/.505/.877 line from June 6 to September 28, covering 105 games, to end the year; the hope that if Billy Butler is still in a Royals' uniform come spring he will bounce back to 25+ homers for the second time in his career; the hope that Salvador Perez's first gold glove is one of many to come while he hits above league average as a catcher; the hope that Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar are really the pieces for the future in place and re-building doesn't have to come to Kansas City so soon; the hope that Ervin Santana's fantastic season will rebound upon a re-signing or will lead to another "diamond in the rough" find by Dayton Moore and David Glass; the hope that James Shields' presence will help to solidify a pitching staff that looks as if it will get younger and younger in the next year; the hope that the Royals can actually go two years in a row filling a starting rotation with pitchers who are pitchers and not throwers; the hope that the fickleness that is team defense doesn't bite Kansas City in the butt next year; the hope that David Glass will raise payroll despite fans not coming out any more than normal to support their best product on the field in 20 seasons; the hope that Yordano Ventura can put up 150+ innings of sub 4.00 ERA ball in the American League as a rookie 23-year old; the hope that the Royals could become just the 8th team since 2000 to steal over one base per game; the hope that the Royals can overcome The K's dimensions to hit 150+ homers in a season for the first time since 2004. However, the true hope going into next year for them has to be an improvement upon 86 wins and a possible AL Central title and a trip to the playoffs for the first time since they won it all in 1985.
For the Cardinals, my team of teams, hope is also present. There is the hope (for a team burdened with key injuries every season as far back as I can remember) that as the team gets younger it will stay healthier on a regular basis; the hope that Yadier Molina brings with his enthusiasm and palpable enjoyment of the game of baseball; the hope that Matt Carpenter's 2013 was not a fluke; the hope that Matt Holliday's decline with age continues to creep slowly enough that it's barely visible; the hope that the Cardinals somehow find an improvement at shortstop without blowing the farm system out of the water; the hope that Jay and Freese can be moved seamlessly into bench roles as this new (small) wave of rookie position players comes to the surface in MLB; the hope that this new (small) wave of position players coming to the surface performs as if they are ready to be at the surface; the hope that Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez's cups o' joe this season propel them forward as Adam Wainwright's 2006 did for him; the hope that Joe Kelly can avoid allowing runners to get on base because once they are on base, he somehow does better; the hope that Lance Lynn can learn to buckle down with the game on the line; the hope that Shelby Miller and Jaime Garcia's arms are still attached correctly and will be productive for years and years to come; the hope that Adam Wainwright still has 4-5 years left in the beautifully brilliant right arm; the hope that Trevor Rosenthal will actually be given a chance to show his mettle as a starter rather than being shown the door to the rotation and given the closer role for eternity; the hope that Jason Motte comes back as Jason Motte and not 2010 Ryan Franklin in order to open that door for Rosenthal; but my biggest hope for the 2014 Cardinals is that Mike Matheny continues to grow and evolve as a manager and that he learns from his post-season mistakes and he becomes the manager John Mozeliak envisioned when he brought Mike aboard (still) less than 2 years ago for his first gig.
Writer's Note: It is strange for me to actually feel this the night of and day after a World Series loss to a team I dislike badly. 9 years ago after our previous defeat to the red clad stockings in Boston, I never would have had this perspective the day after a demoralizing defeat and the end of the baseball season. It just wouldn't have happened because it couldn't have happened. Now, though, HOPE is my word of the day. I suppose some of this has come from my near resignation of the series after the game 5 loss in St. Louis. I suppose some of this has come from growing up. I suppose a lot of this has come from my knowledge of the team's future (in terms of players available) and following the farm more closely than ever. I suppose some of it comes from being in a place in my life where hope is needed. I hope that this brightens your day, Cards fans, on a day where you might need it as well.