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Baseball rivalries are seeing the return of the beef and that's a good thing

(Maddie Meyer)

The beef is back -- and we should be so thankful. After Kris Bryant called the city of St. Louis "boring," the St. Louis Cardinals fired back. And now, Yadier Molina said this would not be forgotten when they took the field this spring
"If anybody says anything bad about my home, I'm going to be there for us," Molina said. "I said to the guys, 'We are like a family. We have to stick together. We have to defend ourselves, and we have to defend our ground.' Whoever says something about us, we are going to be there to defend us."
Those are fighting words. And that's a good thing for us baseball fans. Sure, there are plenty of reasons we're happy to see opposing players hang out with each other. It's fun to see them smiling and joking during batting practice and filling their Instagrams with shared vacations in the offseason. It's like seeing a bunch of friends and roommates having a game day 162 times a year. 

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But, just like "The Real World," the best moments are when the contestants stop being polite and start getting real. And thanks to Bryant's comment, one of baseball's most storied rivalries has reached the glorious land of heated beef, with the players on the field having a personal vendetta on the line just as strong as partisan rooting interests from the stands. 
Every time the Cubs come to St. Louis, they'll be entering as the marauding outsiders who called an entire city -- with its square pizza, fried ravioli and giant arches -- "boring." And the players on the field, who at the very least call the city home for six months out of the year, will be looking to settle the score.
This isn't the only rivalry that has received some fresh beef. The Yankees and Red Sox were back at it this postseason: After Aaron Judge played "New York, New York" outside the Red Sox clubhouse following New York's sole victory in the ALDS, Boston retaliated by continuing to play the song for the rest of the postseason. When the team won the World Series, it wasn't enough that they had just won it all -- their fourth title since 2004, two more than the Yankees have won in the 21st century -- they needed to rub their victory in. Cue up: "New York, New York." 
This bad blood most definitely follows onto the field, too. You think the Red Sox weren't thinking of Judge's song choice from Game 2 when they won Game 3, 16-1? That obviously wasn't the only reason they were able to score so many runs, but Boston was definitely playing some particularly inspired baseball. 
And that's why the game is always better when there is a real beef between rivals. Every moment becomes hyper-important. The offseason did little to cool feelings between the Blue Jays and Rangers after their hard-fought and fan-interrupted ALDS that was punctuated by José Bautista's bat flip. So, come next year, when Bautista found his way to second base at Globe Life Park, there was a fist waiting for him. 

The crosstown rivalry between the Cubs and White Sox boiled over when catchers Michael Barrett and A.J. Pierzynski came to blows:

The Dodgers and D-backs hated each other for a few years after Arizona took umbrage with the Dodgers using the Chase Field pool to celebrate their division title.

The Dodgers and Reds were one of the best rivalries in the 1970s, as the two traded the newly-formed NL West division title back and forth throughout the decade. Naturally, the players hated each other. That rivalry could be rekindled as Yasiel Puig, who found a way to rub some of his Dodgers teammates the wrong way with his antics, is now in Cincinnati. 
Which goes to show that truly great beef isn't bound by geography. The only prerequisite is that both teams are good -- rarely do you see a great beef break out between cellar dwellers. So, give it a few months, and the Brewers and Dodgers, who faced off in last season's NLCS, may be at each other's throats. Or the Phillies, who could sign Bryce Harper and launch themselves back into the postseason, might soon have some heated arguments with the Nats ... or the Braves ... or the Mets. With so many teams adding free agents and expecting to play deep into October, the NL East is prime territory for a multi-pronged all-out beef war to break out. 
Just like with a great film, it all comes down to stakes and emotional involvement -- and what is the baseball season but a six-month film played out in three-hour stints every night?  Rarely do the beefs start as early as Bryant and Molina's, but that just makes it all the better for us fans. These beefs are good eating.