In the lexicon of baseball’s most celebrated and accomplished legends, these types of moments are somewhat few and far between. One of the game’s all-time greats swaps allegiances and faces his former squad – the same squad whose logo adorned his ballcap and jersey during his grandest moments – for the first time.
Cal Ripken, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial and Ted Williams never had to do it. But Reggie Jackson did. Mr. October donned pinstripes to take on the A’s. So did Pete Rose. Charlie Hustle in the powder blue Phillies uniform back to face off against what remained of the Big Red Machine.
For the hardcore fans in Oakland and Cincinnati, those days must’ve surreal. Maybe they were bitter. Or maybe time had done considerable work to heal any open wounds. Whatever the emotion, surely it was a strange feeling.
In mere hours, I’ll understand what it feels like. For the first time since Albert Pujols headed west in December of 2011, he will face off against his former team – the St. Louis Cardinals.
From 2001-2011, Prince Albert was the Cardinals. For such a storied franchise, what Albert accomplished during his tenure and the legend he left in St. Louis is nothing short of remarkable. We aren’t likely to see another player of that ilk come around these parts in our lifetimes.
Is that what made it so hard to see him walk? To walk out on us for greener pastures and the perception of chasing few more bucks?
Maybe. But it’s nearly impossible to look back now and have any regrets. If St. Louis were to come anywhere close to the deal that Albert received in Orange County, they would’ve been left hamstrung and paying out the wazoo for a guy who was in decline. Whether that decline is drastic or slow and steady remains to be seen, but he’s in decline no less. No man (or machine) could’ve kept the pace that Albert set in his first 11 seasons. It was unprecedented. Remarkable. Unrealistic.
Albert spoiled St. Louis baseball fans rotten for over a decade. He gave my brothers and me the first two Cardinals World Series championships of our lifetimes. He won MVP awards, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers. He destroyed stadium advertisements with towering home runs. He stood on the top step of the dugout and cheered on teammates. He celebrated harder than anyone when the team had a walk-off victory. I don’t claim to know everything about him, but for the most part, he was a good guy and helluva ballplayer.
My emotions migh be different if the Angels were coming to St. Louis and bringing Albert back to Busch Stadium. That’ll happen at some point I’m sure. But I’m glad it’s not now. I’m not sure I could handle that quite yet.
For now, I’ll enjoy watching from afar and reminiscing.
If you couldn’t tell, this was written by a die-hard, life-long Cardinal fan. Have you had a similar experience with your team? Tell us about it in the comments.
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